|Portrayed by||Lorna Fitzgerald|
|First appearance||3 July 2006|
|Introduced by||Kate Harwood|
|"Dorothy Branning: The Next Chapter" (2013)|
Abigail "Abi" Branning is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Lorna Fitzgerald. She was introduced by executive producer Kate Harwood on 3 July 2006 as an extension to the Branning family, along with father Max (Jake Wood), mother Tanya (Jo Joyner) and older sister Lauren (Madeline Duggan, later played by Jacqueline Jossa).
For her portrayal as Abi, Fitzgerald has been nominated for the "Best Young Actor" at the 2010 Inside Soap Awards and went on to win "Best Dramatic Performance from a Young Actor or Actress" at the 2012 British Soap Awards. Kate White of Inside Soap praised her portrayal of Abi, saying that Fitzgerald is the "brightest young star in soap", adding "Abi's destined for great dramatic things". A writer from the Western Mail said that Abi's relationship with Jay Brown (Jamie Borthwick) is "Walford's answer to Romeo and Juliet". However, some critics have been less positive, with one saying that the audience are "not nearly" seeing as much of the "classic characters" due to the younger cast receiving more screen time.
Abi moves to Albert Square in 2006 along with her parents Max (Jake Wood) and Tanya (Jo Joyner), and sister Lauren (Madeline Duggan), where she befriends Ben Mitchell (Charlie Jones). In January 2007, Abi is hit by Deano Wicks' (Matt Di Angelo) car, suffering a broken wrist, cuts and bruises, but she recovers with no long-term impairment. Abi learns Ben's father's girlfriend Stella Crawford (Sophie Thompson) is abusing him, so due to this, Abi and Ben plan to run away, but fail as they are caught by their parents. Abi then stands up to Stella and tells Ben to do the same, leading Stella to kill herself when Ben reveals the abuse. In December 2007, she chooses the name for her newborn baby brother Oscar. Soon after, when Max's affair with Stacey Slater (Lacey Turner) is revealed, Max and Tanya separate. Abi begins to live sporadically with each parent, frequently defending Max to Tanya and Lauren, until Max and Tanya reunite in 2009, however Abi leaves with Tanya after learning of Max's financial problems. In September 2009, Abi and Jordan Johnson (Michael-Joel David Stuart) find Jordan's mother Trina's (Sharon Duncan Brewster) body in the summerhouse at the allotments having been accidentally killed by Jordan's father, Lucas Johnson (Don Gilet).
Abi starts dating Jordan, but months later he is attacked by Ben with a spanner, leaving him in a coma. They split up, but remain friends. Abi starts to take an interest in Max's lodger Darren Miller (Charlie G. Hawkins), who is left uncomfortable when she tries to kiss him, telling her she is too young and is heartbroken when Darren proposes to Jodie Gold (Kylie Babbington). Abi forms a close friendship with her mother's fiancé Greg Jessop (Stefan Booth). She later develops a crush on Jay Brown (Jamie Borthwick), and the two begin dating. Believing Jay is only interested in Abi for sex, Max tries to split them up, but fails to do so. Jay and Abi plan to have sex several times, but on each occasion, they are unable to go through with it. At one time, Jay and Abi cuddle up as they are watching television, but Max believes they are about to have sex, so he throws Jay out and rips Abi's bridesmaid dress to Greg and Tanya's wedding. They go to buy a new one, but they have a car crash on Greg and Tanya's wedding day. They suffer minor injuries and both recover.
Despite Abi's insecurities over Jay's friendship with Lola Pearce (Danielle Harold), she and Jay remain together, and eventually Max comes to accept them as a couple. Max and Tanya continue to see each other, but when Tanya gets cancer, she keeps this to herself. Eventually, Greg and Max's fiancé Vanessa Gold (Zöe Lucker) leave Walford when the truth comes out about the affair. Abi, Ben and Lola cause trouble and Abi is arrested for stealing trainers. When Abi is mugged, Lola teaches her how to self defend. Tanya finds a pregnancy test in the bin and believes it is Abi's, before finding out about her trouble causing and calls Abi a slapper, before Lauren (now played by Jacqueline Jossa) reveals to the family that Tanya has cancer. Abi is hurt by this, but is pleased when Max and Tanya reconcile. Jay proposes to Abi and she accepts, but she is faced with a dilemma when she is offered the chance to go to Costa Rica to help with sea turtle conservation. Jay gives Abi an ultimatum, threatening to break up with her if she goes to Costa Rica but she goes regardless. When she returns several weeks later, she finds out that Jay has been involved in the murder of Heather Trott (Cheryl Fergison). Abi is upset and slams the door in his face when he tries to see her. Abi goes to visit him but when Tanya discovers they have been seeing each other, she bans Abi from speaking to him. However, they eventually reunite. Abi, along with the rest of her family, are devastated to discover that when Max was away in Manchester, he married Kirsty Branning (Kierston Wareing). Abi meets her cousin Dexter Hartman (Khali Best), not knowing they are related, and this causes Jay to be jealous until the truth of their relationship is revealed. Tanya ejects Max from the family home after discovering he loves Kirsty. Abi loses her virginity to Jay much to her parents' disappointment. Abi tries to support Lauren with her drinking problem, however, this ends badly when Lauren destroys Abi's revision notes. Abi is distraught when Tanya leaves Walford with Lauren and Oscar as Lauren goes into a rehabilitation clinic in Exeter, so Max decides to move back in with her after Kirsty confesses that she has lied about being pregnant. Abi is defensive of her father and she argues with Kirsty about it, blaming her for her family's breakdown.
