According to Greek philosopher Plato, art imitates life. That’s clearly evident when you look at some of the storylines in today’s soap operas. EastEnders is no exception, with Shane Richie’s character Alfie Moon suffering from prostate cancer – a storyline that has left an impression on so many people.

He returned to the BBC programme in autumn 2022 when a new EastEnders’ boss decided that Walford couldn’t do without Alfie. Shane says he was delighted to be asked to go back.

“Where the BBC and EastEnders lead the way is in telling stories that hit a nerve and raise awareness. I’ve been inundated with families, mostly mums and wives, who’ve said since watching EastEnders their dad or husband has gone to have a check (for prostate cancer) and thankfully is in the clear or they’ve caught it early. To play a part of that has been a real honour.”

The producers of EastEnders consulted Prostate Cancer UK about the storyline and Shane spoke to a man who’d been diagnosed with the disease.

“He talked to me about what he’d been through. He was very candid, very open and very honest. He didn’t have a chip on his shoulder and he wasn’t angry. He had his prostate removed and he said he’d been badly affected by some of the treatment.

“There are no symptoms to prostate cancer and it’s very important that we get ourselves checked.”

“I just sat and listened. He was about the same age as me, had a family, a successful career, had a few quid. And it just made me realise this cancer can get anybody at any time. It just opened my eyes about how naïve I’d been about it and in denial.

“You get to a certain age where you get up in the morning and say your back or your knees have gone. There’s a reason why: your body starts giving you messages that you may have jumped out of bed once upon a time but them days are gone.

“There are no symptoms to prostate cancer and it’s very important that we get ourselves checked.”

Shane says filming some of the EastEnders’ scenes were tough but it was heart-warming to see people’s reactions.

“Thankfully this story’s going to play and play. We’ve seen Alfie have his prostate removed and we’re going to see the after-effects, how it affects him, his family and his friends.”

So has 59-year-old Shane been examined for prostate cancer?

“Yes! Blimey, I’ve become a bit of a hypochondriac. Funnily enough the week I was approached about this storyline I’d just been for a check-up. I try to go once a year. I had a digital examination and thankfully it was all clear.

“I’ve got a young family and the road ahead is much shorter than the one behind.”

Shane was in Nottingham for the unveiling of the stars of this year’s Theatre Royal panto Dick Whittington. He’s playing the lead in the Crossroads Pantomimes’ production which will feature sets and props which were used in the same show in the West End.

Before I could chat to him he did television and radio interviews, posed for selfies with passers-by who were delighted to see him outside the theatre and made time for fans.

Then he nipped backstage where the cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie were preparing for the matinee. Coincidentally Shane appeared in that musical a couple of years ago when it toured to Nottingham.

Some people might say that Shane has made enough money from EastEnders that he doesn’t need to do panto. He brushes off the suggestion.

“There’s a big difference between fame and success. You get fame as a by-product of having some success. Am I successful? Yeah. Am I minted? No.”

There are several reasons why Shane does panto.

“Maybe it’s just that I’m wired differently. I enjoy being around the general public. I enjoy seeing smiling faces and I enjoy the instant recognition of what you’re doing on stage whether that’s applause, laughter or booing. Only panto gives you that where you can sit a four-year-old to a 94-year-old and they’ll all enjoy something very different.

“Doing something like panto makes me enjoy EastEnders even more because it gives me a chance to come to somewhere like Nottingham where I’ve got a lot of friends. I’ve done stand-up here, I’ve done plays.

“A lot of the cast who are working with me for the first time had better be on their toes because I love improv and just taking off at a tangent.”

“I’ve got a hand in writing Dick Whittington so the jokes write themselves.  The parameters are whatever I want them to be. I break that fourth wall – I talk to the audience which no one else does on stage. I’m the only one that does it (in Dick Whittington) and the audience become an integral part of the show. If they’re having a good time, I have the best time.”

As with most pantos, no two shows will be the same, as Shane points out: “There are times when I’ve sat in the audience and watched the show when I should be on stage performing. A lot of the cast who are working with me for the first time had better be on their toes because I love improv and just taking off at a tangent.”

Shane Patrick Paul Roche, known professionally as Shane Richie, was born to Irish parents on 11 March 1964 in Kensington, London. He began his career as a bluecoat entertainer at a Pontins holiday camp on the Isle of Wight.

He progressed to the stand-up circuit, moved into television, branched out into hosting game shows and appeared in musicals including Boogie Nights and Grease.

In 2002 he joined the cast of EastEnders, bringing humour to a programme often known for its depressing outlook on life. His current stint is his fourth on the show.

Shane Richie with Anne Smith (Queen Rat) and the ensemble rats in Dick Whittington [image: Tom Platinum Morley]

Three years ago he appeared on the 20th series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here, finishing fourth.

Shane has been married twice, first to the singer and television personality Coleen Nolan – they have two sons – and then to actress Christie Goddard in 2007. They have three children together.

Many people are pleased to see Shane back in Walford and he says he’s constantly surprised by the public’s great love for Alfie Moon.

“When Alfie came along 21 years ago, that was when you had 15 million people watching the show. Tony Jordan created the Moons. He’s a wonderful writer and he went on to write Death In Paradise, Ashes To Ashes and Life On Mars.

“When Alfie came in there were a lot of alpha males, there was a lot of machismo. Alfie was a guy that wore his heart on his sleeve, wore lairy shirts, looked after his nan and his younger brother.

“I know we’re coming up to the 40th anniversary of EastEnders and I’m really excited to see what they’re going to pull out of the bag.”

“The audience have followed Alfie’s journey with Kat over the years. Would the audience have felt the same way about a character who gets prostate cancer if he hadn’t been there for as many years as Alfie? I’m not sure they would.”

So what has Shane got lined up for next year?

“I’m not even thinking about it. I know we’re coming up to the 40th anniversary of EastEnders and I’m really excited to see what they’re going to pull out of the bag. The guy at the helm, Chris Clenshaw, who’s a friend of mine – I know he’s got some surprises. It’s going to be event television.”

While some people in the entertainment business can take themselves too seriously, Shane Richie is the complete opposite. He’s a genuine guy who’s grateful for the success he’s had and goes out of his way to show his appreciation to his fans. He’s accomplished at making people laugh – but the prostate cancer storyline shows he’s happy to embrace his EastEnders character’s desire to debate serious issues. Art indeed imitating life.

  • Dick Whittington will run at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham from Saturday 9 December until Sunday 14 January 2024
  • Information about prostate cancer can be found at Prostate Cancer UK.

* This article originally appeared in Country Images magazine


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