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Steph Cunningham

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Steph Cunningham
Steph Cunningham.jpg
Hollyoaks character
Portrayed by Carley Stenson
Duration 2000–2011
First appearance 8 March 2000
Last appearance 26 December 2011
Introduced by Jo Hallows
Spin-off
appearances
Hollyoaks: In Too Deep (2004)
Hollyoaks Later
(2008–2009)
Classification Former; regular
Profile
Occupation Waitress (2007–2010)
Businesswoman (2008–2010)
Dance teacher (2009–2010)

Stephanie "Steph" Roach (also Dean and Cunningham) is a fictional character from the British Channel 4 soap opera, Hollyoaks, played by Carley Stenson. She debuted on-screen during the episode airing on 8 March 2000. Steph was introduced into the serial by executive producer Jo Hallows. In 2009 Stenson decided to quit, but the then producer Lucy Allan convinced her to stay to play out a dramatic storyline. The announcement of her departure was made public in June 2010. Stenson's fellow cast members have described her as a "Hollyoaks legend" because of her lengthy duration.

Steph has been described as having a highly confident persona, a trait Stenson enjoyed portraying throughout. Steph is also played as "fame hungry". She is noted for a number of high-profile storylines such as the portrayal of bullying in a school environment, the portrayal of epilepsy, which Stenson felt had been a 'taboo subject' for too long. Other stories include becoming a widow and her involvement in Niall Rafferty's revenge plot and her constant desire for fame. One of Steph's final storylines was the portrayal of cervical cancer, which Stenson conducted extensive research into. Steph was subsequently killed-off in a special block of episodes branded by the media as "fire week". Some critics described her final storylines as "upsetting" and "surprising". Steph's relationship with Gilly Roach, played by Anthony Quinlan respectively, was viewed unfavourable by most. Stenson has been nominated for several different awards for her portrayal of Steph.

Storylines[edit]

Backstory[edit]

Steph is the daughter of Frankie (Helen Pearson) and Johnno Dean (Colin Wells). She has two brothers, Craig (Guy Burnett) and Jake (Kevin Sacre), and a sister, Debbie (Jodi Albert). She is not close to her siblings, and has a strained relationship with her mother Frankie, who prefers to involve herself in Craig and Jake's lives and boast about Debbie's professional singing prowess. In contrast, Steph has a very close relationship with her father, Johnno.

2000–2011[edit]

Steph was introduced as Zara Morgan's (Kelly Greenwood) bitchy friend with a penchant for humiliating and bullying others. She was touted as a new student for Hollyoaks High and was the first character from the Dean family to be introduced into the series. Over time the character was joined by an on-screen family. She was not initially particularly close to her brothers and sister, although for many years she tried to maintain a relationship with them. Generally, her mother Frankie never had much time for Steph or her life, usually preferring to involve herself in the lives of Steph's brothers, Craig and Jake, or to boast about her daughter Debbie's professional singing prowess; in contrast Steph had a very close relationship with her father Johnno, who continually supported the family through a number of tough times over the years; however, Steph was hit very hard when he left Hollyoaks in 2005 after discovering that he had an illegitimate baby son.

Steph's early story lines were heavily focused on her school life. She was often seen bullying Lisa Hunter (Gemma Atkinson). Steph's cruelty reached extreme levels when she obtained evidence of Lisa's boyfriend, Brian Drake (Jonathan Le Billon) cheating on her. The evidence was projected on the school wall for all the students to discover; Lisa is heartbroken and ended up in hospital after self-harming herself. Steph was delighted about telling the other students that Lisa attempted suicide. Steph's friends felt she had finally gone too far with her bullying and they started to lose respect for her; eventually — Steph apologised for her behaviour and promised to change her attitude. Aware of her good looks, Steph enjoyed a reputation of being the school's "good-time" girl; during her school years, she had brief flings with Brian Drake and a footballer called Scott Anderson.

