The actor behind the iconic Helen Stewart reveals all ahead of a reunion event
BY CARRIE LYELL
Before Orange Is The New Black and Wentworth, there was ITV’s Bad Girls. The show ended ten years ago, which makes us feel old. But it still holds a special place in the hearts of legions of loyal fans and boasts one of the most beloved lesbian couples in TV history, Wing Governor Helen and lesbian lifer Nikki. To celebrate the programme and raise money for The Eilidh Brown Memorial Fund, Simone Lahbib, who played Helen, is organising a Bad Girls Reunion. We caught up with her to find out more and reminisce over Helikki.
Can you tell us a bit about the reunion event and how it all came about?
SIMONE LAHBIB: It basically came about on Twitter. There are quite a few Bad Girls fans [there]… so they were kind of chanting for one. I had a little get together with some of the girls from the cast and said, “how would you all feel?” They were up for it. I spoke to Mandy Sellers and Rachel Kennedy who are helping me organise it and we’ve just been working on it the past few months. Now it’s come together and we’re looking at merchandise at the moment. [Laughs] We’re at that stage. We’ve got all the t-shirts ordered, and I’ve been gathering bits of memorabilia from the show. Scripts and various things. It’ll be a mad day, I’m sure, but a good day as well. I do communicate through Twitter with the fans, and a lot of them, they are so enthusiastic and really nice people. I’m looking forward to meeting some of them.
The event is raising money for The Eilidh Brown Memorial Fund, a charity set up in memory of your niece. That must be quite emotional for you?
The thing with charity is you kind of bash on ahead. You get into fundraising mode, and you’re very proactive in doing certain things to make the charity run and move things forward. It’s been a long journey, and the goalposts keep moving. There are lots of hidden costs. So that was a bit of a shock to the system. You have to keep soldiering on to raise the rest of the money. All these things emboldened me to look for new ways and exciting ways to fundraise because with all the austerity measures in this country, and everything that’s going on, charity fundraising has been leant on heavily and there’s a lot of charity fatigue. We try and think of ways of doing it. People will actually get a lot out of it and it’s not just putting your hand in your pocket and handing over money. They get something back. And it’s all coming together. It’s getting quite exciting now!
What are you most looking forward to?
I love the girls so I’m looking forward to seeing them first and foremost. We’re going to have dinner together and we’ve got an overnight in a different hotel so just catching up. We get on really well, but we’ve got busy lives and we don’t get to see one another all that much.
It’s lovely to hear that you’ve stayed in touch.
Yeah, we do stay in touch. Some more than others, depending again on circumstances. You’ll get an invite to something like a very special wedding anniversary. I remember Debs [Stephenson] sending an invite. I hadn’t heard from her for ages and when I got there and she said, “You’re one of my closest friends”. The bond is there and it’s quite deep. We spent a lot of time together and we went through lots of things together so you strike really good friendships.
That bond that you mentioned seems to be there with the fans as well, which is maybe why 10 years since the last episode, it still holds a special place in people’s hearts.
It really does. It’s been a long time and it hasn’t fizzled out. In fact, what’s happened is they did the reruns, and all of a sudden it’s gained a new, young audience. People discovering it for the first time. Even though I look back, especially at the first series with the buffed hair and all the rest of it, and I think it looks so dated, but the thing is if you can see past the aesthetics of it, the stories are universal still and important stories to be told. A lot of women are still able to relate; the next new audience. It’s stuff that they’re going through again.
My mum texted me recently about the reruns, because it was something we always sat down to together, and when I watched it again I did notice there was a kind of timeless quality to it. How do you think it compares to more modern prison dramas?
I am rubbish. I have not seen any. I have heard of them; I’ve heard of Wentworth, I’ve heard of Orange Is The New Black. I think there are others too… but I don’t watch an awful lot of TV. I’m rubbish.
They’ve got nothing on Bad Girls so I wouldn’t worry too much about it….
Aww, well there you go! Thank you! [Laughs]
It’s been a long time since you were in the show – you left after series three. Are you still recognised as Helen?
Yes. The occasional times I am recognised which isn’t a lot, people say, “I know you… you were on…” And when they’re struggling for it, I know to just say Bad Girls because you’ll go, “Was it Wire In The Blood? No. Was it Monarch Of The Glen? No. Bad Girls! That was it!” I’m surprised if they say one of the other shows.
