Natalie Cassidy as Sonia Fowler (2014)
|Portrayed by||Natalie Cassidy|
|Duration||1993-2007, 2010-11, 2014–|
|First appearance||2 December 1993|
|Created by||Tony McHale|
|Introduced by||Leonard Lewis (1993)
Matthew Robinson (1998)
Diederick Santer (2010)
Bryan Kirkwood (2011)
Dominic Treadwell-Collins (2014)
Sonia Ann Fowler (previously Branning and Jackson) is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Natalie Cassidy. Her first appearance was on 2 December 1993 until 2 February 2007. She returned briefly in 2010 along with other members of the Jackson family, and re-appeared in the soap from 8 to 18 February 2010. Sonia returned as a permanent character on 14 January 2014, as part of a storyline that saw her mother Carol (Lindsey Coulson) develop breast cancer. Sonia is the first character in soap opera history to tackle the issue of the BRCA gene.
Trumpet-playing Sonia Jackson arrives in Albert Square in 1993 with the rest of her family. The third of Carol Jackson (Lindsey Coulson)'s four children, Sonia was the result of her mother's one-night-stand with Terry Cant, whom Sonia never knew. During her early childhood, she becomes close friends with Clare Tyler (Gemma Bissix) and the two are inseparable until Clare falls in with the wrong crowd at school and starts bullying Sonia but they reconcile before Clare leaves in 1998. Sonia herself briefly leaves Walford in 1997, following her brother Billie (Devon Anderson)'s kidnapping, but returns to visit her family, eventually moving back permanently to live with her sister Bianca (Patsy Palmer), in 1998.
Following a brief romance with an Italian exchange student, Enrico di Clemente (Francois Pandolfo), in 1999, Sonia sleeps with Martin Fowler (James Alexandrou) in 2000 in a moment of vulnerability. She puts this behind her and begins dating Jamie Mitchell (Jack Ryder). The stunned Sonia gives birth to Martin's daughter on 26 October 2000; she puts down the weight gain to overeating rather than a pregnancy. Baby Chloe (later renamed Rebecca) is subsequently given up for adoption, despite protests from Martin's mother Pauline (Wendy Richard). However, Sonia later develops an obsession with her adopted daughter and abducts her, locking herself in her house with the baby. Despite pleas from Rebecca's adoptive parents, it is Sonia's step-grandmother, Dot (June Brown), that persuades Sonia to return the baby.
Sonia and Jamie get engaged, but due to Jamie's fling with Zoe Slater (Michelle Ryan) and constant rowing, the relationship ends. Sonia begins dating Gus Smith (Mohammed George), who plans to propose, but is devastated when Sonia reconciles with Jamie after he is brutally assaulted by his guardian, Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden). Sonia helps him, nursing him through his injuries and they decide to marry but their happiness is short-lived as Martin Fowler accidentally runs Jamie over in December 2002. Sonia keeps a bedside vigil and is with Jamie when he dies on Christmas Day. Sonia finds it hard to let go of Jamie or her anger at Martin but eventually forgives him. They slowly grow closer and feelings develop into love; they elope in 2004 and marry in seclusion.
Sonia begins nursing training and she and Martin live with Pauline but find her interference difficult to cope with. Months into the marriage, Martin gets unwittingly involved with a stalker, Sarah Cairns (Alison Pargeter), who tries to ruin his marriage. This culminates in Sarah holding Sonia and Martin hostage and stabbing Martin, until Sonia knocks her unconscious. Sonia and Martin face further upset when they discover that their daughter's adoptive parents have died in a car crash. They visit Rebecca's guardian, Margaret Wilson (Janet Amsden), hiding their true identity but when Margaret realises who they are, she orders them to leave. Pauline also interferes and visits Rebecca with Martin. Sonia is furious when she learns this and animosity in the Fowlers' home puts a strain on Martin and Sonia's relationship so she begins spending more time with a nursing colleague, Naomi Julien (Petra Letang); feelings develop and they begin a affair. Martin is heartbroken when his marriage ends, and the situation is complicated further by Rebecca, who, on Margaret's request, begins spending more time at the Fowlers'. Margaret decides to make the Fowlers' Rebecca's legal guardians but opts not to include Sonia when she discovers her lesbian fling. Margaret dies and custody of Rebecca is given to Martin; Pauline tries to prohibit Sonia from having anything to do with Rebecca. As a result, Sonia becomes distraught and preoccupied with Rebecca. Feeling neglected, Naomi ends their relationship.
