Casualty exclusive: Kellie Shirley on romance for Sophia and returning to EastEnders

When What to Watch joins Kellie Shirley for an exclusive video interview from her Casualty dressing room in Cardiff, her enthusiasm for her new role as psychiatric liaison nurse Sophia Peters is infectious as she shows us her character’s uniform.

“It’s got proper Barbie vibes! It’s a nice fresh colour and very flattering,” smiles the actor, as she holds up the lilac scrubs. “As a psych nurse Sophia looks different to the other medics but, because her tunic is the same colour as the cubicle curtains, it’s sometimes a bit like Where’s Wally!’

However, no one could accuse Sophia of being shy or retiring when made her debut on BBC’s medical drama last week in episode Sinking Ships – Day 1.

During a catastrophic storm the newcomer pitched in alongside cast regulars as fictional Holby ED was swamped with admissions, and she quickly came to the attention of consultant Dylan Keogh (played by William Beck), who instantly rubbed her up the wrong way with his abrasive bedside manner!

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This Saturday in Sinking Ships – Day 2, the chalk and cheese pairing work together closely to treat a vulnerable patient and start to see each other in a new light. Could romance be on the horizon?

Here, former EastEnders star Kellie explains how Sophia is set to ruffle romantic feathers, and why a return to Walford is never off the cards…

Exclusive Casualty interview with Kellie Shirley
Kellie, how did you come to find yourself in Holby?
“Casting director John Cannon (whose other credits include Silent Witness, Father Brown and Sister Boniface Mysteries) came to see me in Abigail’s Party at Park Theatre in London and afterwards told me about this part. I’ve known John since my time in EastEnders and it just fitted. My mum was a nurse, my granny was a nurse, and my mother-in-law is a nurse, so it felt like the stars were aligning!”
Do you channel any of them when portraying Sophia?
“I’m really lucky to have people in my life that I can draw from, and Sophia is a mishmash. There are definitely elements of my mum. She came from an estate, started nursing college when she was 17 and worked her way up, and is in my blood!
“I also know a real psychiatric liaison nurse, so I’ve asked her loads of questions, from medical diagnoses to how she wears her hair – always in a bun and never down!

 

“I did a lot of research, because I wanted Sophia to feel rooted, real and like she belongs in Holby.”

How was the character of Sophia first presented to you?

“John explained that she was at the top of her game and completely bossing it. I’ve been acting for over 20 years and I rarely play characters that have a career; it tends to be single mums or people who don’t have jobs. It’s great to play someone who is down-to-earth and likeable, but also knows her stuff and is very good at it.” 
Kellie as Sophia standing by a hospital curtain that is the same colour as her uniform.
Q: Where’s Sophia? A: Blending in seamlessly in Holby ED. (Image credit: BBC Studios)

In this episode she works closely with Dylan Keogh. How does it go, given his knack for irritating her!?

“It’s a very interesting story where Sophia and Dylan are treating a young man called Benji Watts (Gwion Glyn) and both their skill sets come together. They find out that they work alongside each other nicely — until Dylan puts his foot in it with some clangers and they go back to square one!” 

Even so, could romance be waiting in the wings?

“They spar a lot to begin with because his manner riles her — he really gets on her nerves because he’s so abrupt and rude with no filter! But then Sophia sees another, more vulnerable side to him. She starts to think differently and you see the relationship blossoming. Also, the fact that he’s at the top of his game and is a surgeon who’s really good at his job is sexy and an aphrodisiac for her!” 

Casualty has been a mainstay on our screens since 1986. Were you nervous about joining the cast of such an established show?

“It’s a roller-coaster! I was so nervous on my first day because I wanted to get it right. I’d only just had my baby, he was six months old, and I was sleep deprived (Kellie is mum to eight-year-old twins and welcomed her third child in March 2023). But it fed into the role because real nurses and doctors are knackered, so it felt perfect using that!” 
Will Dylan get wind of the reunion between a certain Holby ED nurse and paramedic?
There’s fun to be had when Dylan is confused by his feelings for Sophia. (Image credit: BBC Studios)

How have you found the medical jargon aspect of the role?

