Aaron Sidwell as Steven (2016)
|Duration||1989–90, 1992–2002, 2007–08, 2016–|
|First appearance||Episode 511
28 December 1989
|Introduced by||Michael Ferguson (1989)
Leonard Lewis (1992)
Jane Harris (1997)
Diederick Santer (2007)
Dominic Treadwell-Collins (2016)
Chip shop worker
Edward Savage as Steven (2002)
Steven Peter Beale is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Edward Farrell from 1989 to 1990, Stuart Stevens from 1992 to 1996, Edward Savage from 1997 to 2002, and Aaron Sidwell from 2007 onwards. It was announced on 22 February 2008 that the character would be written out at the end of Sidwell's contract, and made his on-screen departure on 9 May 2008. On 2 May 2016, it was announced that Sidwell had returned to the role. Steven made his return on 27 May 2016.
Steven is born in 1989; his mother is Cindy Beale (Michelle Collins) and his father is Simon Wicks (Nick Berry). Cindy is married to Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) and she convinces him that he is Steven's father. Simon becomes Steven's godfather, despite knowing that he is his biological father. Cindy tells Ian the truth when she and Simon reconcile. They leave Walford with Steven in December 1990; however, Ian and Cindy reconcile in 1992, and Ian raises Steven as his son. Cindy and Ian later have twins, Peter Beale and Lucy Beale. Unhappy in her marriage, Cindy hires a hitman to kill Ian in 1996, and when this fails, she snatches Steven and Peter and flees to Italy. Nearly a year later, Ian tracks her and the boys down and kidnaps them back. Cindy fights for custody and wins, but on the day she reclaims the children, she is arrested when the hitman confesses to the attempted murder of Ian. She dies in childbirth in prison. Steven alone attends her funeral.
Steven then grows up with various different stepmothers, and though he grows close to them all, he feels abandoned when they leave. When Ian prepares to marry Laura Dunn (Hannah Waterman), Steven is anxious that they too will end up splitting; his fears are realised when he catches Ian kissing prostitute Janine Butcher (Charlie Brooks) in 2002. From being a quiet, sensitive boy, Steven starts rebelling and skipping school. When Laura finds out, she confronts Steven, who reveals that Ian had kissed Janine. The subsequent rows have a negative effect on Steven; he becomes angry with the world and starts writing poison pen letters to people. Ian eventually finds out and confronts Steven. Following an argument, Steven goes to his room and overhears Ian calling him "Cindy's little brat!"; Ian is forced to tell Steven that he is not his natural father. Distressed and angry, Steven decides to leave Walford to meet Simon, who lives in New Zealand.
In September 2007, Steven returns and begins stalking Ian, pretending to be Ian's late wife, Cindy. He lures Ian to an empty block of flats, and takes him hostage. Arriving back in Walford, he spends time reminiscing with Peter and Lucy, though Ian's new wife Jane Beale (Laurie Brett) is initially wary of him, especially when he attempts to kiss her. When Steven's grandmother Pat Butcher (Pam St. Clement) tells him that Ian always considers Steven his first born, blood related or not, Steven starts to regret what he has done. Wanting to confide in his sister, Steven takes Lucy to the flat where Ian is being held. Horrified, Lucy escapes and contacts Jane, while Ian confronts Steven about the reasons for his actions. Steven tells Ian that he blames him for his mother's imprisonment and death. He is angry that Ian had not retrieved him from New Zealand; living with his biological father had not been a happy experience, and he had ended up feeling rejected and in the way.
Steven then tries to commit suicide with a gun that Lucy gives him to dispose of. Ian, Jane and Lucy try to stop him, a struggle ensues, and Jane is accidentally shot in the stomach; as a result, she is unable to have children. Ian admits Steven to a psychiatric hospital. When released, Steven goes off his medication. He tries to apologise to Jane and Ian, but finds them hostile. Hoping he will leave Walford, Ian humiliates and rejects Steven several times, going as far as to break a snow globe he had given to Steven when he was young right in front of him. Once again depressed, Steven tries to commit suicide by dousing himself in petrol; however, Stacey Slater (Lacey Turner) stops him from setting fire to himself. When Ian discovers what Steven has been planning to do, he reconciles with him. Displeased, Jane fights against Steven being part of her family, but eventually relents and in January 2008, she agrees to let Steven move into the Beales' home; however, she makes it clear that she is waiting for him to mess up so he will be gone from her life for good.