And you’ve got some really loyal fans. You must have had some crazy stories.
Only way back in the very beginning. It was so long ago I can’t even remember them now. I do remember someone turning up at my door once which was awkward. I remember somebody calling me. Basically, they’d got my number from protected information at their work, so they’d really overstepped the mark. But nothing like that has happened since. It’s really honestly been more like you said, lovely fans. There are a few I speak to [on social media], and it’s going to sound really odd to say… we’re not friends but you strike up an understanding and a communication with them. I find it interesting. I like meeting new people and I suppose as an actress as well I’m interested in people. Twitter and these social media things; I get people [who say] get off social media and make real friends. I’ve got real friends too, but it gives you a window into meeting people that you wouldn’t in your own social circles or the places that you normally go that have got very different lives. That’s interesting to me… for instance, there’s a nurse that I’ve contacted a couple of times and been able to pick her brains about certain things. It’s another gateway to communicate with people.
We have to talk about Helen and Nikki. They were one of our favourite TV couples ever and one of the few lesbian couples on TV to get a happy ending. What do you think they’d be doing now? Do you see them married with kids and a couple of dogs?
It’s difficult because you’re worried if you say “I see this” it’s going to completely break the illusion for someone else who’s got a different idea of what their happy ending was. I think it’s important that everybody creates their imagined [ending]. I used to joke not long after the show finished, so we’re talking a long time ago, that they were probably running a bar together on a beach. But it is many years down the line so it would be different. I do think that they would still be together. They’ve been through so much and worked out a lot of their problems. I just see them as a couple that would stick it through. That’s as far as I could say. Dogs? Yep, I can imagine them having dogs. Children? That I’m not sure about. I’ll leave that up to the audience.
I never really saw Nikki as the maternal type.
No, but remember Helen kind of was. That’s part of the reason she was forging through on these relationships with men before she meant Nikki. But who knows what decision they came to? [Laughs]
Mandana Jones, who played Nikki, will also be at the reunion. You must be excited about seeing her.
She is a very special lady, Mandana. She’s a very interesting person. She’s highly intelligent and kind of thinks outside the box. She’s a very different person from me and I enjoy that. I enjoy seeing the world through her eyes a little bit. There are a lot of things we have in common; we had our children weeks apart so she has a boy, I have a girl. They’ve never met, our children. We’ve spoken about it so many times and just never quite got them together. I’m really looking forward to seeing her.
The two of you had such great on-screen chemistry. As an actor, how do you make that happen?
Chemistry is one of those intangible things really. I don’t know if you manufacture it. You have two people who open up their hearts and their minds when they are working so it’s not just about saying the words. You actually have to make a connection. You have to believe what you’re saying. You have to believe what you’re feeling. All that can create chemistry. And plus, Mandana and I had done a series together, before we went into Bad Girls, called London Bridge. Not that our characters had a lot to do with one another but we’d met and that maybe helped a little bit as well. I suspect it was more to do with the way we work, and it just worked. It made it real. We believed in it, and we put everything into it, and it gelled really.
There are an awful lot of remakes around at the moment. Do you think Bad Girls would ever get a reboot?
I don’t know. It’s something that’s been asked of me over the years and I’ve said that it’s something that’s possible, it’s not down to me, I wouldn’t necessarily say no, it would be dependent on the script and the other girls. The long and short of it is I don’t know but I can’t see it! [Laughs] Never say never.
Do you think you’ll ever play another character quite as loved as Helen?
I can’t quite imagine it. Basically, gay women don’t have many hero characters on TV. Especially this couple, like you said, that had a happy ending, that were monogamous. That was one of the things that was said to me. “The L Word, we do quite like it, but by god they’re all in and out of bed with each other.” There were no real loving, committed relationships, and women that are in loving, committed relationships – and there are so many – they weren’t being represented. And then they were, and the women who aspired to finding that kind of love had a place to experience it [through Helen and Nikki].
Apart from the reunion, what else are you working on at the moment?
I’m doing a show at the moment called Loch Ness which is filming up in Scotland… it’s a crime thriller so basically the serial killer is the Loch Ness Monster in this story. It’s a stellar cast… I play Laura Fraser’s best friend.
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