Eventually becoming friends with Lisa and Zara visit Abby Davies (Helen Noble) house with Steph promising to highlight Lisa's hair with blonde highlights. After Lisa's hair was revealed to be green, Zara and Abby accuse Steph of doing the hair wrong on purpose and make her leave the house claiming she was jealous of Lisa's good looks, Steph was devastated about losing her friends. An oblivious Steph did not realised that she is being stalked by serial killer, Toby Mills (Henry Luxemburg). It was part of a storyline that had been running in the background for while. He attacked her, and proceeds by stabbing her in the head and leaving her to die. Steph was then found unconscious and she woke up a week later in hospital where she was diagnosed with epilepsy. Steph was the only one of Toby's victim to survive an attack.

Steph refrained from harassing Lisa until she discovered that Lisa's brother-in-law was her attacker. The relentless bullying starts again; but Steph's father eventually catches Steph unleashing a cruel and vicious physical attack on a tearful Lisa, and pulls Steph off her; angry that his daughter was capable of performing such a cruel act, Johnno then orders her to leave Lisa alone. The two females reconcile later in university and Steph apologises to Lisa for her constant bullying.

After being diagnosed with epilepsy the character went onto go through many changes; although unable to deal with the condition at first, Steph's father supported her through this ordeal, and she was later able to take control on her own. Steph then had to face up to her father's departure after it was revealed he had a secret son. She refused to accepted her stepfather Jack Osborne (Jimmy McKenna) as a father figure.

Steph then had a short lived relationship with Cameron Clark (Ben Gerrard) which was plagued by his OCD problems. She failed her exams in college and had to retake them, before appearing in a fictional television show, "Bid Crazy TV", where she brawled with the presenter. Later with stepbrother, Darren Osborne (Ashley Taylor Dawson), as her agent, she first auditioned for a girl band, (X-Pose) and it turned out to be a money scam. Steph's next escapade saw her doing a "kiss and tell story" on fictional celebrity Joe Jones, whom she met after an audition to become one of his backing singers. Steph failed the audition. Jealous of her sister's success in the West End, resolved to find fame by any means possible. She promptly slept with Joe, believing he would invite her on tour with him. Joe subsequently ignored and humiliated Steph. Outraged, Steph sold her story to a tabloid and a TV show, angering her family and causing Debbie to lose her job. By late 2006, Steph's fame had fizzled out. Darren then arranged for her to sleep with a footballer, in the hopes of extending her celebrity status. Steph's brother Craig was furious, and tried to talk her out of prostituting herself. Steph went along with the plan. The next morning, Steph realised the man had lied to Darren and was actually just a mascot for a football team. A humiliated Steph quit.

Then in a comedy storyline, her great-aunt Reenie had left an inheritance to her, but with one condition — Steph had to perform charitable act in order to claim it. When she succeeded in claiming her inheritance after saving Leo Valentine (Brian Bovell) from chocking. She then discovered the inheritance turned out to be a donkey named Small Fortune. Steph promptly sent the animal away to a donkey sanctuary. She later was seen pretending to be Elliot Bevan's (Garnon Davies) girlfriend to please his mother and was subsequently exposed as not.

Steph then started working at MOBS and acted as a babysitter for Tom Cunningham (Ellis Hollins). When Steph picked up Tom from children's club, Tom tried to get Steph's attention by performing star-jumps. This did not work until he fell down and hurt his knee. Steph then went to help him and brought him back to Sam "OB" O'Brien (Darren Jeffries) From then on, Tom was smitten with Steph, and tried to impress her by looking smart with his shirt and new hair and placing a flower in her bag. O.B. set up a dinner for two for Steph and Max Cunningham (Matt Littler), but Tom presumed it was for himself and Steph. Steph and Max discovered Tom's first crush, and Tom was put off when Steph talked about kissing. She supports Craig through his sexuality crisis and relationship troubles with John Paul McQueen (James Sutton).

Max and Steph become attracted to each other. Max plunges into grief and remorse for bringing estranged wife Clare Cunningham (Gemma Bissix) into the lives of the people he cares about. Steph feels sorry for him and invites him out. Max tries to kiss her. Steph and Max began to misread each other and, even as they developed feelings for each other, assume there is no chance at a relationship. When Max took Tom to the safari park to see an elephant named Romeo, that Steph had sponsored for him, Steph found him and they finally told each other that they liked each other and agreed to get into a relationship. Tom initially disapproves of their relationship, but comes around to the idea.