While on holiday with Jay and their friends, Abi thinks she could be pregnant. Jay hopes to be a father, while Abi would prefer to have an abortion. She is not pregnant, but ends their relationship, believing that they want different things. However, they soon reconcile. Max is framed for causing a car crash that leaves Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) hospitalised. Abi and Lauren, who returns from rehabilitation, struggle to pay Max's legal costs, as well as their bills. Abi receives her exam results and discovers she has not gained the grades to go to university to become a vet, but Lauren, believing that Abi has passed the exams, throws a party, during which Abi blurts out that she blames Lauren for her poor results because she has an alcohol problem. Abi decides to continue studying, but when Max goes to prison for a while she has to take a job, and struggles to find time for her studies. However, Max is proven innocent, and returns home to support his family. In an argument between Jay and Dexter, Abi discovers that on their holiday Jay kissed a barmaid while they were arguing over the suspected pregnancy. She also finds out that Lola knew and furiously confronts her best friend. However, after a heart to heart with Jay, they decide to work through their issues and she fixes things with Dexter and Lola as well.
When Lauren's friend Lucy Beale (Hetti Bywater) is murdered, Max supports her father Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) through his grief. Seeing this, Abi calls him hypocritical, before revealing that she saw him kissing Lucy days before she was killed and they were having an affair. Max urges Abi to keep it a secret, but Phil discovers the affair from Jay and tells Ian. Abi proceeds to move into Cora's new flat with Lauren. She eventually forgives Max and returns home. Her final A Level results come through, and she tells everyone that she has got what she needed to get into the University of Liverpool. However, she later confides in Jay that she has been lying, as not to disappoint her family. He encourages her to go through clearing, and she gets a position doing a similar course at the University of Bolton. Jay decides to go with Abi, which Max at first is opposed to.
Character creation and development
Introduction and characterisation
Abi was introduced into the series in 2006, by executive producer Kate Harwood. The character and her casting was announced on 25 May 2006. She and her immediate family, father Max (Wood), mother Tanya (Joyner) and older sister Lauren (Duggan, recast to Jossa in 2010), are an extension of the Branning family, who have appeared in EastEnders since 1993. Fitzgerald, in her first major television role, began filming for the soap in May 2006 and made her first on-screen appearance in July. Fitzgerald's mother commented on her daughter's casting: "Personally, I feel I want to show how proud we are of her and to thank everyone who has prayed for her and helped her in any way. At first, it is just the look they go for. Then it is more intensive and she had to read from a script. By the second audition, she was still up against 60 or 70 people. You start thinking about it when she gets to the third audition, but when the agent rang up and said she had got the part it was an overwhelming feeling. You don't know what it means until that point". Fitzgerald was offered the part about three months after her final audition. As Fitzgerald was only 10 years old when she got the part, she was required to balance her filming requirements with schooling in Northampton, and learning lines. In 2012, she told Inside Soap that she thought she had messed up her audition, and did not realise how big the show was until she was older. In 2014, she told BBC Radio 1 that when she met Wood and Joyner, her on-screen parents, she realised it did not matter that she had messed up her lines in her last audition, because she looked like them both. Fitzgerald was required to cry on her first day of filming, and admitted in 2014 that this was embarrassing, and she was unable to produce tears, but was "just making noises". Fitzgerald was chaperoned by her mother until she was 16.
|“||She may be young, but she's packed plenty of drama into her years. She's been hit by Deano's car, watched her parents' marriage unravel, ravel, unravel again etc. She also discovered Trina's dead body in Charlie's summer-house. Most kids would have nightmares for weeks after a sighting like that. Water off a duck's back when you're Derek Branning's niece, though.||”|
—The BBC on Abi.
