From a No2 Christmas single to stripping off online… what became of forgotten child soap stars who were quietly replaced | The Sun

SOAPS like EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale have made household names out of the actors who play their infamous characters.

But while we may recognise the stars that play them now, can you remember the original cute kids who first took on the roles?


This week EastEnders' Milly Zero revealed she's quitting the BBC soap to seek "new challenges".

The 23-year-old actress isn't the first to play Dotty Cotton, with Molly Conlin, now 21, previously bringing her to life until 2010 when the character was written out.

These days glamorous Molly is an Instagram influencer with 25,000 followers and looks a world away from the sinister schoolgirl.

She endured a terrifying ordeal in 2020, when she was held at knifepoint by robbers who stole a car, phone and watch in a terrifying raid at her Essex home in broad daylight.

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Molly said: "I was literally praying as I thought I was going to die… They was screaming at me, telling me they was going to hurt me if I didn’t give them anything while I was begging for my life being pinned down to the floor."

Thankfully Molly appears to have put it behind her, recently sharing sun-kissed snaps from a holiday in Ibiza.

Here, we take a look at what became of other child soap stars who went on to be replaced, sometimes multiple times…

Victoria Sugden

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Hannah Midgley made her soap debut playing Victoria Sugden in Emmerdale at the tender age of four in 1997, and played the role until 2006, having taken over from Jessica Heywood.

However she left to focus on school and her studies, before returning to our TV screens in 2014 playing the starring role of Rosie in BBC drama In The Club.

Now 29 she continues to act, and is unrecognisable from her soap days – apart from her signature red hair.

She tends to keep her personal life under the radar; she shared a rare Twitter post to pay tribute to former co-star Leah Bracknell after her death in 2019.

Emmerdale favourite Isabel Hodgins has played Victoria since taking over from Hannah aged 12.

Robert Sugden


Ryan Hawley most recently played Robert Sugden for five years until his eventual exit when his character was sent to prison in 2019.

The Emmerdale bad boy has been played by four other actors since his introduction in 1986.

Karl Davies took on the role between 2001 and 2009, after Christopher Smith who held it for 11 years from 1989 to 2001.

In September 2001, Smith sued Yorkshire Television for unfair dismissal from his part as Robert, which was down to producers wanting an older actor for more adult storylines.

Christopher now lives in Los Angeles and reportedly worked as a producer on AMC talk show The Talking Dead.

Belle Dingle

The first person to play Belle Dingle – the youngest daughter of Zak and Lisa – was Emily Mather in 1998.

She played the role – alongside her twin brother James when they were babies – since birth until she was seven in 2005.

But she opted not to pursue a career in the spotlight, and instead went on to study a sports course at college with the hope of becoming a teacher.

The role was taken over by Eden Taylor-Draper, who has continued to boss it since 2005.

Lucy Beale

Before Hetti Bywater took on the role in 2012 until 2014, troubled teenager Lucy Beale was played by multiple child stars – most notably Melissa Suffield.

She held the part for six years, having joined the EastEnders cast aged 11 in 2004.

In 2010 she departed Albert Square, after she allegedly ignored warnings about "unruly" behaviour.

It later emerged she was caught boozing underage, albeit just a few months away from her 18th birthday.

Now Melissa is a proud mum-of-one to son River, two, and regularly shares posts about promoting body confidence to her 48,000 Instagram followers.

She often strips to her underwear and even went topless to show off her size 14 body to inspire and empower women to love their bodies – and regularly hits back at trolls.

Melissa is engaged to cruise director Robert Brendan, which often means spending months at a time solo parenting.

Lauren Branning

EastEnder Lauren Branning was originally played by actress Madeline Duggan, who was 12 when she first appeared in the soap in 2006.

Madeline was at the centre of several big storylines during her time on the soap, including exposing her dad Max Branning's affair with daughter-in-law Stacey.

She left the show in June 2010, with Jacqueline Jossa being recast in the role in September of that same year.

The London-based star, now 28, continues to act and has a US agent.

She has landed roles in Sky Atlantic's The Tunnel, Channel 4's Dates and the BBC's By Any Means.

In December 2020 Madeline released a Christmas charity single which made it to number two in the iTunes pop chart.

Ben Mitchell

A staggering six actors have played the role of Phil Mitchell and Kathy Beale's son Ben Mitchell in EastEnders over the years since his first on-screen appearance in 1996.

Charlie Jones played the character from 2006 until 2010 after returning to the square following the 'death' of Kathy, and was among the longest-serving.

Charlie studied acting at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts and most recently appeared in hit BBC drama Noughts + Crosses in 2020.

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That year he also featured as a Mail Courier in Netflix movie Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.

Now unrecognisable from spectacle-wearing Ben, Charlie has been in a relationship with fellow actress Flora London for the past six years.

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