She reports her brother Jake after she witnessed him trying to rape Nancy Hayton (Jessica Fox). Steph told Max that he and Tom were now her family, a family further bonded when he proposed marriage. Steph becomes friends with Niall, who fell for her, although she saw him more as someone to confide her problems in. Max began to see Steph as selfish and only interested in her career and money, which led to several arguments between the pair. One day, he caught her alone with Niall, wearing only a shirt. She'd spilled something on her dress, but he assumed the worst and they broke up. A few days later she went back to Niall's place and they kissed, but were interrupted by his room-mate.

Steph later begins feuding with Summer Shaw (Summer Strallen), who was after a career in show business, everything she previously wanted. When Max split up with Steph, she was heartbroken. After a talk they decided they would both give it another go, and Steph asked him to meet her for lunch. Niall made sure Max thought that he and Steph had an affair. This resulted in Max and Steph splitting up once more. They reconciled, but the doubts continued. When Steph was at The Loft with Niall and Nancy, she saw Max with another girl and decided to make a move of her own — grabbing Niall and kissing him passionately.

Tom later pulled a series of stunts in order to get the pair back together, in the end a stint that ended up seeing Tom in hospital managed to get them to see the error of their ways. Happily reunited, Max and Steph go to tell Frankie that the wedding's back on. Frankie's elated but warns Steph that Max shouldn't let Cindy come between them. Max is reluctant to choose sides but when things come to the boil between the two, his loyalty is tested. Fed up, Max tells Cindy that unless she will accept his decision to marry Steph than she and Holly can no longer stay with them.

Max bumps into Niall Rafferty (Barry Sloane) in the village and tells him that his wedding with Steph is back on. Niall is devastated but tries to remain composed in front of Max. Steph has big plans for her wedding day and it looks as if it’s getting out of control as Jack worries about how much it's going to cost, with Jack even suggesting to Frankie and Steph that he should call Johnno and ask him to contribute to the cost of the wedding, a suggestion that Steph and Frankie refute immediately on the basis that Johnno was never very good with money, and also that he was now married to Michelle and was therefore preoccupied with bringing up his new son Presley. With only 48 hours until their big day everything starts to go wrong and when Steph accidentally rips her wedding dress it's the final straw. A devastated Steph announces there's no way the wedding can go ahead on Thursday.

After a few setbacks Max and Steph finally tie the knot in a ceremony initiated by Kieron Hobbs (Jake Hendriks). After the ceremony Max and O.B. leave everyone to enjoy the party while they slip away with Tom. When they are alone Max gives O.B. an engraved watch to say thanks for being his best man and his best mate, but when Niall drives away at speed he doesn't see Tom in the way of the car and Max jumps out in front of him to grab Tom, Niall did not put the brakes and carried on and crashed in to a wall after running over Max. O.B. rushed to Max's side and held him, soon after he died in O.B.'s arms and Steph arrived too late to say goodbye. Steph was overwhelmed with grief, and refused to leave her flat she shared with Max or wouldn't take off her wedding dress, until a visit from the priest helps her to face up to her responsibilities for Tom. Later at Max's will reading, Steph and Tom were left Max's entire estate.

Steph sleeps with Niall. Niall then kills Tina Reilly (Leah Hackett) in an explosion and reveals that he was in fact Myra McQueen's (Nicole Barber-Lane) son. Fearing Niall's attentions are on herself, she goes to Scotland to stay with Craig. Niall follows her and holds her, Tom and Craig hostage. He tries to make her run away with him. Steph tricks Niall into believing she will run away with him but is later caught by Niall when she tries to call the police. Steph manages to get away and this results in Steph, Craig and Niall having a brawl on the edge of a cliff. When Steph reveals to Niall she will never love him he jumps off the cliff. Steph is left devastated by another loss in her life. When she returns home she finds that Niall has destroyed her wedding photos, the only piece of Max she had left. The sheer amount of trauma Steph has faced made her extremely shaken and she decided to leave for a break once more.

