Ronnie and Roxie Mitchell, played by Samantha Womack and Rita Simons, were two of the most iconic characters on EastEnders until their strange deaths in 2017.
The daughters of Archie and Glenda Mitchell arrived on Albert Square in 2007 and wreaked havoc for ten years with storylines including baby swapping, rape and drug smuggling.
Their controversial deaths sparked outrage as many of their fans expressed disappointment as they drowned together in a lacklustre and random accident.
On Ronnie’s wedding day she got drunk and bizarrely decided to go for a dip in a swimming pool but was weighed down by her huge dress.
Roxie desperately tried to save her but she succumbed along with her sister on New Year’s Day.
Get the news you want straight to your inbox. Sign up for a Mirror newsletter here .
Soon after her Square exit, Rita and husband of 14 years Theo Silverston called it a day.
But it was only in August 2020 that anyone outside her circle of friends and her family found out.
The actress had been “growing apart” from the hairdresser and they decided to end their relationship after a period of separation.
Her agent confirmed: “Rita and Theo have been separated for almost two years and Theo moved out of the family home some time ago.”
The split would go on to cause real damage as Rita started to struggle.
The star was not only dealing with the end of her 14-year marriage, she was working non-stop and soon found herself battling depression and insomnia as her weight plummeted.
In the end, the lethal cocktail of stress, pressure and heartbreak caused her to suffer a nervous breakdown.
So it’s no wonder Rita, 44 describes the period as “one of the worst times” of her life.
The actress, who has twin daughters Maiya, 15, and Jaimee, 16, needed her kids close at hand to move forward – but things weren’t always easy at home, either.
Her divorce really took its toll as her weigh sunk and her mental health deteriorated.
In an interview with OK! Magazine, Rita said: “I was physically ill every other week and I lost loads of weight.
“Every night I would go on stage in the West End in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie having just had some fraught conversation with Theo, and later on having just received legal letters.
“And I would just cry, go on stage, come off, cry and respond.
“I also had terrible insomnia for about a year. When I’m unhappy, my sleep is the first thing to go and then the knock-on is the depression and anxiety.”
After winning new fans in I’m A Celeb in 2018 and throwing herself into work after a tough time, things suddenly came to a head.
In 2019, while starring in the play The House On Cold Hill, the star had a nervous breakdown.
“My mind went to some major dark places,” admitted Rita.
Speaking to The Sun she said: “There were some stairs on the set that I came on stage on, quite high at the top.
“And I thought I could just chuck myself down. I didn’t want to die. I just wanted to hurt myself enough to go to hospital and have someone look after me. That was scary.
“There was my anxiety, depression and OCD, but in the centre of all of that there was a really sad divorce happening.”
Rita Simons Instagram)
The TV favourite says it was one of the worst times of her life but said lockdown actually helped cope with her issues.
Despite the “cold, clinical” divorce, Rita says the couple are still friends and have an amicable relationship.
Happily, the actress has now found love again with actor Ben Harlow – her Legally Blonde co-star.
The couple met in 2017 and began dating in 2020.
Of her romance, Rita said Ben is “the loveliest man on the planet” and that it’s only because she’s “so happy” now she can see what a “mess” she was.
Rita has recently hit out at EastEnders for killing Ronnie and Roxie, and hinted at a row behind the scenes.
She told the Daily Star Sunday : “I wish they hadn’t killed us off. I haven’t quite made peace with the fact we are dead.
“Both Sam and I were gutted. That decision was made by one person and we had no choice in the matter.”
Rita revealed that “not a day goes by’ when someone doesn’t stop her in the street and ask her why her character was killed off.
However Rita now says she “eternally grateful” for the opportunities the soap provided her, and has starred in several West End shows.
Coincidentally, Samatha also split from her husband at the same time as Rita.
Sam and Mark met in 1998 but didn’t marry until 2009 and split in 2018.
After their split, she remained living in their home, a farmhouse in Bedfordshire, while dating other people.
At the time, Sam, 49, said she was happy to stay in the same house as Mark and their children Benjamin, 20, and 16-year-old Lili Rose.
She had also been step-mum to to Mark’s son Michael, 25, from a previous relationship.
Sam told OK! Magazine at the time: “Our family home is big enough and we’re co-existing happily. There’s no rush to change things.
“But now feels like the right time to be honest and admit we’re no longer together.”
The couple met when they worked together on a stage adaptation of the Paula Hawkins novel The Girl On The Train in 2018, but found love in lockdown 2020.
She is now dating her new man, former Coronation Street star Oliver Farnworth.
Following her EastEnders exit, Samantha has also criticised her on-screen death, calling it a “huge blow”.
She admitted that she wasn’t always happy with the way in which her characters were directed, and that this had led to on-set arguments.
“Someone is always telling you what to do with your character and I just get really irritated,” Samantha added.
“I end up arguing and then getting sacked.
She previously said she would return to the soap if asked, even hatching a plan to resolve her character’s death.
She said on TalkRadio: “Billy works in the mortuary. He was working in the funeral parlour.
Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
Dave Benett/Getty Images)
“Someone sent me storylines of people that had faked their own deaths to come out of situations. It’s really funny.”
Ruling out she’d ever return to the small screen, Samantha revealed that on-set bust-ups is just one reason why she feels that the stage suits her better – as well as the hours.
Samantha made her major theatre debut in 2011, where she played the lead role in the Lincoln Centre production of South Pacific.
Later in 2017 she toured as Morticia Addams in the musical comedy Addams Family, and took on the role of Fairy Bow Bells in the pantomime Dick Whittington.
In 2019, she starred in Silent Witness, and also claimed she and Rita had been offered a project together, but had rejected it and were waiting for the right one to come along.
She also has a number of film credits to her name, including Kingsman: The Secret Service where she played lead actor Taron Egerton’s character’s mother.
Do you have a story to share? Email [email protected]