“The first scene I filmed was with Charles Venn (who plays paramedic Jacob Masters and is a fellow ex-EastEnder) and he delivered a monologue of medical jargon so effortlessly, I was in awe and knew that was the level I had to be at.” 

Are you squeamish in real life?

“Yes! I can’t deal with needles or blood. Even saying the word ‘blood’ makes me feel weak! Luckily, Sophia works in mental health, so I don’t have to deal with stuff like that. I really love the authenticity of Casualty. We’re working alongside NHS professionals to make high quality, well-researched drama that deals with massive subject matters, and there’s real care taken in making the show.” 

Have you had any first-hand experience of working in the medical world?

“Growing up I knew the hospital environment a little and, later, in between acting jobs I’ve done some nurse-y stuff, such as being a care assistant in nursing homes and working at King’s College London and Lewisham Hospital on neuro wards with a company called InterAct, reading to people who’ve had brain traumas.” 
Rida clocks the tension between Sophia and Dylan.
Rida clocks the tension between Sophia and Dylan. (Image credit: BBC Studios)

Will you be watching Casualty with your family?

“I find it difficult to watch myself, but my mum will, definitely! I think she’ll be proud of it. Travelling between London and Cardiff with my baby has been a mega operation but my mum and mum-in-law have been amazing. Sarah Seggari, who plays nurse Rida Amaan, and Anna Chell, who plays Jodie Whyte, have helped me out too, so it’s been a real community village effort.” 

It sounds like you’ve all become close?

“Yes! I feel really lucky to be working alongside these quality actors and incredible human beings. I’ve also bonded with Charles. We’ve been swapping EastEnders stories and I’ve worked on his short film How to Navigate Being a Monster with him, Sarah, Anna, Milo Clarke (who plays paramedic Teddy Gowan) and Di Botcher (who plays paramedic boss Jan Jenning). It’s really good and very different to Casualty!” 

Check out the trailer for Charles Venn’s short film How to Navigate Being a Monster. Kellie’s interview continues below.

The latest updates, reviews and unmissable series to watch and more! 

Can you tease what lies ahead for Sophia?

“There’s a big spectrum of different issues from a cross section of society, from a young man dealing with a severe mental health problem to an older woman, which is really commendable.” 

You played Carly Wicks in EastEnders from 2006 to 2008, making a brief return in 2012. Do you still get recognised for that role?

“All the time, and it blows my kids’ minds because it was before them. The last time I was on the screen with EastEnders was 2012 and people are still like ‘Carly!’ I always think, ‘How do you know it’s me with all the wrinkles on my face, like how can you tell?!’” 

Do you think you could be tempted back to Albert Square?

“Of course — there’s always unfinished business in Walford! I’d love to put on Carly’s overalls for a brief spat before running off again. I’m good friends with Matt D’Angelo (who plays Carly’s half-brother, Dean Wicks), Linda Henry (Carly’s mum, Shirley Carter) and Emma Barton (Honey Mitchell), and Danny Dyer (who played Mick Carter) stars in a drama podcast I’ve written called ROAR. I’m very grateful to EastEnders, it’s had a massive effect on my life.” 

Kellie Shirley stars in BBC drama Casualty on Saturday nights. Check our guide for details of the next episode

Kellie as Carly Wicks on EastEnders with her on-screen mum Shirley Carter, played by Linda Henry.
Kellie as Carly Wicks on EastEnders with her on-screen mum Shirley Carter, played by  Linda Henry. (Image credit: BBC)

More on ROAR

ROAR is based on real events, set in South-London and Belfast and follows Kerry-Ann, a mother to three young children whose lives are about to change irreversibly.

It stars Kellie Shirley, Danny Dyer, Richie Campbell, Laura Checkley, Lorraine Ashbourne and Krupa Pattani.

ROAR is half set in London and in half in Belfast, and is six episodes at 24 minutes long,” says its writer and star, Kellie Shirley when speaking to WTW. “It’s got a really, really brilliant cast and is directed by Christiana Ebohon-Green, who did The Pact and Champion, and is out now on all podcast platforms.”

 

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