Steph returns to the village after a long holiday with Tom. She begins to piece her family back together. She starts up dance classes at with the help of Sarah Barnes (Loui Batley) and Fernando Fernandez (Jeronimo Best). Steph then starts dating Fernando and Gilly Roach (Anthony Quinlan) is jealous and tries to come between them. At one point he stole Fernando's belongings and disposed of them, but it backfired when Steph revealed she had left her medicine to treat her epilepsy in his bag. Steph gets engaged to Fernando and Gilly gets engaged to kayla's new friend Cheryl Brady (Bronagh Waugh). Steph realises her feelings for Gilly so ends things with Fernando. Gilly also ends things with Cheryl however Steph refuses to see him because of her loyalty to Cheryl. Gilly goes travelling then returns and becomes engaged to Jem Costello (Helen Russell-Clarke), Gilly leaves Jem to be with Steph.

Steph finds out she has cervical cancer. After recovering from her hysterectomy, Steph decides she wants to pursue a career in singing, thus deciding to enter The X Factor. Steph uses her sob story to her advantage at her audition but is still knocked back. Steph's struggle continues when she finds her cancer has spread and must start on chemotherapy right away. Steph is later told that her cancer is terminal, so she later tells Gilly the news but he is unable to cope with it so Steph decides to cancel the wedding, but they later work through their problems. Cindy Cunningham (Stephanie Waring) then announces she will marry on the same day as Steph, which annoys her. Steph then gets married to Gilly, she says her goodbyes to Cindy in a heartfelt conversation of their past, as Cindy goes on a long honeymoon. When Steph returns from her own honeymoon, she decides to direct the HCC play with old friend Lee Hunter (Alex Carter). Steph begins to make plans for when she dies making a video for all her friends and family.

During "Fire Week", Steph admits to Gilly that she is scared of dying. As they walk through the village, they hear an bang and find Mercedes (Jennifer Metcalfe) and Malachy Fisher (Glen Wallace) injured from an explosion at Il Gnosh restaurant. As Gilly runs for help, Steph hears Amy Barnes (Ashley Slanina-Davies) crying for help from a flat above Il Gnosh, so runs inside to help. Mercedes tries to stop her from going into the burning building but Steph ignores her. After rescuing Amy and her children, Leah and Lucas, Gilly calls to Steph to get out, but she refuses, saying she is now ready to die as she walks back into the flames. Later, Gilly attempts to re-enter the flat, but is stopped by a fireman, who confirms Steph's death. The next day, Steph's family apart from Gilly watch her goodbye message. After Steph's funeral, Lee shows her family and friends individual films that Steph had recorded for all of them. However, she died before she could film Frankie's. On 11 March 2011, Cindy returns and Darren tells her about Steph and plays her the goodbye message. On 26 December, Steph made a one-off appearance as a ghost to Doug Carter (PJ Brennan).

Development[edit]

Casting and characterisation[edit]

Carley Stenson (pictured) said that Steph is a "lovable rogue who just likes making mischief for attention."

Stenson originally auditioned to play a friend of the established character Zara Morgan (Kelly Greenwood).[1] Although unsuccessful, the Hollyoaks casting team later asked her to apply for the new role of Steph Cunningham, and placed her straight into the final stage of auditions. She was delighted to subsequently be given the part, which was her first major television role.[2][3] Stenson joined the cast straight after leaving high school, aged seventeen.[1][4] She made her first appearance in March 2000,[5] and by 2007 had become the longest-serving female cast member remaining.[6]

Steph was introduced as a friend of Zara's, who was initially "quite naive" and easily led. Within two years, her personality had altered greatly. Steph became a bully,[1] and "a bit of a bitch".[2] Stenson enjoyed this transformation into a villain, as she believed it made Steph a more memorable character.[1] She also felt she could "really go somewhere" with Steph's bitchiness in her acting, but in contrast struggled to portray her more genuine moments. She commented that Steph is the type of character only to cry over things she "really cares about". Stenson found this difficult to relate to, and struggled to "find a balance between pushing it too far and far enough".[2] She ultimately preferred to play her as a bitch,[2] though one "more comical rather than just out-and-out nasty."[1]

