|Portrayed by||Tamzin Outhwaite|
19 October 1998
Matthew Robinson (1998)|
John Yorke (2018)
|Book appearances||Steve Owen: Still Waters (2001)|
Melanie "Mel" Owen (also Healy and Beale) is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Tamzin Outhwaite. She appeared from 19 October 1998 to 12 April 2002 when Outhwaite opted to leave the role, and returned in 2018. Mel was introduced by executive producer Matthew Robinson and became a prominent character during her original tenure in the soap.
Mel is involved in high-profile storylines, such as a wedding to Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) to mark the Millennium Eve celebrations on New Year's Eve 1999, and later a problematic marriage to Steve Owen (Martin Kemp). Mel is heavily featured in a storyline marking the show's increase to four weekly episodes in 2001, when she is kidnapped by her former fling, Dan Sullivan (Craig Fairbrass). Outhwaite proved popular in the role and won multiple awards for her portrayal as Mel. Producers indicated that the door is always open for Outhwaite to return to the role; however, Outhwaite revealed in 2010 that she had not at that stage been asked to return. Outhwaite's return to the series was announced in October 2017 and she returned on 9 January 2018, followed by her teenage son, Hunter Owen (Charlie Winter).
Mel had a troubled past: She owned a business that went bankrupt, was abused by a boyfriend and was estranged from her family for some years, traveling around the Greek Islands, before reuniting with her brother, vicar Alex Healy (Richard Driscoll) and their father, Jeff, in Walford in October 1998.
Mel becomes involved with Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt). Mel finds the children hard to deal with at first but grows to love them. Ian and Mel plan to marry but Mel gets cold feet, realising she doesn't truly love Ian. Ian hears her say this and blackmails her into marrying him by telling her that Lucy has cancer. The pair marry on New Year's Eve 1999, in a double wedding with Barry (Shaun Williamson) and Natalie Evans (Lucy Speed), but at their reception, she discovers a letter, giving Lucy the all-clear, and leaves Ian as the clock strikes midnight and the new millennium begins.
Mel then has brief flings with Billy Mitchell (Perry Fenwick), Nathan Williams (Doug Allen), Dan Sullivan (Craig Fairbrass) and Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden), despite Phil living with her best friend, Lisa Shaw (Lucy Benjamin), at the time. However, her on/off flirtation with Steve Owen (Martin Kemp) is the only relationship that lasts and they marry in March 2001, despite Steve finding out that she had slept with Phil on Christmas Day 2000 in a drunken one-night stand. On their wedding day, Phil is shot by a mystery assailant and Steve is the prime suspect. Mel suspects it is him but he protests his innocence. Phil recovers from the shooting and confronts the culprit who turns out to be Lisa. Steve forgives Mel and on Phil's instruction, he decides to frame his enemy Dan. Dan is wrongly imprisoned for Phil's attempted murder, and after his release, believing that it was Steve who actually shot him, kidnaps Mel in revenge. Dan demands a large sum of money and Steve grows desperate. During her few days of captivity, Dan tells Mel about Steve's dodgy dealings and criminal activities. Phil comes to her rescue and Dan flees. Mel takes time out after burning down her and Steve's club, E20, as revenge for Steve's lies. He woos her round, however, and they plan to emigrate to America with Lisa, her boyfriend Mark Fowler (Todd Carty), and Lisa's daughter, Louise (Rachel Cox). However, Mark can't go having been denied a Visa due to his HIV and Lisa is torn as to what to do, the plan is falling apart but Steve absconds with Louise but Phil follows them and a car chase ensues; Steve swerves and crashes. Phil rescues Louise and is about to go back for Steve but is too late – the car explodes with Steve still inside, killing him.
