Born Julie Anne Harris, the youngest child of Albert and Pat Harris, Patsy Palmer was born for stardom. She spent her childhood in Bethnal Green, London with her whole family close by. She was particularly close to her maternal parents, whom she affectionately called “Farvey” and “Nor.” Her parents separated when she was 8 and her father, to whom she never felt close, remarried and moved to America.
Palmer was bitten by the acting bug at the tender age of six when her older brother Albert auditioned for a part in the West End production of “Joseph and the Amazing Techni-Colored Dreamcoat”. Accompanying him to the audition along with their mother, Patsy demanded to be allowed to audition despite being too young and, to the amazement of her family and herself, she was given a chorus role – and was the youngest member of the entire show! This prompted a young Julie Harris to audition for the free-paying Anna Scher Theatre School and, because there was already an accomplished film and theatre actress by the name of Julie Harris, she was given the stage name Patsy Palmer, her mother’s maiden name. Whilst there Palmer extended her talents to writing plays, resulting in her winning an award at the London Festival of Plays at the age of just 12 for writing her own play about prostitution.
Patsy began her career on television by starring as an extra in an episode of The Bill (1984) in 1988 at 16. That year she had a prominent part as an acne-ridden teenager in a TV commercial for Clearasil. Further small roles in TV series such as Tricky Business (1989), Making News (1990), Clarissa (1991), Love Hurts (1992) and Drop the Dead Donkey (1990) followed before Patsy Palmer became an iconic household name with her famous portrayal of feisty red-head Bianca Jackson in the BBC One soap opera EastEnders (1985), making her first appearance in November 1993 at 21. During her time on the soap opera Palmer tackled various demanding storylines, such as her turbulent romance with Ricky Butcher, played by real-life best friend Sid Owen, the discovery of her father David Wicks, the premature death of her disabled daughter Natasha, for which she became the first- ever soap actress to be nominated for Best Actress at the Royal Television Society Awards, the death of her best friend Tiffany Mitchell, and the revelation of her affair with Dan Sullivan, her mother Carol Jackson’s fiancé. In April 1997 she commanded the soap’s biggest-ever audience draw with more than 22 million people tuning in to watch Ricky and Bianca’s wedding. Her role in the show also prompted a meeting between her and Queen Elizabeth II, which she declared was one of the biggest highlights of her life. But after 6 years in the soap opera, Palmer bowed out to try new things, making her last appearance in September 1999.
Following her departure Palmer got involved in various projects, such as the detective series McCready and Daughter (2001), Do or Die (2001) and the period drama He Knew He Was Right (2004), as well as cameo appearances in short films Another Green World (2005) and Trapped (2008). Patsy also reprised her role as fiery Bianca Jackson in a special spin-off show EastEnders: Ricky & Bianca (2002), reuniting her with Sid Owen for the first time in three years, which detailed Bianca’s life away from Walford, where she struggled to raise her son Liam and attend fashion college in Manchester as well as working in a seedy club in order to make ends meet. The show was extremely popular with Palmer’s fans and resulted in her being invited to return to the show, but Palmer declined in order to spend time with her family. Later on in October 2007 it was announced that Patsy Palmer would be returning to EastEnders (1985) after 8 years away and, along with Sid Owen, her returning scenes were aired in April 2008. Palmer’s second stint in the soap opera as Bianca portrayed her still as a struggling single mother, this time being thrown out of her residence for failing to pay rent and being made homeless along with her children. Palmer has also tackled the difficult storyline of sexual abuse, with her jailbird boyfriend Tony King grooming her stepdaughter Whitney.
Outside her career, Palmer is a mother to four children: Charley (born in February 1992, fathered by an ex-boyfriend); and Fenton (born in June 2000), Emilia (born in July 2001), and Bertie (born in December 2010), fathered by her husband, taxi-driver Richard Merkell. She was married to director Nick Love, who directed her in her role as a pregnant drug-addicted prostitute in Love Story (1999), but they separated after just five months of marriage. She lives in Brighton with Merkell, to whom she’s been married since August 2000, and her four children. She is the active patron of Children’s Cancer Charity CLIC Sargent.
Patsy Palmer is an incredible talent and a British icon from humble beginnings, a shining example to all Britons that no matter their background, there is hope for everyone that their dreams will come true. Hers did.
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