Stenson assessed that Steph "really isn't all bad, more of a lovable rogue who just likes making mischief for attention."[1] She deemed her character "very unpredictable", with a great deal of confidence.[7] The LINC Online called her a "beautiful blonde wild child with a penchant for arrogance and displays of egotism".[2] Sarah Moolla of The People branded her "superficial",[8] the Daily Record's Merle Brown referred to her as "a true red-blooded female,[9] and Emma Johnson of the Liverpool Echo assessed that she had a "couldn't-care-less" attitude.[10] BBC America described Steph as a two-sided character. They observed that as well as a bitch, she could be "dishonest, vain, jealous and small-minded", and wrote "She causes trouble when she wants to and will happily lie and gossip to get her own way." Conversely, they noted that for those on her good side, "She can be your best friend, a confidante and sweet natured girl".[11]

As Steph developed, she was revealed to have a "softer side". Beneath her tough façade was a "deeply insecure little girl who crave[d] love and affection."[11] An "artistic and creative" streak lead her to attend performing arts college,[12] and attain a degree in drama.[13] This inspired a rivalry with fellow actor Summer Shaw (Summer Strallen), which saw Steph "determined to keep the limelight on her."[14] Nadia Mendoza of The Sun described Steph as Hollyoaks's "resident drama queen", explaining that Steph's dislike of Summer stemmed from the fact she had previously been the only actress in the village.[13] Stenson downplayed her vocal ability, and opined that Steph is "hardly the world's best singer".[15]

Family and relationships[edit]

In late-2002, more than two years after Steph's arrival, her family were introduced to the series.[1] The dynamics of the Dean family evolved with time. They were initially a dysfunctional unit, but in a different way to other Hollyoaks families, as they tended to disrupt the lives of others whilst being happy amongst themselves.[2] Upon their arrival, actress Helen Pearson, who plays mother Frankie Dean, assessed that they were "really supportive of each other", and "quite solid, like an old-fashioned family unit", despite their lack of finances which required them to undertake "various scams to keep body and soul together."[16] As time went on, the Deans were affected by affairs and parental separation, more typical of the soap's other families.[2]

Steph had several romances throughout her time in the series. In her early years, Stenson played her as a flirt, who acted out for the attention of boys.[1] Her first lovers included Christian virgin Brian Drake (Jonathan Le Billon) and football playing "lothario" Scott Anderson (Daniel Hyde).[16] Her later relationship with Cameron Clark (Ben Gerrard) had "ups and downs" due to his obsessive-compulsive disorder. To boost his confidence she forced him to join a rock band. Her actions were successful, and Stenson said Steph was "proud" of this.[15] She sacrificed their relationship so Cameron could leave and tour Europe. Sarah Ellis of Inside Soap praised Steph for being so supportive, despite Cameron's "erratic behaviour".[15]

Steph appeared to "finally [find] happiness" when she fell in love with Max Cunningham (Matt Littler).[17] Although attracted to her, Max initially resisted Steph as he believed her to be a "ditzy, air-headed blonde", only interested in "bad boys."[18] When his younger brother Tom (Ellis Hollins) developed a crush on her, the "kind, sensitive way" Steph handled it altered his impression. Littler explained, "Max begins to realise there's more to her than her looks. He begins to think she's actually really nice and they become friends."[18] Littler quit the series in 2008, and producers planned his exit around Max's wedding to Steph.[19] He was killed off on their wedding day, as he pulled Tom out of the path of a car.[20] Before she filmed the aftermath of Max's death, Stenson listened to depressing music to reach her character's bereaved mindset.[21] Stenson believed it was a mistake to kill Max off, and "such an awful thing to happen to Steph", until she received "amazing feedback" about the storyline.[21] In the aftermath, Tom asked Steph to be his mother, in a scene that then-executive producer Bryan Kirkwood deemed his favourite of the year. The interaction between the two was intended to represent "what Hollyoaks is all about - lots of heart, relationships, friendships, love and loss." Kirkwood praised Stenson's performance throughout the storyline, particularly during in that scene.[22]