Mel is heart-broken when Steve's web of deceit and lies are uncovered after his death. She discovers that Steve was having an affair with Phil's sister, Sam Mitchell (Kim Medcalf), and that Steve sold their club and house behind her back. On her friend Lisa's wedding day to Mark, Mel is arrested for drug connections after she is implicated in Steve's drug smuggling; Mel had unwittingly signed Steve's paperwork, linking the drug smuggling back to her. Facing a long spell in prison, Phil bails her for £30,000 when she discovers that she is pregnant with Steve's child. She then discovers that Lisa was responsible for shooting Phil and that both knew it was not Steve, despite her continued suspicions. Feeling betrayed by everyone, she toasts Steve before going to Portugal so Phil loses the £30,000. Later that year, Lisa and Louise join Mel in Portugal.
Mel returns to Walford as she is working for her sister-in-law, Ciara Maguire (Denise McCormack), to track down money and jewellery that was stolen from Ciara in a recent robbery that took place in the area, and Ciara is keeping Mel's son, Hunter Owen (Charlie Winter), from her until she finds the money. Mel eventually discovers that Sharon Mitchell (Letitia Dean) has the money and Mel double-crosses her so the money is returned and Mel is able to see Hunter again. Ciara does not have the full amount, so in retaliation, she tells Hunter that Steve died in a car explosion, not a heart attack as Mel claimed and that he was a villain who killed Saskia Duncan (Deborah Sheridan-Taylor). Mel is forced to tell Hunter that Steve killed Saskia in self-defence, but that Steve framed Matthew Rose (Joe Absolom) and his death was a result of a car chase. Mel later compares Hunter to Steve and asks for them to start again. Mel decides to remain in Walford, accepting Sharon's offer to reopen the nightclub, which she agrees to name E20 in tribute to Steve to keep Hunter happy. Jack Branning (Scott Maslen) pursues Mel but Hunter sabotages Jack's car to prevent them going to France. Before the club's opening, Hunter finds out Phil was involved in Steve's death and Hunter blames Phil, so he has sex with Louise in the office, knowing Phil will see it on CCTV. Phil is enraged and threatens to attack Hunter with a baseball bat but Mel seduces Phil and threatens to show Sharon the CCTV footage of their kiss to stop him from hurting Hunter. Mel and Jack argue after Mel tries to reunite Billy and Honey Mitchell (Emma Barton) by claiming that Billy has moved on. The argument leads to passion and Jack and Mel have sex.
Creation and development
Background and casting
In 1998, EastEnders acquired a new executive producer, Matthew Robinson. Robinson was dubbed "the axeman" in the British press, after a large proportion of the EastEnders cast either quit, or were culled, shortly after Robinson's introduction. It was reported that Robinson hoped the changes would attract more viewers and "spice up [the soap's fictional setting of] Walford".
To counteract the large number of departures, Robinson introduced several new characters, among them Melanie Healy played by Tamzin Outhwaite. In an interview with website Walfordweb, Matthew Robinson has stated that Melanie was "dreamt up to supplement the 'totty' contingent – running thin at the time". Robinson stated that Tamzin Outhwaite was "a shoo-in – and not just because of her beautiful blonde hair. Within a minute of her walking into auditions, hundreds already having trooped in and out of the door, I knew we had our star." Outhwaite has stated that she was given the role without having to do a screen-test. Mel was brought into the serial as a member of the already established Healy family, joining her brother Reverend Alex Healy (Richard Driscoll) and father Jeff Healy (Leslie Schofield) in October 1998. Initially Mel's relationship with Alex and Jeff was not disclosed to viewers, and it was several weeks after her introduction that Mel actually came face-to-face with her brother on-screen; it was revealed that she had been estranged from them for some time.
Author Kate Lock has described Mel as free-spirited, exuberant, a beauty, wild-at-heart, and "a restless soul with a troubled past". In his assessment of the character, author Rupert Smith surmised Mel as "a nice girl with surprisingly bad taste in men."
Mel has been dubbed as a chameleon, and Outhwaite has suggested that she liked to bring variation to Mel's characterisation: "When I arrived I liked the idea Mel was feisty and strong. I didn't want her turning into a wimpy character like so many women in soaps. You know, they're either bitches or they're slags or they're victims. I wanted to give Mel a bit of everything. Every woman has all those elements to their character. It's just working out where they come and go, and I don't think that's lack of continuity; I think that's a three-dimensional character."