Steven and Stacey grow closer in early 2008, as he supports her through the breakdown of her marriage. Steven is attracted to Stacey. She initially rejects his advances, but eventually agrees to date him. Their relationship progresses, until Steven decides that he is ready to lose his virginity, but their attempt at consummation ends in disaster when Steven can not perform sexually. Embarrassed, Steven pretends that he had lost his virginity; however, Jane's brother Christian Clarke (John Partridge) realises he is lying and publicly announces it, leaving Steven humiliated. Steven confronts Christian and, after releasing his pent-up anger and frustration, he spontaneously kisses Christian. Realising Steven is gay, Christian tries to make Steven face up to his sexuality. Steven maintains that he is heterosexual, and successfully has sex with Stacey, but their relationship soon ends when Christian tells Stacey that Steven had kissed him.
Distraught, Steven propositions Christian, but is rejected. In revenge, Steven tells Ian that Christian had tried to seduce him. Ian is furious until Jane discovers the truth, leading Steven to confess that he is gay. Steven is grateful when Ian proves supportive, as his biological father had not been. Ian is full of praise for Steven; however, he does not realise that Steven has been hiding his runaway daughter, Lucy. Steven does not want to share Ian's attention, so he makes plans for Lucy to flee to France; however, Pat discovers his plan and is hit by a car as she is trying to apprehend him. Pat is hospitalised, and in order to stop her from telling Ian about Lucy, Steven tries to smother her with a pillow. Pat wakes up, but Steven continues in his murder attempt until Ian interrupts him. When Pat tells Ian about Lucy, Steven tries to deny it, but Ian sees through his lies. He traces Steven to St Pancras railway station, and discovers him with Lucy. Steven has booked her a ticket on the Eurostar, but Ian persuades her not to go and Steven flees. Later, back in Walford, Ian spots Steven spying on Lucy. Ian confronts him, admitting that he is glad that Steven is not his biological son; he tells him that if he ever returns to Albert Square, he will kill him. Devastated, Steven heads to the tube station and leaves Walford.
In 2014, Peter reveals that Steven was living in New Zealand with his father, Simon. Peter (now Ben Hardy) and fiancée Lauren Branning (Jacqueline Jossa) leave Walford for New Zealand to join Steven in February 2015. In May 2016, Steven returns with Lauren and his nephew Louie after they are informed that Jane is in hospital after being attacked by Steven's stepbrother Bobby Beale (Eliot Carrington), who has also confessed to killing Lucy. Ian initially rejects Steven, but Steven says he is back to help out the family and repair any damage he made in the past. Ian accepts Steven's offer of driving him to the hospital. Steven and Lauren do not tell anyone that they are now in a relationship. After Ian finds out about this, he kicks Steven and Lauren both out of the house, as he not only has found out that Steven and Lauren are in a relationship but also, Peter does not want anything to do with Ian.
Creation and development
The character's conception was a part of one of the most notable storylines in EastEnders during 1989, a love triangle between Cindy Williams (played by Michelle Collins), Simon Wicks (played by Nick Berry) and Ian Beale (played by Adam Woodyatt). Steven was the result of a one-night stand (in the bar of The Queen Victoria public house) between Cindy and Simon, occurring while Cindy was engaged to Ian Beale in May 1989. Viewers knew that Cindy was carrying Simon's child; however, between characters in the serial, Steven’s true paternity was kept secret, with only Cindy, Simon, and later Simon’s mother Pat Butcher (Pam St. Clement) knowing the truth, though neither Simon or Pat would believe Cindy’s claim initially. Simon’s rejection of Cindy and her unborn child facilitated a plot twist that saw Cindy pretend that the child was Ian’s.
The character’s birth occurred in an episode that aired on 28 December 1989, although in the on-screen events, he was born on Boxing Day. In the storyline, Steven was born two months prematurely, and was therefore supposed to be small; however, the baby who originally played Steven, Edward Farrell, was actually large for his age, and was nicknamed "Chunky" by actor Adam Woodyatt. According to former EastEnders writer, David Yallop, it had been agreed in September 1989, that Steven Beale would be killed off in the serial. This was part of producer Mike Gibbon's plan to increase the ratings by culling a large number of the soap's long-running cast. Yallop said, "We had to reach a decision with the illegitimate child who was in the process of being born as a result of an earlier storyline. We wanted to know what to do with it. Either the child would be allowed to live or it would die. They decided to make the child 'seriously ill', but the reprieve was temporary. In episode 606 I resolved the problem." He claimed that on his draft of the storyline he wrote the words "Baby die". The plot never came to fruition, as Gibbon was abruptly replaced as the soap's boss and Yallop's plots were scrapped.