Steph has a brief fling with Niall Rafferty (Barry Sloane). The actors were required to film "steamy scenes". Stenson felt it a "hard challenge" to portray, she had to convince the audience that Steph would genuinely get together with her husband's killer.[21] Some viewers, including all the staff of Inside Soap believed their chemistry to be greater. Stenson ultimately decided Steph was "better suited" to Max.[21] She hoped that Steph would have even "more drama around the corner" along with "a bit of comic relief".[21]

Illnesses[edit]

Epilepsy[edit]

"It was the first thing I worried about, that people who have it would watch it and think, 'That's so not what it's about and that's so not how I feel.' Especially having the fit because I didn't want it to look laughable. It was very difficult."[2]
—Stenson talking to LINC Online about her initial fears of portraying epilepsy. (2006)

In a storyline which Stenson found challenging to portray, Steph was diagnosed with epilepsy. Feeling a responsibility to members of the viewing public who have the disorder, the actress researched it extensively, assisted by Mersey Television. As well as reading about it, she visited several organisations,[7] and spent a day on set with a teenage girl—close in age to Steph—who has the condition, and who shared insights on the experiences she had been through.[10] The actress felt trepidation about acting out seizures, but for her first one was assisted by the episode's director, who had witnessed seizures first-hand, having once worked in a hospital.[10] Stenson felt privileged to be chosen for the storyline, particularly as epilepsy is typically a taboo subject which had not featured prominently in a soap opera before.[2][6]

Barbara Pinder of Epilepsy Action praised the serial for taking on the subject matter. Hollyoaks researchers contacted the charity when developing the storyline, and Pinder felt that the show succeeded in communicating the impact of Steph's diagnosis. She stated, "It is great to see a soap opera, specially one that is watched mainly by young people, look at the issue of epilepsy as it often gets ignored."[10] Stenson was pleased the storyline was "reaching out to people", and stated that she had received many letters from fans thanking her for highlighting an under-exposed subject,[2] as well as positive feedback on the Hollyoaks website.[10]

Steph initially reacted angrily towards her diagnosis, which Pinder confirmed was not uncommon, explaining: "The character is going through stages that someone with epilepsy is likely to go through. Teenagers can have terrible trouble coming to terms with epilepsy at a time when they have a lot of other difficult things to deal with. It can also be quite a blow to their independence."[10] Writing for the Sunday Mail, Steve Hendry assessed that the plot would serve to "bring the arrogant and often spiteful Steph down a peg or two", humbling her.[3] Stenson agreed that Steph's epilepsy would make her "more understanding", inspiring thoughtfulness towards others, as opposed to her former rejection of those different to her. However, she observed that the condition may also serve to worsen her behaviour towards "a chosen few."[3] The character's epilepsy was further explored in the Hollyoaks spin-off In Too Deep, in which Steph has a seizure and believes she is possessed by a spirit, almost causing her to drown.[23]

Cervical cancer[edit]

In 2010, Steph was diagnosed with cervical cancer and underwent a hysterectomy.[24] The plot was said to echo the true story of former Big Brother contestant Jade Goody, who died of cervical cancer in 2009.[25] It was devised prior to the appointment of Paul Marquess as executive producer. He chose to continue with it, deciding that it would be interesting to give Steph another serious storyline, and have a character that viewers "know and love going through a really hard time."[26] In preparation for the storyline, Stenson studied the illness to give her a time-line of the experiences Steph would undergo. She chose not to speak with any cancer patients about coping with cancer, believing that everyone handles it in their own personal way. Additionally, she aimed to make Steph's realisation of her cancer as believable as possible, explaining that: "Steph wouldn't have any prior knowledge about what to expect, and I wanted to see it fresh through her eyes".[27] She was flattered to be trusted with the storyline, and found it particularly important to get her portrayal right as, during the previous year, she had fronted the Arm Against Cervical Cancer campaign.[28]