Outhwaite has suggested that the wardrobe department struggled to come up with a static identity for Melanie at first; however, this she felt turned out to be a good thing: "What I really liked about it was, when we started looking for costumes [for Mel], the wardrobe department couldn't quite fit where I was going. I'd wear Army pants and trainers some days and then jeans some other days and then I'd be all suited and booted at other times. I said, 'That's what girls do! That's how I am. Some days I'm in scruffs and some days I'm really dressed up. It would be really nice to have a character who's not so predictable.'" Rosalind Powell, head of the EastEnders' wardrobe design team in 2000, said that Mel had "colourful and stylish" wardrobe from retailers such as Kookai and Oasis. Powell added, "Although she's a barmaid, she can still afford to wear nice clothes, she just doesn't have a very big wardrobe."
Relationship with Ian Beale
An unlikely romance was scripted into Mel's narrative when she began dating her boss Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt). The pairing has been described as one of "the most unbelievable soap couples", but Outwaite defended it in 1999, saying "I know I've fancied some not particularly attractive men in my time, but I don't think Ian is actually ugly. He has a vulnerable side and that's what is attractive. When he is being all hot-headed and gets above himself then I personally don't like Ian. But when he is being vulnerable I can see the attraction. People talk to me about it all the time. I have taxi drivers telling me I could do much better than Ian. The other day someone shouted that I should go back with [Mel's former fling] Steve Owen. It's incredible, they'd rather [Mel] went out with [Steve who is] a murderer than with [Ian, who is] a hard-working father raising three children." Their relationship was the focus of the storyline that aired to mark the Millennium celebrations, when Ian emotionally blackmailed Mel into marrying him by claiming that his daughter was dying of cancer; storylines in the latter part of 1999 focused on the build-up to a joint Millennium wedding on New Year's Eve 1999 with Barry (Shaun Williamson) and Natalie Evans (Lucy Speed). The wedding went as planned; however, Mel and Ian's marriage ended hours later as the clock struck midnight to signify the beginning of the New Year after Mel discovered Ian's lie. The Millennium Eve episodes drew in 20.89 million viewers – the biggest soap audience since the character Tiffany Mitchell (Martine McCutcheon) was killed off in EastEnders precisely one year earlier (New Year's Eve 1998). An EastEnders spokeswoman commented: "This is a remarkable endorsement of the power of EastEnders that over 20 million viewers chose to see the Millennium celebrations in Albert Square." The episodes were also broadcast on screens in London's Trafalgar Square, a typical “haunt for New Year's Eve revelers”.
Relationship with Steve Owen
A more long-running romantic pairing was featured between Mel and the character Steve Owen (Martin Kemp), who was portrayed as a villain. It was an on/off romance beginning shortly after both characters' introduction in 1998. In an interview in June 2000, Kemp discussed the relationship between Steve and Mel: "Steve's convinced Mel will make his life complete. She kept him going during all the bad times and now he's determined to have her. It's true of a lot of guys who get into trouble, they hang their hat on one idea and that keeps them sane [...] there's a driving force that kept them going while they were [in prison]. And often that's a woman. You know from those tender moments when Mel came to visit Steve [in prison] that she was the thing that kept him going, and he won't stop til he gets her back." Eventually the couple were shown to marry in the soap in March 2001, despite a revelation that Mel had strayed with Steve's nemesis Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden). Tamzin Outhwaite explained, "With Ian, Mel was the one who didn't want to go through with it. This time around Mel is the one who is apprehensive, hoping Steve will be there for her. If he isn't, she has no reason to stay in Walford. This really is make or break time for her." The wedding night was a precursor to one of the soap's most publicised storylines, Who Shot Phil?, where Phil was gunned down by an unknown assailant and, due to Mel's infifelity, Steve became one of the prime suspects for the murder attempt, though he transpired to be a red herring. Discussing Mel and Steve's wedding, Outhwaite said, "Even though this wedding with Steve has got as much controversy as Mel's last one [with Ian], it feels more true. The characters seem more suited and it's not a big, white wedding, it's a low-key register office thing." 17 million viewers watched the wedding.
