Adam Woodyatt makes EastEnders comeback as Ian Beale for Dot Cotton's funeral

Ian Beale
Ian Beale made a surprise return to Albert Square. (BBC)

EastEnders star Adam Woodyatt has made a dramatic comeback to Albert Square for Dot Cotton's funeral.

Cafe owner Ian Beale was last seen in the BBC soap in January 2021 and Woodyatt departed EastEnders in 2020 with no plans to return.

But in a shock return for viewers, Woodyatt joined many EastEnders stars past and present to pay tribute to laundrette manager Dot Branning in a special episode of the soap which aired on Monday 12 December.

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EastEnders star June Brown died at the age of 95 in April this year.

June Brown
June Brown played Dot Cotton in EastEnders since the soap began in 1985. (PA)

She began playing chain-smoking laundrette manager Dot, one of the original residents of Albert Square when the BBC soap launched in 1985.

The soap paid tribute to her in the special funeral episode for her character, which saw Brown's real life children appear among the mourners.

Nim, Sophie and Billy could be seen sitting on the same row as Dot’s great-nephew Reiss Colwell (played by Jonny Freeman) inside the church during the funeral scenes.

Executive producer Chris Clenshaw previously told “June’s children, Nim, Sophie and Billy, knew how much EastEnders meant to their mother, so much that they requested to attend Dot’s funeral to say their goodbyes, which was absolutely lovely for all of those involved.

Three of June Brown's real children were present in the scenes for Dot's funeral in EastEnders. (BBC)
Three of June Brown's real children were present in the scenes for Dot's funeral in EastEnders. (BBC)

“You know, stories were shared throughout the day, which was just gorgeous.”

Ian, sporting a beard, hid behind some trees and watched the burial from a distance.

He could be heard saying, "Good bye Dot", before turning away.

He then took a call on his mobile phone, telling someone he called "love" that he was "coming home".

The mysterious cliffhanger has left EastEnders fans hoping Ian will soon be back in Albert Square.

Ian Beale was back in Albert Square for Dot's funeral. (BBC)
Ian Beale was back in Albert Square for Dot's funeral. (BBC)

He was last seen when his then-wife Sharon tried to poison him because she had found out he was responsible for her son Dennis Rickman drowning in a boat disaster the year before.

With Phil Mitchell also threatening to kill him Ian fled Walford, throwing his mobile phone away and later sending Sharon a marriage annulment.

There have been several reports that Woodyatt is in talks to return to the soap.

But he insisted in June 2022 to White Wine Question Time there were currently no plans for Ian Beale to come back to Albert Square, saying: "They've not asked, I've not asked them."

The 54-year-old actor starred in the soap from October 1984 to November 2020.

He took part in I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! 2021 and has spent some time living in a motorhome and touring the UK countryside.

The told the Cambridge Independent: "It was going to be just for whilst I was on tour [in stage adaptation of Peter James hit crime novel Looking Good Dead], but my daughter, who was living with me, has moved to America.

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"So I didn't need a place for me and her. It was a case of well, fine, I'll just carry on living in the motorhome. I don't need that property anymore."

Watch: The latest soap gossip from EastEnders