Sonia becomes depressed and begins neglecting her work, drinking alcohol, until Gus helps her straighten her life out. Sonia and Gus begin a second romance, which ultimately ends due to Sonia's lingering feelings for Martin. On 17 October 2006, Sonia and Martin receive their divorce papers. However, both feel remorseful and they secretly reunite. Pauline eventually discovers this; she concocts a story that she is dying from a brain tumour in order to stop Martin from moving in with Sonia. Just as Pauline intends, Martin ends his relationship with Sonia in order to care for his mother, but when the truth finally comes out, a furious Martin moves out anyway. Pauline responds with ire, threatening to cut her son from her life. Sonia attempts to rebuild bridges with Pauline on Christmas Day 2006, but a resulting argument ends with Sonia slapping Pauline. When Pauline is found dead later that day, Sonia fears that it is her slap that has caused her death. She discovers that Rebecca witnessed the slap and tries to silence her daughter, but Rebecca informs Dot at Pauline's funeral. Appalled, Martin refuses Sonia access to Rebecca. Fearing imprisonment Sonia goes on the run, abducting Rebecca. Martin is frantic, but days later Sonia returns and she is arrested on a murder charge; however, that same night Dot uncovers the identity of Pauline's real murderer — Pauline's husband Joe Macer (Ray Brooks), who had argued with Pauline on Christmas Day and struck her over her head, causing her death. Sonia is released and decides to leave Walford for Manchester in February 2007. After making peace with Martin, she takes a taxi and is about to leave Walford when she sees Martin and Rebecca obstructing the road; Martin has decided that he wants to go with Sonia. The Fowlers reunite and leave as a family. They spend time touring the USA before settling in Manchester.
In January 2010, Bianca contacts Sonia to invite her to her wedding to Ricky. Sonia texts Bianca, saying that she and Martin will attend. She arrives alone on 8 February and says Martin and Rebecca are doing fine, but later rejects a phone call from Martin and gets very drunk. The following day, Sonia walks in on Dot slapping her granddaughter Dotty Cotton (Molly Conlin) across the legs, leading to Dot's arrest, though she is soon released without charge. A week into her return, Bianca notices Sonia has continuously avoided talking about Martin and Rebecca. Sonia visits Jamie's grave and later returns to The Queen Victoria pub, drunken and verbally lays into Phil, Jamie's godfather about his treatment of Jamie. Phil cools her down by telling her he considers Jamie one of his kids and tells her to go upstairs to sober up. She misunderstands him and gets into his bed, naked. As soon as Phil sees Sonia in bed, Shirley Carter (Linda Henry) walks in and gets the wrong idea and slaps Phil across the face. Sonia later apologises to Phil after a telling off from Shirley. Sonia confides in Carol about her marriage problems with Martin and Carol advises her to give it another shot for Rebecca's sake. After the wedding of Ricky and Bianca, Sonia decides it is time for her to make a fresh start with Martin, after being inspired by Ricky Butcher (Sid Owen) and Bianca's reunion, and she leaves the Square once again. In October, it is revealed that Sonia cannot attend Billie's funeral as she is visiting her brother Robbie (Dean Gaffney) in Mumbai, but she sends flowers. In January 2011, it is revealed that Sonia and Martin are no longer together, and that she and Rebecca are now living in Dagenham.
When in January 2014, Carol visits Sonia to inform her about her breast cancer diagnosis. Sonia offers to help Carol with her shifts at Cindy's Cafe, and reveals that she is having marital issues with Martin again, as he shows no interest in her. When Carol learns she has the BRCA gene, she tells Sonia and Bianca that they both have a 50% chance of getting the gene, which means that they could develop cancer in the future. Despite her initial fears, Sonia agrees to get tested and although Bianca receives positive results, Sonia learns she has inherited gene from Carol, meaning that Rebecca has a chance of getting it as well. Sonia kisses Tina after Martin stands her up, but they take this no further as Tina is in a relationship with Fiona "Tosh" Mackintosh (Rebecca Scroggs). Tosh finds out about the kiss and Tina decides to end her friendship with Sonia to protect her relationship. Dot is upset when she overhears Tina and Bianca discussing the kiss.