In August 2001, EastEnders began airing a 4th weekly episode. The storyline to mark the occasion centred around Mel, her husband Steve, and her former lovers Phil and Dan Sullivan (Craig Fairbrass). After Phil and Steve wrongfully framed Dan for Phil's shooting, Dan sought revenge by kidnapping Mel and demanding a ransom. An EastEnders insider reportedly told The Mirror, "This has be [sic] one of the most dramatic storylines we have ever filmed. Dan has vowed to get even with Phil and Steve for framing him over the shooting. Kidnapping Mel kills two birds with one stone. Although Mel and Phil have had their differences, he still harbours feelings for her." As part of the storyline, Outhwaite, as Mel, was tied up to a radiator in a council flat. Outhwaite commented, "They offered to untie my wrists between scenes, but I said no so I could feel what it was really like. My wrists were raw by the end of it and I was exhausted, but that was the challenge I wanted."
Although Mel was rescued, the events on the storyline had ramifications for Mel and Steve's marriage after Dan told Mel that Steve had been unfaithful. This led to the temporary screen exit of Outhwaite who had been permitted time off from filming to make another TV series. This was part of a lucrative deal that Outhwaite made with the BBC, where Outhwaite reportedly agreed to remain on EastEnders for a further year if she was allowed to film other TV shows. In the storyline, Mel ended her marriage with Steve and departed after torching his club, ignoring his sobbing and begging. According to Outhwaite, "Steve was a rat and fully deserved it." Mel returned after two months away and began negotiating divorce but ultimately decided against it and reunited with Steve; however the reunion was brief as Steve was killed off in the serial in March 2002 after Kemp decided to leave. His death storyline centred upon his on-going feud with Phil.
Following Martin Kemp's decision to quit EastEnders, Outhwaite announced she was quitting the soap in the autumn of 2001, stating, "I'm not sure what was left for Mel to do after she had been kidnapped, been married twice, burnt down a club and slept with her best friend's husband [...] To be honest with you, Mel's role in EastEnders has come to a kind of natural end. I always said I'd go when I felt that the character had run her course, and I'm going to leave when my contract runs out next year [...] Martin and I are in very similar situations with our characters. We came in at a similar time, and now it looks like we'll leave at a similar time, too. Mel and Steve had some kind of aura, a chemistry, that was unique. I was really proud of it." She added, "I'll always be indebted to EastEnders for providing me with a wonderful start to my career on television and the opportunity to play a character like Mel has been fabulous. I felt it was time to move on and try on a new coat – new characters, new challenges." EastEnders' executive producer John Yorke said of Outhwaite's departure, "Tamzin has created one of the most-loved characters and (with Martin Kemp) one half of the most-admired on-screen couple in EastEnders since the show started. She has been fantastic to work with and we wish her all the luck in her career." Yorke added that the character would be welcome back any time.
Mel's exit storyline was linked to Steve's death, and Outhwaite claimed that viewers would be gripped by the storyline right up until her own exit a few months after Steve's. She commented, "Mel is devastated by Steve's death. She thinks that Phil caused it and rushes into the Vic and goes for him. Mel acts brave, but inside she is breaking. She is given a necklace of black pearls on the day Steve dies and it breaks her heart. She knows Phil was involved in the death but can't prove it. He has been nothing but trouble for her and she won't try to build bridges now [...] Mel looks brave on the outside but inside she's cracking up." In the on-screen events, Mel's anger turns to devastation when Phil informs her that Steve had been having sex with his sister Sam Mitchell. After being arrested over Steve's money laundering and discovering she was pregnant with Steve's baby, Mel confronted everyone who had wronged her before leaving Walford. At the time, Outhwaite stated that her final scenes were the hardest that she'd ever filmed. Tony Stewart, critic for The Mirror suggested that Mel's exit in April 2002 was thrilling and described it as "a devastating story of betrayal and her ultimate revenge [as] one by one her friends desert her." Stewart praised Mel's final scene with the following description: "When she faces her last exit at Victoria Coach Station, there is a glint in her eye as Mel looks at the destination board and speaks on her mobile. 'Pick a number for me,' she says. 'One to 20. Great. Thank you.' And with that she is gone... but never forgotten."