According to the EastEnders Handbook by Hilary Kingsley, casting babies for roles in EastEnders is usually done locally, so that children and their parents do not have to travel far when they are called into the studios at BBC Elstree. Because of the strict laws dictating the number of hours babies are permitted to work, occasionally dolls or understudies have to be used if the child runs out of time. This occurred with Steven’s original actor, Edward Farrell, in 1990. The baby had been scripted to appear at a Guy Fawkes Night party; however, actress Michelle Collins, who played his screen mother Cindy, has since revealed that they used another baby for those scenes: "Not only was she a girl, she also had bright red hair whereas Edward was fair. I had to keep pushing her hair back under her hat but lots of [viewers] still spotted it". Young Farrell was also the reason viewers never saw Cindy wearing her red wedding dress on-screen again following its next outing at Steven’s christening in February 1990. It was a dress that Michelle Collins particularly disliked. She has commented, "When Edward was sick over it, I knew it wouldn’t recover and I kissed him for it."
Before his first screen birthday, Steven was central to storylines surrounding his parents and stepfather Ian, including a special week of off-set episodes filmed in Devon, where Ian discovered that his best friend Simon was Steven’s real father and that he had reunited with Cindy. The love triangle between Simon, Cindy and Ian, and the events surrounding Steven’s paternity dominated the soap during 1990; it has been described by writer Colin Brake as the year’s "big story". Steven was written out of the serial after actors Nick Berry and Michelle Collins decided to leave the show. His exit aired on 27 December 1990, though in the on-screen events it was Boxing Day, Steven’s first birthday. In 1992, Michelle Collins reprised her role of Cindy, and Steven was also reintroduced, played by a different actor, Stuart Stevens. On-screen, Simon abandoned Cindy and Steven. Ian traced them to a bedsit and brought them back to Walford, where Steven was brought up as Ian’s real son. Steven was written out once again in 1996, when Collins quit for a second time. In the on-screen events, Cindy absconded with Steven and his brother Peter following Cindy’s failed attempt to have Ian assassinated. Upon his return in 1997 – where Ian once again regained custody – Steven’s role was recast to another actor, Edward Savage. As the character aged, his actor was given a more substantial role in the serial, Steven remaining with Ian following the death of his mother, who died in prison during child birth. Savage remained in the role until 2002, when he opted to leave. On-screen, Steven discovered that Ian had been lying about his paternity. He began rebelling, and was found to be the author of several mysterious poison pen letters. When he was caught, he demanded to travel to New Zealand, so he could meet his real father, Simon Wicks. A BBC source commented to the Daily Star, "Regular viewers will know Steven is a deeply troubled boy. But his unmasking as the poison pen author is going to shock everyone on the Square. The lad is almost inviting punishment. It's as if he wants Ian and [his stepmother] Laura to wash their hands of him. Could Steven be a new Nick Cotton in the making?"
Reintroduction (2007); stalking, kidnapping and mental illness
In 2005, the British media claimed that the character of Steven was due to return to EastEnders, three years after he had last appeared. The Sunday Mirror speculated that EastEnders bosses were hoping to cast an Australian actor to play Steven, to signify that he had been in New Zealand. It was claimed that actors from Australia’s long-running soaps, Neighbours or Home and Away, were being considered. The rumours turned out to be false, and a subsequent rumour in January 2007 predicting that Footballers' Wives' actor Craig Gallivan was to play the role, was also quashed.
The character was eventually to make his return in September 2007, reintroduced by executive producer Diederick Santer as part of a storyline that saw Ian being stalked and terrorised by a mystery person, claiming to be his deceased ex-wife Cindy. After weeks of watching Ian tormented, viewers saw Ian lured to the top of a deserted block of flats, where Ian came face to face with his harasser, Steven. For several weeks, Ian was kept locked up in the derelict flat, while Steven returned to Albert Square to bond with his brother and sister, Peter and Lucy. Aaron Sidwell was cast in the role of Steven, making him the fourth actor to play him. It was Sidwell's first television role, and he has described it as "a bit daunting...but everyone was really welcoming...the first few directors I worked with were fantastic...After we did rehearsal, after we did a take, they'd always give me feedback...I needed it." He added, "I have been so lucky. Not many people get the chance to work on such a huge show, and my entrance was pretty impressive. I still wake up and think: 'Oh my God, I'm in EastEnders.' It's brilliant." Describing the motives behind Steven's actions, Sidwell said "[Steven] was raised for 13 years thinking he was Ian's son...but he wasn't...He sees Ian as the cause of Cindy's death, because Cindy died in prison, and she went to prison because Ian put her there...so that's how he kind of sees that it's Ian's fault...very narrow-minded... Steven is..a messed up kid and when I first got the part I was given a catchphrase that describes him as a person...'look at me'...he wants to be in the limelight 100%...he wants people to be thinking about him [all the time]...that's why he got angry with Ian because Ian wasn't thinking about him... he's the most important person in the world."
