EastEnders star Jo Joyner writing book on IVF experience: ‘It is laugh or cry’

Jo Joyner is all over our TV screens at the moment – she’s come a long way since finding fame in nursing drama No Angels back in 2004.

Now, millions watch her as nosy Luella in BBC One’s hit drama Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators. Returning for its fourth series, she stars alongside Mark Benton’s bumbling Frank Hathaway as the hilarious pair lurch from one case to the next.

Jo has a host of prestigious acting jobs under her belt, including parts in Fat Friends, Doctor Who and most-recently, a role in hit Netflix detective series Stay Close.

But it was her seven-year stint as Tanya Branning in EastEnders that really transformed the actress into a household name.

In 2013 Jo, now 44, left Albert Square behind and, along with her drama teacher husband Neil Madden, she eventually moved from London back to the Warwickshire village where she grew up.

And as Shakespeare & Hathaway is filmed on her doorstep, Jo has been enjoying more time at home with her twins Fred and Edie, 13. “We film from September to December and that’s a lovely time to be at home. As a mum I’m around for Halloween, Bonfire Night and then Christmas,” she tells us.

Here, Jo reveals more about the new series, how she once had to turn her hand to decorating to make ends meet and why she’s writing a book about IVF…

Hi Jo! Tell us all about your role in Shakespeare & Hathaway …

Well, Luella Shakespeare is an accidental detective. She was originally a hairdresser who found a passion for using her nosy skills to crack crime. She and Frank Hathaway rub along together, not always getting it right but making murder mystery as much fun as you can!

Did you have a laugh during filming?

Honestly, Mark Benton is such a lovely, wonderful actor and so generous. We seem to have the same funny bone. We make each other laugh so easily. There have been times where I’ve had to leave the set to pull myself together.

This year, I had a stunt with a yoga ball which I flew off during filming – that turned into me having some physio on my neck! It was my own fault. It looks funny and was funny, it’s in the show as it was the only take we could do.

So what’s in store this series?

We’ve got some amazing guest stars this year, like Ruthie Henshall. And Tracy-Ann Oberman will be playing my sister, which is a real treat.

We’ve got a lovely episode which was a bit like Strictly. We do a lot of ballroom dancing in that, which was fun. I’m not a natural, that’s way out of my comfort zone, and Mark’s done Strictly so he was under pressure. He thought that everyone was expecting him to be brilliant – which he was.

And you get to film it in your home county of Warwickshire…

Yes. Actors usually work away, so what a treat! We film from September to December and that’s a lovely time to be at home. As a mum I’m around for Halloween, Bonfire Night and then Christmas.

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What were the lockdowns like for you over the last couple of years?

I’m so aware that people have had such a difficult time. I had some very talented friends who had [no work]. I don’t know about you, but every time I get a delivery at the door I wonder, “What do you really do and where do you come from?” For me, we have been lucky as my husband is a teacher and worked throughout so we had an income.

It was a privilege for me to be at home for so long. The kids were 11 in the first lockdown, so they were learning the same stuff and they were both manageable – it’s not like being stuck at home with three children under five!

Did you get Covid-19?

I think I had it during the Christmas (2019) that it wasn’t supposed to be here. My husband’s school had an unprecedented amount of kids off ill. My whole village and family – everyone had it.

I’m glad that I didn’t know about Covid then as there was definitely a couple of nights where I was really struggling to breathe – I would have been really, really scared had I known.

Then, last December, just as we were filming Shakespeare & Hathaway I had a test as a routine check and they called me and said I was positive and had to stay at home.

I had no idea! Your heart sinks. You go to bed each night thinking, “Is this the night where I’m going to turn?” Actually really luckily, I didn’t at all.

You also recently played a detective in the eight-part Netflix series Stay Close …

I play Erin Cartwright, a detective and also ex-partner of Jimmy Nesbitt’s character, Michael Broome. We filmed it in Manchester last year during the third lockdown. It was strange staying in hotels when the whole city was empty.

This is all a far cry from you once being a struggling out-of-work actress…

The hardest years were the first ones out of theatre school. We had our own little theatre group and we used to write our own stuff and put it on to try to generate work, and it worked.

We were a little brat pack and had a lovely time. We’d go to the cash-and-carry and buy all the drinks, then in the interval we’d rush to the bar and sell them to cover our costs! It didn’t feel like a struggle because we were young and so excited about it all and chuffed.

Zoe [Henry who stars in Emmerdale] and I used to do some painting and decorating for our friends when they got big TV jobs and started getting their new houses and stuff.

What else have you got planned for the rest of this year?

Nothing that I can talk about just yet – but I am hoping there will be some comedy. I’m working on a pilot at the end of this month, which is very exciting.

Anything else?

I am writing a book actually, just for myself at the moment. It’s an IVF-based thing. I’ve got a lot of journals from when I went through
my IVF treatment, for my own sanity. I started journalling as it is like a form of CBT [Cognitive Behavioural Therapy] really, because a lot of it is laugh or cry. But there are funny situations which arise during IVF.

It sounds a bit harsh to say, but there are such stupid scenarios that happen – let alone men giving their “samples”, bless them!

IVF is quite a journey…

We tried everything – acupuncture, fertility diets, reflexology – but nothing worked. We had tests and knew there was a slim chance anything [natural] would work, and that was when we made the decision to try IVF.

The twins were very longed for – we were incredibly lucky because we had them with our first round of IVF.

Life sounds good for you right now…

I have a great husband, a lovely family, beautiful kids and a job I love. I’m so lucky.

For all your updates on your favourite celebrities, sign up to our daily OK! newsletter. Shakespeare & Hathaway returns on Monday at 2.15pm on BBC One.

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