EastEnders helped me recover from brain tumour, says Martin Kemp

Landing a role in EastEnders was the thing that helped Martin Kemp recover “more than anything else”, the Spandau Ballet bassist has said.

The 61-year-old starred as villain Steve Owen in the popular BBC One soap between 1998 and 2002.

Appearing on the Dish podcast with Nick Grimshaw and Angela Hartnett, Kemp said when he was offered the role, he was urged by friends not to accept it.

“Everybody around me was saying, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it. It’s going to ruin your career, don’t do it’,” he recalled. “Well because they hadn’t had any name actors in that show before, right?

“Everybody had grown up with EastEnders, so I was kind of the first one of those name actors to go in.”

Kemp says he was offered the role around five years after he’d gone through “ the whole brain tumour business” in the mid-Nineties, when he was still struggling with his cognitive functions: “My brain still wasn’t working properly from the operation.”

“To the point where sometimes if I wanted to walk left, I would walk right, or like I couldn’t think about putting things in order, or anything like that. Learning lines was just way out there,” he said.

“When EastEnders was offered to me it was a chance for me to get over it, so it wasn’t just me taking EastEnders on because I thought yeah, it was a good gig - it was me trying to get my life back together.”

From left to right: John Keeble, Steve Norman, Tony Hadley, Gary Kemp and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet (Getty Images)
From left to right: John Keeble, Steve Norman, Tony Hadley, Gary Kemp and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet (Getty Images)

He continued: ““I honestly didn’t even know if I could remember the lines because my brain was so messed up from it. So, when I look back at EastEnders, it’s more than just a good job. It was the thing that helped me recover, more than anything else. It moved me forward and left that whole nightmare behind.”

Kemp was diagnosed with two brain tumours in 1995 and underwent an operation and radiotherapy to treat the disease, before landing his role as one of Albert Square’s most memorable villains.

He was killed off in 2002 after telling showrunners that he wanted to quit, believing it was time to bow out.

“It’s the sort of show, you realise your time is up when you’re going round doing the same story but in a different suit,” he explained.

Despite producers apparently telling him they wanted to leave his storyline open for the possibility of a return, Steve later met a grisly end when he became trapped in a car that exploded into a fireball.

Dish, hosted by Nick Grimshaw and Angela Hartnett, is available on all podcast platforms now.

Additional reporting by Press Association