The storyline eventually reached its climax in October 2007. Steven's games were uncovered, and during the confrontation that followed, Steven threatened to kill himself, but accidentally shot Ian's wife Jane (Laurie Brett) and a resulting emergency hysterectomy meant that Jane could no longer have children of her own. The storyline has been described by The Guardian journalist, Stephen Armstrong, as having "a whiff of Brontë about it", which producer Diederick Santer agreed with. Santer added, "It's a classic madwoman in the attic story, but I hate those articles where someone who works in popular television says what they do is like Dickens. It's about the balance. That story works because it has an old character whom the audience love - Ian Beale - as well as new characters who have an appeal for teenagers fresh to the show. Soap audiences like continuity. They dip in and out and if they haven't watched for a few weeks, then tune in to find no one they recognise, it can be disconcerting."
Mentally ill, Steven was admitted to a psychiatric hospital by Ian. Sidwell has commented on Steven's mental instability: "He's so unpredictable...you never know what he's going to do next...He'll be normal one minute and he'll be crazy the next. He's kind of the Donnie Darko of EastEnders...that's the kind of person I styled him after...[he is] a similar character...He is always going to be a bit unstable and there will always be danger. I don't think even he knows what he's going to do next – but he's deadly, so don't let the nice guy act fool you."
Steven returned to the serial as a regular character following his release from hospital. Subsequent plots saw him unsuccessfully attempting to make amends with Ian and Jane for his past wrongdoing. The character also formed a friendship with Stacey Slater (played by Lacey Turner), who stopped him from committing suicide in December 2007. In the on-screen events, Steven – infuriated by Ian's rejection – soaked himself with petrol and threatened to light himself on fire. Aaron Sidwell explained, "He is deeply depressed about the way Ian has been treating him since he returned to the Square...Steven just wants to end it all! Stacey is incredibly scared by what’s going on. He tells her to go away, but Stacey is determined to get him out of The Arches and stop him doing something very stupid...What he is doing is a cry for help." In the end, Stacey managed to persuade him not to go through with suicide by showing him that friends can be just as important as family. Despite hostilities from Jane, Steven gradually regained Ian's trust, and in episodes that aired over the Christmas period of 2007, Ian welcomed Steven back into his home as part of the Beale family.
Departure (2008); sexuality and Lucy's disappearance
In February 2008, the BBC announced that Steven was being written out of EastEnders once again. An EastEnders spokeswoman revealed: "[Sidwell]'s contract has run out – he only came for that length of contract. But his character came in dramatically and he'll go out dramatically."
The buildup to Steven's exit involved in a bisexual love triangle storyline between him, Stacey and Christian Clarke (John Partridge), who is the gay brother of Jane. On-screen, Steven and Stacey's friendship progressed into something more serious in March 2008, when they shared a kiss. Steven later decided he was ready to lose his virginity to Stacey, and took Ian's advice "to try to name the England football team and substitutes as a technique for pacing himself," which Sidwell has described as, "a really funny scene to film [...] my favourite comedy moment since joining the show." Speaking of the character's impending exit, he added: "Steven loves Stacey as a friend, and would do anything for her. He misreads loving someone as being 'in love', though. Things aren't right between them, and he can't put his finger on the reason why. That's what's going to lead him to question his sexuality..." On-screen, Steven was unable to consummate his love for Stacey, and after an emotional rant, he kissed Christian. The filming of the storyline posed difficulties for Aaron Sidwell; in an interview with the Daily Star he explained, "[Lacey Turner's] a really good friend of mine, so kissing her was weird, but we just got on with it! But I found it really challenging to kiss [John Partridge] because I'm not gay [...] I saw the conflict teenagers go through when they're struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. [The gay Kiss] is a cracking scene and I'm really pleased with it." The storyline progressed with Steven denying his homosexual tendencies, leading Christian to continuously try and "out" him. John Partridge, has commented, "Christian knew Steven was gay from the outset. He noticed Steven had tendencies that he himself had as a young man – and his gaydar is very good [...] Christian didn't ask to be kissed by Steven but now that it's happened he wants the boy to admit that he's gay. He basically wants to help him. Steven doesn't want to be gay and Christian knows how he feels. Coming out is hard for any young man [...] Christian's worried that Stacey is going to get hurt. He knows that when you're gay, you're gay. That's it. There's nothing you can do about it and if you try to hide it, people get hurt." After the truth was revealed to Stacey, Steven falsely claimed to Ian that Christian had attempted to seduce him – a means of revenge for Christian's rejection. The following episode, Christian was banished from the Beales lives by Ian, although the truth eventually came out and Ian, despite initial concerns, was shown to be supportive of Steven's sexuality. The plot has been described as "controversial" and gay actor John Partridge has confessed that he had worries about it initially: "A gay man having any sort of relationship with an 18-year-old boy is a bit contentious. However, I think it has been handled really well."