Carol decides to have a single mastectomy instead of a double. Sonia blames Bianca, who is having money troubles. To try and ease the Jacksons' money issues, Sonia begins an exercise class, 'Fat Blasters', at the community centre, and later supports Carol when she decides to go ahead with the double mastectomy. Sonia understands when Rebecca decides to audition for a place in a music school, she opposes this idea when she finds out that it's in Wales and later threatens to split up with Martin if she goes. However, after a conversation with Carol, she allows her go, although Rebecca later decides to remain with Sonia and the rest of the family. Sonia organises a charity calendar featuring the undressed market traders with the help of Pam Coker (Lin Blakely), but feels self-conscious of doing a month herself as Martin belittles her. She does it anyway, but feels unhappy with the photo and arranges to have a gastric band in Bulgaria, telling friends and family she is on a course. When she returns, she is racked with guilt and tries to confess at Fat Blasters Christmas party, but collapses before she can do so. She is taken to hospital, once she has recovered she returns to Carol's house. After a discussion with Martin (James Bye), they decide to separate.
1994 was a "historic" year for EastEnders, as in April, a third weekly episode was introduced. Due to the programme's increased frequency, a number of new characters were introduced to the regular cast in the latter part of 1993 and early 1994. Among them were the Jackson family: mother Carol (Lindsey Coulson), her four children, Bianca (Patsy Palmer), Robbie (Dean Gaffney), Sonia (Natalie Cassidy), and Billie (Devon Anderson), as well as Carol's partner Alan Jackson (Howard Antony). Though Carol and Alan were not initially married in the serial, and though Alan was only the biological father of Billie, the whole family took on Alan's surname. The family was created by writer Tony McHale.
Various members of the family began to appear sporadically from November 1993 onwards, but in episodes that aired early in 1994, the Jacksons moved from Walford Towers, a block of flats, to the soap's focal setting of Albert Square. Their slow introduction was a deliberate attempt by the programme makers to introduce the whole family over a long period. The Jacksons have been described by EastEnders scriptwriter Colin Brake as a "classic problem family".
Cassidy was 10 years old when she joined the soap as Sonia. She was spotted doing improvisations at the Anna Scher Theatre School by Tony McHale and EastEnders' Casting Advisor Jane Deitch. They liked Cassidy and she was asked to audition at Elstree studios, after which she was offered the part. None of the actors cast as the Jackson family were matched for appearance or screen compatibility. Cassidy commented, "it was all decided without doing that. I don't think it particularly mattered that none of us Jackson kids looked like each other because all our characters had different dads!"
Early on in the character's narrative, Sonia was given a trumpet to play, which she did so badly, infuriating her family and neighbours. According to Cassidy, this was on the behest of Storyliner and future Executive Producer of EastEnders, John Yorke. Cassidy revealed that she took lessons to play the trumpet, but that when she began to play well, she was asked by the producers to pretend to play it badly as Sonia was supposed to be playing it badly. Other storylines included a period where Sonia was bullied by her friend Clare Bates (Gemma Bissix) after she fell in with the wrong crowd at school. Despite the bullying storyline, Cassidy said that she and Bissix were good friends during their time together on the soap.
In 1997, the actress who played Sonia's mother Carol decided to quit EastEnders. It was at this stage that the producers made a decision to write the majority of the Jackson family out. Cassidy commented, "I thought I was out of a job [on EastEnders] forever!". Cassidy made several temporary returns on-screen months later to visit Clare or Bianca, but she was still uncertain about the future of her character: "I didn't come back to the show for about four months or so after [ I was written out in 1997]. And after Clare left the Square [in 1998] I was gone for another eight months. I just got on with school and all that". However, later in 1998 the producers asked Cassidy to return to the serial full-time, which she said she was "thrilled" about.
In April 2006, it was announced that Cassidy would take a break from EastEnders, saying "it's time to try new things. But it doesn't mean Sonia won't be back". A BBC spokesperson added, "Natalie is a valued member of the EastEnders cast and we wish her all the very best during her break from the show". Sonia departed on screen in February 2007, along with her former husband Martin, as his actor, James Alexandrou, also left the serial. Their departing storyline was the culmination of the death of Pauline Fowler, following actress Wendy Richard's high profile resignation from the serial in 2006. In the storyline, Pauline dies in suspicious circumstances and Sonia is blamed for killing her, although Sonia is eventually vindicated when Pauline's husband Joe Macer (Ray Brooks) admits to manslaughter. Sonia and Martin and their daughter Rebecca leave Walford as a united family for the United States. In 2010, Cassidy said one of the reasons she decided to leave the show was because of Sonia's affair with Naomi Julien (Petra Letang), saying it was wrong for the character.