Abi has been described by the official EastEnders website as the family's "golden girl" compared to Lauren, hinting that she knows how to get her own way. She has been described as "bubbly" and "self-assured" with a nose for mischief. She has also been described as having the biggest heart in Walford, bringing out the best in the people around her. Jane Simon of the Daily Mirror said that Abi is a "real soft touch". Jon Wise from The People said that after Abi received a makeover in 2010, she "actually turned out to be quite pretty". In 2012, Fitzgerald told Inside Soap's Laura-Jane Tyler that Abi has grown up in her first six years on screen, and is now sensible, "like a mother hen" and has had to mature quickly because of the dramatic situations she has been involved in. Tyler added that Abi is the most level-headed and sensible member of the Branning family and "puts her [family] to shame with her mature approach to [their problems]."
Abi's earlier storylines consist of her parents fighting for custody of her and her siblings, being injured in a collision with Deano Wicks' (Di Angelo) car and helping her friend Ben (Jones) with his abuse from stepmother Stella Crawford (Thompson) In February 2011, Abi was involved in a car accident with Max and would suffer severe injuries after their car collides with a lorry on the way to Tanya's wedding to her new partner Greg (Booth). The crash scenes were filmed on 6 March 2011 and aired on 14 April 2011. After these minor storylines, Joyner said that Fitzgerald should be involved in more complex storylines in 2012. She said, "I think it's going to be an exciting year for Lorna. She's been a natural on the show ever since she was younger, and I think she's one of our best actresses. What's lovely about this year is that she'll be doing her GCSEs, and then once that's out of the way, she can get something that's a bit heavier and a bit bigger. She'll be old enough to work longer hours, so I think they'd be mad if they didn't give her something to sink her teeth into at some point this year".
In November 2010, after sister Lauren was recast to Jossa, Jossa stated that she enjoys working with Fitzgerald, adding the two have a lot in common. Jossa, in 2012, wanted Lauren and Abi to bond more. She commented: "I think realistically they would when they're going through a family problem like this. It would bring the family a little bit closer. I think they are quite close already and they have a lot of family banter! They may not like each other as people, but they love each other as family". In December 2012, Fitzgerald conducted her first magazine interview and spoke of a storyline where Abi comforts Lauren over a relationship break up, saying "It's nice to see the little [sister] taking care of the bigger one."
In March 2011, Abi starts a relationship with Jay (Borthwick). Borthwick admitted that he is enjoying filming Jay and Abi's relationship. Speaking of Jay and Abi's relationship, Borthwick told Inside Soap, "I think Abi and Jay are a good couple," he said. "Jay's a right one - he's already had a crack at Abi's sister Lauren and now he's going for the younger one. He's got an eye for the Branning women". Fitzgerald said that Jay and Abi are "cute together" but she cringes at Abi because she is "lovey-dovey".
Fitzgerald was nominated for the "Best Young Actor" at the 2010 Inside Soap Awards for her portrayal of Abi  though lost out to Coronation Street's, Alex Bain, who plays Simon Barlow. Fitzgerald won the award for Best Dramatic Performance from a Young Actor or Actress at the 2012 British Soap Awards an award which Tony Stewart from the Daily Mirror said was "well deserved". Fitzgerald said she did not expect to win the award. In January 2012, Kate White of Inside Soap praised both Fitzgerald and her character, saying "In Fitzgerald, EastEnders has the brightest young star in soap. The rest of her family are getting all the juicy stuff right now, but Abi's destined for great dramatic things. Mark our words".
Stewart said, due to Max's past events with his family, what Abi might say when Max objects to her relationship with Jay, "It won't be her setting a gerbil on him", calling her a "goody-two-shoes". A writer from the Western Mail said that the Branning/Mitchell Feud makes Abi and Jay feel like "Walford's answer to Romeo and Juliet". Two writers from the Daily Mirror mocked the storyline where Abi turns down the trip to Costa Rica. One said, "An extreme case of soap agoraphobia as brilliant Abi sensibly turns down the chance to spend eight weeks in the tropical paradise of Costa Rica. But in the tiny micro-world of EastEnders, even the three-mile odyssey from Walford to the West End is considered an epic journey. So Central America is simply out of the question" with another saying, "Abi was a little girl arranging tearful funerals for her pets. But now she's a young teenager, secretly engaged to boyfriend Jay and planning to run away together. He then gives Abi an ultimatum: him or her trip to Costa Rica. Best pass her the suncream, then". However, Abi, along with the younger members of the cast were thought to be the blame of declining ratings for the show; "In the last two months, viewers have seen lots of Lauren, Lucy Beale (Hetti Bywater), Whitney Dean (Shona McGarty), Fatboy (Ricky Norwood), Ben Jay, Abi and Anthony Moon (Matt Lapinskas) - but not nearly so much of the classic characters". Inside Soap noted that Abi and Jay's relationship was popular with viewers.
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