Martine McCutcheon

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Given her difficult childhood it is unlikely that anyone could have foreseen the success of ex-Eastenders star Martine McCutcheon except possibly Martine. Brought up in various parts of the UK as her mother attempted to flee her abusive husband, Martine was determined to triumph over adversity.

Born on May 14, 1976, at the Salvation Army Mothers Hospital when her mother Jenny was just 19, Martine learned early on that an appearance by her father, Thomas Hemmings, was not a cause to celebrate. The star's earliest memory of dad is him dangling her over a balcony 30ft up in the air. And while he left the pair when Martine was just two years old, he would return periodically to threaten them. But a childhood spent running and hiding with her mother came to an end when Jenny met Martine's future stepfather, John McCutcheon.

Martine knew she wanted to be a performer almost from birth, but her family couldn't afford the fees at a drama school. Luckily, a Church of England trust footed the bill a wise investment and the bubbly girl enrolled in Italia Conti.

"Even when she was young you could see she wanted better things in life than she had been given," her stepfather John said. "When you're from a poor background you're a lot more determined to get out."

Her unwavering determination finally paid off in 1995 when, while working as a shopgirl at Knickerbox, Martine was offered the small part of tarty Tiffany on Eastenders. The role grew with Martine and two million viewers tuned in to see her final bow. But what should have been a triumphant experience was marred in 1996 by a series of salacious stories sold to the press, first by Martine's father and then by her boyfriend, Gareth Cooke. Martine thought she'd found happiness with a friend and lover, Jonathon Barnham, but that relationship too soured with a reported miscarriage and the revelation that Jonathon had attended sex parties in little more than a thong and a smile. The two remained friends, but Martine has since settled down with property developer James Tanner, who she has been dating since Christmas, 2002.

The actress parlayed her soap opera cache into a pop career, scoring a number one single with the infectious Perfect Moment as well as a number one album. A second album followed before the actress embraced the part of Eliza Doolittle in the National Theatre production of My Fair Lady, a rags-to-riches role she seemed destined to play. Martine has since garnered rave reviews for her performance as a Downing Street tea lady alongside Hugh Grant, in Richard Curtis' Love Actually, and returned to high-profile TV roles such as playing Susan in drama Echo Beach in 2008.
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