The producers aimed to send a message of early detection to the series' young audience, and had Steph initially ignore her symptoms.[24] Stenson hoped to raise awareness of cervical cancer, and educate women about the importance of regular smear tests.[29] She stated that Steph was confident about beating her illness, as "the alternative [wa]sn't worth thinking about."[28] The character was originally reluctant to tell her family about the cancer for fear of hurting them, and was embarrassed to tell her love interest Gilly Roach (Anthony Quinlan), not wanting him to have to look after her.[28] As the storyline developed, Steph cancelled her wedding to Gilly due to his refusal to accept that her condition was terminal. Quinlan explained that his character impeded her ability to deal with the situation, with his disbelief contrasting Steph's attempt to "take this in her stride and [...] spend quality time with the people she loves before she goes."[30]

Marquess deemed the storyline as a whole one which could only be depicted the way it was in Hollyoaks,[26] aiming to tell a "tragic story" with a "sweet and humorous tone"."[24] A comedy element of the storyline had Steph use her cancer as a sob story to enter a talent show, recruiting orphan Tom to take to the stage with her, giving her story further emotional impact. Stenson commented, "Deep down she knows she's not a fantastic singer, but she thought the judges would feel sorry for her and put her through."[31] According to Quinlan, viewer feedback on the storyline was "brilliant". He stated that viewers were upset by Steph's illness, and that it had even brought his own mother to tears.[32]

Departure and death[edit]

In 2010, it was announced that Stenson had decided to quit the serial to pursue a career in musical theatre. She deemed it "one of the most difficult decisions [she had] ever made", stating that Hollyoaks had been her "dream job" and that she would miss her friends in the cast and crew.[5] She made the decision to resign around June 2009, but was convinced by then-producer Lucy Allan to play out a long exit storyline,[33] which concluded filming in September 2010.[34] Before filming her final scenes, Stenson secured her first West End role.[35] Though she had previously felt ready to leave the series, when the time came, she was upset because she felt the reality of it.[27] She called her final scenes "really sad and emotional",[34] and stated that while she had not had any input in Steph's exit, she was happy with it.[36]

Hollyoaks devised an arson plot to begin on Guy Fawkes Night 2010, as a result of which some characters would die. The production team intended to keep details of who would die secret until transmission.[37] Prior to broadcast, Stenson revealed that Steph would risk her own life to save Amy Barnes (Ashley Slanina-Davies), Leah Barnes (Jessica Croft-Lane) and Lucas Hay. The actress explained that "She stares death in the face every day because of her cancer, so thinks she really has nothing to lose now."[38] Stenson performed one of her own stunts during filming, with the rest undertaken by a stunt double.[39] A promotional trailer for the episodes aired across the Channel 4 network, featuring Steph on fire.[40] In the event, Steph rescued Amy and her children from a burning building but refused to leave herself, saying she was ready to die.[41] Her exit received a positive reaction from fans on the social networking website Twitter, with Stenson stating that she was "honoured" by the response.[42] Steph's legacy continued following her death, with her husband, family and friends left to come to terms with their grief.[43] On 29 November 2011 it was confirmed Stenson was to reprise the role for a one off guest appearance as Steph in which she appears as an angel to Doug Carter who had attempted suicide and she convinces him that his life matters. Steph tells Doug something and he shows Frankie a special song that Steph had recorded for her. Frankie, overjoyed that her daughter had not forgotten her, wept whilst Angel Steph looked on happily and placed a hand on her shoulder before winking to Tom and returning to heaven, stating she was "ready for her solo."[44]

Reception[edit]

