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Jerseyman joining the cast of EastEnders

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A publicity shot for a new film Jonny is appearing in, Soft Lad.
  • Islander to join EastEnders
  • Jerseyman Jonny Labey will play Paul Coker in the BBC soap opera
  • Gallery - See Jonny Labey through the years
  • Read a 2011 JEP interview with Jonny as he prepared to go to performance college

A JERSEYMAN has been cast in one of the UK's most poplar television shows.

Islander Jonny Labey has secured a role in the BBC soap EastEnders.

Jonny Labey is joining the cast of EastEnders

The 22-year-old former Grouville School and Victoria College student will play former club rep Paul Coker in the show, which broadcasts on primetime BBC One four nights a week and regularly attracts audiences of up to nine million people.

The son of Mark and Colette Labey, he will appear on screen from June.

On securing the role, Jonny said: 'I am overjoyed to have been given the role of Paul Coker and am thrilled to be joining the show at such a prevalent time as it marks its 30th anniversary.

'I know I've got a lot of work to do to live up to the talent I shall be working with, but I have never felt more welcome and cannot wait to get started.'

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His character Paul will be the grandson of Les and Pam Coker, Albert Square's resident undertaker and flower stall holder.

A regular on the Island's performance scene, he began dancing with local teacher Valerie Guy at the age of five and starred in his first show, a JADC production of Bugsy Malone, when he was eight.

Further local performances saw him play Toby in Sweeney Todd and Puck in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Samarès Manor.

Jonny, who has two sisters, Rachael and Katie, also performed locally in professional productions of The Buddy Holly Show and Cats, and in school shows Les Misérables and Sweet Charity.

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He left the Island in 2011, aged 18, to take a three-year BA course at the Doreen Bird College of Performance in Sidcup, for which he received a bursary from the Jersey Arts Trust.

Since graduating last year, he has already performed in a London production of In The Heights, playing a talented and aspiring graffiti artist. He also starred in Soft Lad, a film about a young man who embarks on a journey of self-discovery when he falls in love with another man, and performed in the recent West End production of White Christmas.

However, EastEnders will be his most high-profile role to date.

EastEnders Executive Producer, Dominic Treadwell-Collins, described the characer as 'fun, honest, and always the centre of attention' and said that 'his natural confidence is born of knowing and being comfortable with exactly who he is'.

'Jonny's a sensitive, clever and intuitive actor and has fitted in to his new Walford family with ease,' said Mr Treadwell-Collins. 'We're all looking forward to seeing the trouble that Paul will cause for his grandparents as he uncovers some secrets from the past and sets one heart in particular racing.'

Revealing little information about Paul's back-story prior to turning up on his grandparents' doorstep, a BBC representative went on to say: 'Always playing to the gallery, Paul has spent the past two years revelling in his independence abroad, soaking up the sun and creating scandal as a club rep so what or who will keep him in Walford?'

A publicity shot for a new film Jonny is appearing in, Soft Lad.
  • The first episode of EastEnders broadcast on BBC One on 19 February 1985.
  • With 30.15 million viewers, the Christmas Day 1986 episode of EastEnders remains the highest rated episode of any soap in UK television history.
  • The real life inspiration for Albert Square was Fassett Square in Hackney.
  • The show's iconic theme tune, composed by Simon May, beat the National Anthem in a 2008 poll to be named the most recognisable piece of music in the UK.
  • Ian Beale is the soap’s longest serving EastEnders character – appearing in the first ever episode and playing a key role in the recent 30th anniversary episodes.
  • If you sat down and watched every episode of EastEnders back to back it would take you around 104 days.
  • It currently broadcasts on BBC One on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings.
  • The show celebrated its 30th anniversary in February with a live week, with every episode containing live scenes and one episode broadcast totally live.
  • The 30th anniversary live week, which saw the shock return of Kathy Beale and the long-await reveal of Lucy Beale’s killer, had an overall reach of 20 million viewers – 35 per cent of the UK population.

The JEP's Anthony Dearie interviewed Jonny Labey in September 2011 as he prepared to head off to the Doreen Bird College of Performance, having won the Jersey Arts Trust's Olive Brown Bursary

Jonny gives Steve Moore a split nose during a performance of Guys and Dolls at the Jersey Opera House in 2010

IF the majority of children told their parents that they wanted to embark upon a career as a performer, they would probably receive a fairly cautious response.

But for Mark and Colette Labey, the news that their son Jonny had a burning desire to tread the boards can't have come as too much of a surprise.

Both well-known faces among the Island's thespian community, it was perhaps inevitable that at least one of their three children would pursue a life on the stage.

And, having followed in his parents' footsteps by making a name for himself on the local arts scene, last week Jonny left the Island to follow his dreams.

The 18-year-old has just started a three-year BA course at the Doreen Bird College of Performance in Sidcup.

Before leaving the Island, he received the news that he had been chosen as the recipient of this year's Jersey Arts Trust Olive Brown Bursary.

The bursary will provide Jonny with £1,000 a year towards the cost of his three-year degree.

Speaking before leaving, Jonny said that performing has always been in his blood. 'From a young age this has always been what I've wanted to do,' he said.

'All the decisions I've made over the years have been geared towards going to college and making a profession out of performing. I've never had any other aspirations really, so it means so much to me to have received this bursary.

'My friend Ben Talbot was last year's bursary winner and he was the one that told me about it. I was so excited when I found out I'd won, they obviously saw how important this was to me and how hard I'd worked.'

Educated at Grouville School and Victoria College, Jonny first took up dancing at the age of five and has never looked back.

'My whole family is really very performance orientated. My Dad is a singer and my Mum has done loads of shows over the years,' he said. 'I started tap dancing lessons with Valerie Guy when I was about five. Then, when I was about nine, I started doing modern too. I took up street dance as well, aged about 12. When I started thinking about going to college I knew it would be vital to learn ballet, so I began taking lessons in that about four years ago.'

