A ‘Normal’ Job Is A Reality for Actors Like Ex-EastEnders Cast Member Katie Jarvis

Katie Jarvis found herself front-page news when she was shamed for working as a security guard in a B&M bargains store. She talks to Grazia

Katie Jarvis

by As told to Ali Pantony |

It was late on Saturday night, at about 11pm, when I got a message from my friend telling me to check Facebook. The Daily Star had published a story online about my job as a security guard at B&M, which I’d been tagged in. I was upset, but I tried to ignore it, hoping it would blow over.

But then I woke up on Sunday morning to find that the story had become front page news: ‘EastEnder star works in B&M shop’. I couldn’t believe it. I sat in my sister’s bedroom, reading the paper, and I just burst into tears. I kept saying, ‘they’re all talking about me just because I’ve got a job, like it’s a bad thing.’ I was hurt, embarrassed and made to feel ashamed for having a ‘normal’ job.

The thing is, I enjoy working as a security guard. Yes, it’s tough – you get all sorts coming through the door. But I have to be busy, I can’t sit at home doing nothing, and I like learning new things. When I was working on Fish Tank [a 2009 film in which Katie starred alongside Michael Fassbender], I was 17 and studying a hair and beauty course in college, as well as working in my uncle’s doughnut truck during festival season. Since then, I’ve become a nail technician, worked in admin and retail, been a waitress and even done a railway engineering course.

It’s the nature of being an actor; gigs come and go, and after my contract with EastEnders [playing Hayley Slater] ended in February, I found a new job as soon as I could. Doing work like this is also what keeps me grounded. Growing up, my mum struggled a lot with four kids, so this is what reminds me of where I’ve come from, and that sometimes it’s hard but you’ve got to work for your money.

Really, though, it’s not about me. I’ve got two young kids – Lillie-Mae, 10, and Alfie, eight – and because their dad isn’t in the picture, it’s just me. As long as I’m providing for them, nothing else matters. Everything I do is for them. It’s one thing for them to see Mum chasing her dream, but it’s also good for them to see me putting in the hard graft elsewhere.

This reminds me of where I’ve come from. Sometimes it’s hard, but you’ve got to work for your money.

But on Sunday, it was difficult to see it like that. Honestly, I crumbled a bit, and it wasn’t fair for my kids – especially Lillie, who doesn’t just notice my pain but really feels it – to see me so upset. It’s why I’ve done my best to keep my private life out of the spotlight for the past decade, and why I came off social media – the not-so- nice comments would really get to me.

It was only when the messages of support started to pour in that I realised I shouldn’t be ashamed. Everyone – from former colleagues on EastEnders like Tamzin Outhwaite and Ricky Champ to actors like Kathy Burke and Nathalie Emmanuel – was defending me, saying they’ve had to work in ‘normal’ jobs as actors, too. Their support gave me the strength to speak out and stand up for hard-working people – especially single mums, because I can’t help but think if I were a bloke, I wouldn’t have been front page news.

I’m glad my kids get to see me fighting back and standing up for what’s right. It’s been a tough year for us – we lost my stepmum, grandad and godfather in the space of six months, and while I loved playing Hayley, it was a massive adjustment for me. I was thrown into millions of people’s front rooms overnight and was suddenly recognised by everyone. And my character’s storyline included self-harm, suicide attempts, alcoholism, pregnancy, fractured family relationships – mentally, it was a lot to take in while still trying to maintain some normality at home.

While I miss all my EastEnders co-stars – especially Jessie [Wallace, who played her cousin, Kat Slater], who has been texting me to check I’m OK – I needed to get some breathing space and focus on Alfie and Lillie. So, when my contract ended, I moved, got the job at B&M and gave my family a fresh start.

Of course, I’ll be pursuing my acting career for the rest of my life – as far as I’m aware, the door’s been left open with EastEnders, and it would be amazing to go back one day – but for now, I’m not just happy to work at B&M, I’m proud. Whether I make it big as an actor or not, I should never have been made to feel the way I did last week. Whether we’re stacking shelves, picking up rubbish or cleaning the toilets, who cares? We’re all just normal people trying to earn an honest living and provide for our families. No one should ever be made to feel ashamed for that.


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