Stenson received several award nominations for her portrayal of Steph. She was nominated in the "Best Comedy Performance" category at the 2005 and 2006 British Soap Awards,[45][46] and for "Best Dramatic Performance" in 2009.[47] She received a long-list nomination for the "Best Actress" accolade at the 2005 National Television Awards.[48] In 2008, Stenson was nominated for the "Sexiest Female" Inside Soap Award,[49] which she found flattering.[50] A further nomination in the same category followed in 2010, accompanied by nominations for "Best Actress", and "Best Dramatic Performance" for Steph learning she had cancer.[51] The character was selected as one of the "top 100 British soap characters" by industry experts for a poll to be run by What's on TV, with readers able to vote for their favourite character to discover "Who is Soap's greatest Legend?"[52]

Following her departure, her co-stars commented favourably on the actress and character, with Jorgie Porter deeming her an "ultimate original", Gemma Merna stating that she "was Hollyoaks",[53] and Ricky Whittle admitting that he cried during the airing of her final scenes.[54] Television and entertainment website Holy Soap did not see Steph's fire death coming, calling her actions brave and her ten-year duration "mammoth".[41] They described her most memorable moment as telling Niall she did not love him and then watching him commit suicide.[55] Inside Soap said if there was an award for "the unluckiest character in soap", Steph would certainly win.[21] In his column for The Guardian, television critic Jim Shelley stated that it was time for Steph to go, having "suffered enough" during her tenure. Humorously recapping her ten years in Hollyoaks, Shelley wrote:

Sarah Welsh of the South Wales Echo gave the stalking storyline a negative review. She called both plot and acting "ridiculous" and commented that while she often felt sorry for the serial being snubbed at the National Soap Awards, "This is not the way to raise the game."[57]

Steph's relationship with Gilly (Anthony Quinlan, pictured), attracted several unfavourable reviews.

Steph's relationships were a focal point of many reviews. The Daily Mirror's Nicola Methven and Polly Hudson found a 2004 love triangle between Steph, her sister Debbie and love interest Dan Hunter (Andrew McNair) "surprising compelling".[58] Grace Dent of The Guardian observed of her failed engagement to Fernando: "With the best will in the world, I don't feel that marriage was ever going to last".[59] Dent had previously named Steph singing the Sugababes' "About You Now" at Max's funeral one of her four favourite soap moments of 2008.[60] Roz Laws of the Sunday Mercury felt there was "plenty of chemistry" between Steph and Gilly.[61] Their relationship was frequently commented on by the Daily Mail's Jaci Stephen in her weekly soap column. She expressed disinterest in Steph and Cheryl's rivalry over Gilly,[62] and found it implausible that she and Jem would quarrel over him.[63] When the two finally admitted their feelings for one another in May 2010, Stephen accurately predicted that their happiness would be short-lived.[64][65] She highlighted a lack of subtlety in the scripting of the lead-up to their wedding, observing: "Of course, you know that the moment she says that nothing is going to stop her marrying Gilly, the Grim Reaper will be pulling up in his hearse, shortly behind the wedding car."[66]

Stephen derided Steph's singing ambition during her X Factor plot line, deeming her voice "average" and writing that she did not need to use her cancer for the sympathy vote, as her singing alone would be enough for that.[67] She later questioned when Steph would accept that she was not intended to be a singer, commenting that her "ambition could not be made of sterner stuff", but that Simon Cowell and the remainder of the population would breathe "a major sigh of relief" at the abandonment of her showbiz dreams.[68] More positively, Stephen wrote that she loved the bravery in "both the humour and pathos that Steph's manipulation of her cancer brings."[69]

Reviewing the Steph-centric spin-off In Too Deep for The Times, Tim Teeman commented that while late-night Hollyoaks episodes had previously been amusing, "sexed-up" versions of the main show, with In Too Deep it became "less shagathon, more What Lies Beneath".[70] The episode was selected as recommended viewing by Laws of the Sunday Mercury.[71] The launch of Hollyoaks Later series one, in which Niall returns to target Steph, was named a "Satellite Pick of the Day" by the Daily Record.[72] Christopher Howse, writing "Tatworld" for The Daily Telegraph—a column chronicling tabloid culture—named Steph and her family joint tenth in a list of Top Ten Deans, which included entrants such as Dean Koontz, Dean Gaffney and Richard Dean Anderson.[73]

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External links[edit]