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Sixty Seconds with Rita Simons

The actress, 41, talks about her new Krays film, OCD and the joy of spending a decade as EastEnders’ Roxy Mitchell

What do we need to know about The Krays: Dead Man Walking?

It’s about a guy called Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’ Mitchell, who was broken out of Dartmoor Prison by the Kray twins. He was an absolute psychopath and it sparked one the biggest manhunts in history. The Krays holed him up in a flat in Bethnal Green. He was uncontrollable so they sent in some prostitutes to appease him and he did terrible things to all of them. They then looked for a super escort who was used to dealing with rough clients — and that’s who I play. He fell in love with her. I won’t ruin the ending…

It sounds a bit challenging…

It was brilliant. I was on a break from Legally Blonde on tour — I loved it but it’s very pink and fluffy and glitzy, so I enjoyed doing this. We did it in a squat in Bethnal Green. There was no heating and it was minus five. I loved it — it was so gritty.

Does your former on-screen sister Samantha Womack still text you about ten times a day?

She does. That’s not an exaggeration, we speak a lot. I’ll be like, ‘I’ve just had a bit of toast — I’d better tell Sam.’

Like real sisters: Samantha Womack

What do you have in common?

We had similar upbringings. Our parents were divorced, our children are the same age — we’re just extremely similar.

Would you like to work with her again?

I know we will work together again. We loved our time on EastEnders, it was the best time ever, but we’re dead and there’s nothing we can do about it. And we’re having fun doing other things at the moment.

Do you watch EastEnders?

I haven’t watched any TV for a year — I’ve been touring. I haven’t even seen a single episode of Love Island. I’ve met Dani Dyer but I wouldn’t know any of the others if they came up and punched me in the face.

EastEnders face: Dani Dyer

You hadn’t done a musical before Legally Blonde. Were you nervous?

I loved it but I was very nervous. I was a singer before EastEnders so I know I can sing but it took me months to get over my nerves.

Have you got any tips on getting over stage fright?

You just have to face your fear and do what you’re scared of. Unfortunately, people don’t want to hear that but the only way to get over something like stage fright is to do it and eventually it goes. If you avoid things, it will continue.

We loved our time on EastEnders but we’re dead and there’s nothing we can do about it

Have you had to get over any other fears in your life?

I’ve got anxiety disorder, so I get claustrophobic and I don’t like heights or flying, but none of them are horrendous phobias.

You’ve spoken about having OCD and ADHD. How are you now?

I don’t have diagnosed ADHD. This came up in an interview but it was just a tiny comment — I have some of the components of ADHD but it isn’t full-blown diagnosed ADHD. I do have diagnosed anxiety disorder and diagnosed panic disorder. That’s enough diagnosed disorders for me.

What about the OCD?

I was diagnosed with that when I was 14 but cognitive behavioural therapy is amazing and has pretty much cured me. I can be an obsessive thinker but I don’t do the rituals any more. When I was a kid I was full of rituals.

How long did it take you to stop doing those?

I started having therapy when I was 14 and by 19 I was much better but it comes and goes. In stressful periods it flares up but I know about the condition now so I can think: ‘It’s just OCD, don’t worry.’ Whereas when you’re a kid you don’t know what’s going on and you think you’re mad — which is why I’m a patron of the charity No Panic, which helps people with OCD and panic issues.

What helps you?

Meditation and exercise are so important. A lot of people with anxiety disorder have overactive adrenal glands so if you train daily you get rid of a lot of that excess adrenaline.

Did you ever consider giving up showbiz?

Just before EastEnders I said, ‘I can’t be bothered with this any more.’ I was singing in a band and getting home at 4am and I had twin girls that needed night feeds. We lived near Elstree Studios and I said to my husband, ‘I’m done with this, why can’t I just get a job over there in EastEnders?’ Two weeks later I had that job. Someone was watching over me.

Was being in girl group Girls@Play as fun as it seems?

It really was. We supported Hear’Say, Steps and Blue — we performed at every arena in the country. We supported the Vengaboys in Ayia Napa. We had the best time.

The Krays: Dead Man Walking is out on DVD and digital download from Monday