EastEnders' British Soap Award wins are a major turnaround for the show

It's official – EastEnders is the best soap on telly right now. Well, according to the fans who voted for the British Soap Awards, at least.

The long-running Walford drama had a successful night at the 2023 ceremony, securing an impressive clean sweep of all four viewer-voted categories.

Coronation Street also had a great night by collecting six prizes, which came in the categories that had been overseen by the judging panel.

As well as picking up the coveted gong for Best Soap, EastEnders triumphed in the Best Leading Performer battle, which was won by Danielle Harold after her heartbreaking performances as Lola Pearce-Brown.

danielle harold at the british soap awards 2023
Lifted Entertainment - ITV

Additionally, Aaron Thiara was named Best Villain for his portrayal of Ravi Gulati, and Lillia Turner received the gong for Best Young Performer after a big year as pregnant teenager Lily Slater.

Nobody would have batted an eyelid over EastEnders triumphing in a big public vote ten years ago, when success for the Walford stars was par for the course. However, if we drill down into the stats, we can see that these latest victories took a long time.

From the launch of the British Soap Awards in 1999 until 2013, the Best Soap gong was only ever won by EastEnders or Coronation Street. EastEnders took the top prize ten times during this period, which included an impressive back-to-back run of five times between 2008 and 2012.

Changes in the wider soap landscape in the early 2010s soon started to shake up the Soap Awards, meaning that a win for EastEnders or Coronation Street was no longer guaranteed.

aaron thiara at the british soap awards 2023
Lifted Entertainment - ITV

There was a huge shock when Hollyoaks won Best Soap for the first time in 2014 – a feat that the Channel 4 show managed to repeat in 2019.

Emmerdale scored its first Best Soap win in 2016 and scored the title again in 2017 and 2022.

Prior to Saturday evening's ceremony, the last time that EastEnders had won Best Soap was in 2015.

That was when the show was reaping the rewards of its 30th anniversary year, a special Live Week and the 'Who Killed Lucy Beale?' storyline.

This was arguably the last time that the show aired a plot that became a national talking point and captured a more casual audience. Following the departure of Dominic Treadwell-Collins as exec producer in 2015, the show went into a decline and faced years of backlash from fans over poor storylines and bad decisions behind the scenes.

eastenders who killed lucy beale

Perhaps most remarkably, the last time that EastEnders had won any of the viewer-voted categories at the Soap Awards was in 2016, when Lacey Turner won the Best Actress prize for her role as Stacey Slater.

That's a long seven-year gap with no love from the public, albeit including two years when the ceremony didn't take place at all due to COVID.

There has been less of a dry spell at the National Television Awards, where Danny Dyer won the Serial Drama Performance prize in 2019. However, the show itself hasn't won the top soap prize at the NTAs since 2016.

So, what's changed? Well, it's fair to say that EastEnders' fortunes have been on the up over the past year since Chris Clenshaw took over as executive producer.

eastenders wins best soap at the british soap awards 2023
Lifted Entertainment - ITV

Clenshaw was appointed as the show's top boss in November 2021, but wasn't credited in the closing titles until summer 2022 when his storylines began appearing on screen.

Big storylines in recent months have included Lily's pregnancy, Lola's terminal illness, Zack Hudson's HIV diagnosis, Amy Mitchell's self-harm and Whitney Dean's tragic baby loss.

As well as exploring important issues, EastEnders has been praised by fans for tighter continuity, better scripts and a much stronger sense of community spirit.

The show has taken time to illustrate how big moments for different families have affected others on the Square, such as everyone coming together to support Lola in her final days.

jay brown and lola pearce in eastenders

Ratings also appear to have stabilised, with EastEnders no longer posting huge year-on-year drops when the consolidated figures come in each week.

The show still isn't perfect – no soap is without a dud storyline or dull episode – but most would agree that EastEnders' Soap Awards success was fully deserved.

It's good news for the wider genre, too. Often when a soap goes through a bad patch, fans can be left in despair as they wonder whether their favourite show will ever get back to its best.

EastEnders' turnaround in the past 12 months shows that, with the right care and attention, it's possible to get a struggling soap back on top in a relatively short space of time – and they didn't even need a stunt or a serial killer to pull it off.

EastEnders airs on Mondays - Thursdays at 7.30pm on BBC One. The show also streams on BBC iPlayer.

Read more EastEnders spoilers on our dedicated homepage

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