Despite Cassidy's departure being specified as a "break", Cassidy commented in 2008, "I feel that door's closed now and I need to go and do other stuff [...] Maybe in nine years I might go back." More recently, in 2009, press reports suggested that the actress was keen to reprise the role. Patsy Palmer, who returned to EastEnders as Sonia's sister Bianca, publicly called for the actress's return: "I would love her to come back. I mean, she is family! I've told bosses that it's a good time, when you think about it, as the Jacksons are back now as well."
Returns (2010, 2011 and 2014)
On 25 October 2009 it was announced that Cassidy would return to the soap to reprise her role as Sonia, along with Coulson, Gaffney and Anderson. The characters would reunite with Bianca who returned in 2008. Cassidy is quoted as saying "To be invited back to EastEnders is such an honour and I am very, very excited that Sonia is coming back. For me, to be reunited with the original Jacksons is a dream come true and I think it will be a fantastic storyline." A source told entertainment website Digital Spy: "Everything's being kept hush-hush about the Jacksons' return at the moment, but there are certainly a load of questions to be answered. Will the frosty relationship between Carol and Bianca thaw? Are Sonia and Martin still together? And how will Robbie react when he learns of his beloved Wellard's death? Everyone's so pleased to have them back." The family returned for Bianca's second wedding to Ricky Butcher as part of the show's 25th anniversary. Executive producer Diederick Santer explained that he wanted great stories to get people talking, saying "The wedding is the perfect opportunity for us to bring back the much-loved Jackson characters – Carol, Sonia, Robbie and Billie." Sonia returned on 14 January 2014.
Natalie Cassidy won the award for "Best Actress" for the role of Sonia, at the 2001 British Soap Awards. Additionally, in 2004, Cassidy was awarded "best dramatic performance by a young actor or actress" for the role.
Referencing Sonia's foray into lesbianism in 2005, TV critic Grace Dent branded the character "the worst lesbian ever", adding, "The only lesbians with less lesbian tendencies than you are the women on the front cover of the Horny Triple-X Lesbian Specials which they keep at eye level by the sweets in my corner shop. Time to make a u-turn." Lesbian website AfterEllen.com was also critical of the storyline that saw Sonia experimenting with her sexuality and then returning to her heterosexual orientation shortly after. Sharon Hadrian writes: "It was the first time in over a decade that a lesbian couple had been depicted in the East London drama, lending cautious optimism to the idea that the BBC was finally integrating its traditionally heterosexual soaps [...] Lesbian fans, meanwhile, are struggling to care at all after being led on by the show's failed attempts at writing a decent lesbian story line [...] Despite their troubles, Martin and Sonia got married in 2004 and — given their past — many fans believe they are meant to be together. If this seems like the most inopportune time to turn Sonia into a lesbian, well, the show's writers did it anyway [...] Sonia's sudden lesbian affair was met with disapproval from all sides, and nobody — the fans, characters or even the actors — was particularly supportive of her relationship. As a result, perhaps, the writers wrote what was expected of them [...] there was hardly room in the script for any affection or sympathy at all; instead, their relationship was written around its impact on Martin and the other Albert Square residents. The reaction of Rebecca's guardian, Margaret, was especially hurtful. When the [lesbian] relationship became public, she immediately sought to award sole custody of Rebecca to Martin, citing Sonia's sexual orientation as the reason she would be an unfit mother. This vitriolic response to Sonia and Naomi's relationship could have been a pivotal moment had the program's producers used the opportunity to prove either the quality of their relationship or to reinforce Sonia's parenting abilities. Unfortunately, they did neither of these things. Instead, Margaret's reaction was surprisingly representative of the public response to their relationship. Fans of the show were upset that anyone (let alone a lesbian) had come between Sonia and Martin. Naomi came off looking especially predatory — a common trait in media representations of gay and lesbian characters — by seducing a formerly heterosexual woman and convincing her to leave her family [...] not too surprisingly, Naomi and Sonia broke up. Afterward, Naomi faded into the background and Sonia ended up back with Martin, seeming to forget entirely about the same-sex attractions she once had [...] It was a sad but not unexpected ending to a rare chance for the BBC to acknowledge lesbian sexuality in its programming and for viewers to witness a positive lesbian relationship that didn't ruin anybody's life [...] Sonia or Naomi [...] had the potential to develop a loving depiction of lesbian sexuality but were failed by the show's writers and, arguably, the BBC's institutionalized homophobia".
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