A final twist in Steven's story was his involvement in a seemingly unrelated plotline that had been running simultaneously to Steven's personal dilemma, the disappearance of his half sister Lucy (Melissa Suffield). In episodes that aired in May 2008, it was revealed that Steven had been hiding his runaway sister in a caravan, poisoning her mind against Ian and persuading her to flee the country. Explaining his character's motives, Sidwell said, "It’s all about Ian again. Steven wants all Ian’s love and attention and he feels Lucy is getting in the way. She’s the one who gets most of Ian’s time and energy and he thinks getting her out of the picture will leave Ian all for him [...] He’s been brainwashing her into thinking Ian doesn’t care if she never goes home again [...] His real plan is to keep her out of Ian’s life for good [...] He craves Ian’s full attention and is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. He doesn’t exactly plan to be evil but he is dangerous." In the end Steven's plan was discovered by his grandmother Pat, leading Steven to attempt to suffocate her to death before she revealed the truth to Ian. An EastEnders source told Digital Spy: "Steven hits rock bottom when Pat finds out that he's been hiding Lucy for all these weeks while his family have been frantically searching for her [...] when Pat realises that Steven knows where Lucy is, he takes drastic steps to prevent his beloved nan from revealing all to Ian. He goes from confused to psycho in a matter of minutes, grabbing a pillow and pushing it onto her face." Sidwell added, "Steven is deadly! He is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants including murder." The murder attempt was stopped by Ian, and after discovering the truth from Pat, Ian chased Steven to London's St. Pancras Station (where he was intending to put Lucy on the Eurostar to Paris) and convinced Lucy to return home. Sidwell commented, "Steven is such a good manipulator he thinks Lucy will side with him. He’s shocked when she doesn’t and when she agrees to go home with Ian." In Steven's final scenes, Ian rejects Steven as his son once again, telling him "I never give up on my family. But you're not my family, are you? You're your mother's son and you're Simon's son, and that really used to hurt. Now I thank God I never produced anything as sick and twisted as you." Steven then departed from Walford after Ian vowed to kill him if he ever saw him again.
Sidwell made his last appearance on-screen as Steven on 9 May 2008, and he has since revealed that producers made the right decision in axing his character as his story arc had run its course: "They really did try to keep Steven in. The problem is EastEnders is a realistic show, so with Steven being a larger-than-life character it was always going to be hard having him doing the same crazy things day in, day out. I wasn't expecting to stay on the Square forever. It was my first big job out of drama college and I couldn't have asked for a better start in the industry. I've had a great time and the character isn't being killed off, so who knows what might happen a few years down the line. There's always the possibility I might be asked back one day".
It was announced on 2 May 2016 that Sidwell had returned to filming as Steven as part of an explosive storyline. Sidwell revealed that as there were plans for Jacqueline Jossa to return in the role of Lauren Branning, it meant there was an opportunity for Steven to return as well. Sidwell said of his return, "I was happy to be asked back, it was the right time for me and the right time for the character. Enough time has passed for Steven to come back and have a different input and impact. It feels fresh. Steven has had enough time to grow up and change dramatically."
Journalist for The Mirror, Tony Stewart, commented that "With the exception of [Coronation Street's David Platt], no psycho kid has inflicted so much damage on his own family as deranged freak Steven Beale." He described Steven's exit storyline as sinister, exciting and compelling drama, adding that it was "sometimes hilarious and never less than thrilling".
Discussing the character's mental problems and his sexuality, Gareth McLean of The Guardian expressed "concern" that "in EastEnders, being a gay is akin to being mentally unbalanced. Were Steven Beale's behaviour up until now not a cause for concern - kidnapping Ian, shooting Jane, spiriting Lucy away to a caravan to play with her mind - wait until he attempts to murder his granny. Homosexuality = mental illness..." Virgin Media included Steven in a list of villains in British soap operas, calling him "a wrong 'un through and through."
- List of soap opera recasts
- List of soap opera villains
- List of LGBT characters in television and radio
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