Outhwaite stated, after leaving the show, that she might return to the character if the time was right. In 2010 she commented that a return would be unlikely as the character did not have links in the current cast, and that, in any case, she had never been asked back, stating: "People always ask me, but I've never been asked! It looks like I'm turning it down on a yearly basis, but I'm not. They've never asked me! So they don't want me back for one and I don't have any family left on the show. There's nobody on the Square she knows, I don't even think any of Mel's friends are still in it... I could walk down the market and be an extra, I suppose! [...] She doesn't really know anyone apart from Ian Beale and Phil Mitchell. So unless she was coming back to see one of them..."
On 24 October 2017, the show's producers announced that Mel would be returning to the serial in 2018. Outhwaite, who billed Mel as "a strong independent woman", returned to filming in November 2017. Yorke, who was appointed executive consultant in June 2017, asked Outhwaite to reprise the role. The actress felt privileged to be invited back to the show and called playing Mel again "perfect". Outhwaite billed Mel as "a strong independent woman" upon her return and believed there are "lots more stories to tell" with the character. She commented, "EastEnders is in my DNA and I always knew deep down that someday I would revisit Mel." Yorke said he was "thrilled and flattered" to have Outhwaite reprise the role and looked forward to exploring her absence and "who Melanie Owen is now". He also promised an "incredible" storyline for Mel when she returns and said it would "awaken a lot of old ghosts, some great memories, and a whole new series of adventures too". On 22 December 2017, it was announced that Charlie Winter had been cast in the role of Hunter Owen, the son of Mel and Steve. Hunter returns alongside Mel. Mel returned on-screen in the closing moments of the episode broadcast on 9 January 2018.
BBC News claimed in 2000 that Tamzin Outhwaite was one of EastEnders' most popular stars and Mel was described as one of the most popular characters on the show. During her stint it was reported that the BBC offered to increase her salary various times to entice her to stay with EastEnders with suggestions that she was the highest-paid British soap star. She was awarded 'Sexiest Female' at the British Soap Awards for three years running and 'Best Newcomer' at the National TV Awards. Outhwaite has discussed her popularity: "When I came in as the vicar's sister, I had no idea Mel would be such a big character and the audience would take to her so quickly. I was surprised as I thought she was a bit plain and a flirt. But no matter what Mel does – going out with Ian, Dan, Steve, Phil – people still like her. Women wanted to be her mate and blokes wanted her as a girlfriend."
Outhwaite was reportedly told to tone down her performances as Mel in 2000, when her love scenes were branded "too realistic for family viewing." Viewers were only shown a censored version of her love scene with Dan Sullivan. Tamzin stated, "I was told that this was to be a scene in which I really wanted Dan and that it should be full on but because it was before the watershed they thought it was too much."
The lead up to Mel and Ian's Millennium wedding included a hen/stag night celebration episode, which was filmed on-location in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The episode evoked criticism by the Broadcasting Standards Commission for its inclusion of "almost relentless drunken and promiscuous behaviour, sexual innuendo and drug-taking, before the watershed", which included Mel having to kiss various strangers. The BBC defended the episode, claiming that its content would have “come as no surprise to viewers” and adding that the depiction of this behaviour conformed to an EastEnders tradition – that questionable conduct "only leads to further trouble…One character's quest for drugs led to embarrassment and nausea and a drinking binge led to the calling off of [Barry and Natalie’s] wedding while the prospects for [Mel and Ian's] became bleaker."
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