While many boys may have shied away from the femaleorientated environment of dance classes, Jonny said that this was not something that ever deterred him – nor has he ever let the fact that he is diabetic hold him back.

'My diabetes has been a problem over the years, but it's quite a manageable thing and I'm confident that it won't stop me from succeeding,' he said. 'The fact that my dancing classes were a predominantly female environment didn't put me off at all – if anything that encouraged me later on. I was always drawn towards dance regardless of that.

A 17-year-old Jonny working on the Grouville Juniors Battle of Flowers float in 2010

'At a very young age there were a few other boys in my class, but they didn't take it seriously and gave up. One guy joined our tap class after moving over from Australia and we became really good friends, but I was on my own for ages before that. I was quite lucky though, because the year group I had at Victoria College were really supportive – they saw my dancing as something individual, as opposed to different.

'I think that, now, there is a big market in Jersey for boys wanting to learn to dance. With more examples of men dancing on TV, more boys are taking up performing, younger than ever. I recently helped Emma-Jane Cole by teaching a few classes and there were more boys than girls. Also, the boys seemed to be enjoying it more than the girls – perhaps because they had someone like me to look up to.'

Jonny already has a string of performance credits behind him, having spent a decade on the local stage.

'I was in my first show, a JADC production of Bugsy Malone, when I was eight,' he said. 'I played Fizzy, having been put forward because of my dancing. I remember thinking "the best way to sing is by making it really loud", so I used to scream the notes out – although at the time that was probably seen as quite cute.

'After that I played Benjamin in Joseph and a pickpocket in Oliver. I was in a string of JADC shows when I was younger and, more recently, I've been involved with the Green Room Club.'

In recent years, Jonny has taken on the role of Toby in Sweeney Todd and Puck in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Samarès Manor. He has also performed locally in professional productions of The Buddy Holly Show and Cats, and in school shows Les Misérables and Sweet Charity.

'I really enjoyed the earlier shows because it was a new experience and I met so many new friends. In terms of professionalism, the more recent shows I've done have been fantastic,' he said. 'It's hard for me to choose a performing highlight to date, as there have been so many. Having the chance to perform in Les Mis was a real honour and doing Buddy Holly was an amazing experience as I was on stage with the professional touring cast.' A keen guitarist, Jonny also regularly goes out busking and this summer won a Teenage Cancer Trust competition to perform at Jersey Live, on the JT Recharge Stage. He has also represented Jersey at the Dance World Cup.

'For the last four or five summers I've also had the privilege of working in a professional cabaret at the Merton, which has taught me about interacting with crowds, which is a good skill to have,' said Jonny, adding: 'Going out on stage is such a big confidence booster. You feel like you can do anything and the bigger the crowd the better you feel.

'I don't really get nerves anymore, although it's different with every stage you perform on. For example, at the Opera House or Fort Regent you are blinded, so a big audience isn't a problem, whereas performing at Jersey Live the other week was a completely different experience because I could see the audience clearly and there were lots of my friends there.'

Despite dedicating so much of his life to performing, Jonny – who has two sisters, Rachael (20) and Katie (15) – has also found time in recent months to work at Pizza Express to earn extra funds for college, and even to pursue other interests.

'I've been quite sporty over the years. I played rugby and football and I'm quite a big golf fan,' he said. 'I've also been involved with the Grouville Battle of Flowers all of my life. I had the role of head carver this year and made the big snake heads at the front of the senior float.'

No stranger to Doreen Bird's, Jonny has attended five summer schools at the college.

'It's going to be really intense,' he said. 'I'm going to be dancing every day so it's going to be hardcore. I'm going to be living with a host family because of my diabetes. 'It's a tough course, but if I get into a show then I'll be performing seven nights a week, so it's about preparing your body to cope with that.'

Jonny playing Oscar in the JCG production of Sweet Charity in 2010, alongside Gigi Neil as Charity

And looking ahead to when he has finished the course, Jonny said he definitely sees his future working in dance. West End

'It would be amazing to work in the West End and I would love to see the world as well, so it would be great to do something like working on a cruise ship or as a touring artist,' he said. 'However, it's such a massive business you can only really hope to get a job – you have to take what you can get.

'The best thing about the business is that if you get a decent part then you can really make a career for yourself. Although it can, of course, also go the other way. I'm well aware that in this industry you can go a year without work. That doesn't really bother me because I've had so many jobs like waitering before, so I know I'll always be able to get a job of some sort. I'm happy doing that sort of thing, as long as I know I'll be able to pick my career up somewhere along the line.

'The role I'd most like to play is Billy Elliott, but I'm too old for that now. I'd also really like to be in Jersey Boys – the music and story are amazing and, being from Jersey, I would be the real McCoy.'

Jonny, whose favourite dancing style is commercial street dance, added: 'Growing up in Jersey there have been so many opportunities. It is such an amazing Island and I have been so lucky. There are so many directors, funding initiatives, theatres and performing opportunities. I don't think that will ever change.

'It is every performer's dream to one day be able to come back to their home town and set up a performing school, so I would love to do that if I could make a reputation for myself first. I think there is maybe even scope for a dance college over here.'

What advice would Jonny offer other budding young performers?

'Keep your head focused,' he said. 'If you know it's what you want to do then don't ever deter yourself from it – plan your life around it. You have to be 100 per cent dedicated and you also have to be fit. The hard work for me is really yet to come. 'You have to want that and want to enjoy it.

'In recent years I've been going to school, then doing two hours dancing every day, then going to work.

'It's not been easy, but I've never wanted it to be handed on a plate – I want to earn it.'

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