SHE might be one of Britain’s brightest acting talents, having just turned in a deeply moving farewell performance on EastEnders, but life hasn’t always looked quite so rosy for Danielle Harold.
After a long-term health condition saw her in and out of hospital during her teens, she left school with just one GCSE to her name.
Ex-Eastender Danielle Harold left school with just one GCSE to her name after being in and out of hospital during her teensCredit: MARK HAYMAN
‘It was a difficult and confusing time, and I felt a little bit lost’, says DanielleCredit: MARK HAYMAN
Danielle’s breakthrough into the industry turned out to be completely unconventional, pictured as Lola Pearce on the showCredit: BBC/Jack Barnes/Kieron McCarron
She’d missed too much learning to catch up and had slipped through the net.
Her confidence was at rock bottom and the future was frighteningly uncertain.
“It was a difficult and confusing time, and I felt a little bit lost,” says Danielle, 31.
“I remember my teachers were amazing, but I just fell through the school system. Just like so many other kids do, year after year.”
She did, however, have a burning desire to be an actress.
But with no experience – Danielle even bunked off her final performance for her drama GCSE, after suffering stage fright – and no contacts in a notoriously cliquey industry, she had no idea how to make that happen.
Danielle ended up working for a catering company while attending open auditions in her spare time, hoping to catch a break.
“I was so determined,” she says.
“I queued for 11 hours to audition for the part of Luna Lovegood in Harry Potter and they literally closed the barrier on me, the last kid waiting.
“So I never got the chance and I was gutted.
“But that didn’t put me off. I wasn’t letting go of this. Working in catering was my back-up plan, but I never stopped trying to act.
“I had no background in acting, I didn’t come from a family of actors, and I didn’t know anyone in the industry either. I was starting from scratch.
“But I don’t think I ever would have stopped. Who knows if it might have worked out differently, but I wouldn’t have given up.”
Danielle’s eventual breakthrough into the industry turned out to be surprising and completely unconventional.
Just when she was about to be promoted to catering manager at work – a position she’d studied hard to gain the NVQs for – she was offered a spot on Jamie Oliver’s new TV venture, Jamie’s Dream School.
The 2011 seven-part documentary series took a group of teenagers, all of whom had fewer than five GCSEs, and placed them in a school where they would be taught by famous faces who each had a specialist subject.
The English teacher was Olivier-award-winning Simon Callow; Latin was Dame Mary Beard, classics professor at Cambridge University; biology was taught by Lord Robert Winston; law by Cherie Blair and politics by Alastair Campbell.
The art teacher was Rolf Harris, but we’ll skip over that…
Danielle had applied for the show, not expecting to win a place.
But when the call came in, she had to decide quickly whether to take the promotion at work or quit her job and join the show.
It was a decision that gave her back her self-belief – and changed her life.
“Jamie’s Dream School was the perfect opportunity for me, as it showed me that you can still excel in life, even if you’re not academically smart or have dropped out of mainstream school.
“Jamie left secondary school with only two GCSEs, and look how amazingly well he’s ended up,” she says.
“During filming, we got to go to 10 Downing Street and meet [then-Prime Minister] David Cameron and discuss changing how the school system is run, in order to make it easier for kids like us.
“I ended up on the path into acting from that show.
“I got some acting classes with a private coach through the scholarship money I received, which then led me to auditioning for EastEnders.”
She adds: “That’s why I always tell people who want to break into acting to keep going.
“If you have the passion and the talent, you’ll get there. You don’t necessarily need to go to a big drama school to do it.”
Just when she was about to be promoted to catering manager, Danielle was offered a spot on Jamie Oliver’s new TV venture, Jamie’s Dream SchoolCredit: MARK HAYMAN
She reveals: ‘Jamie’s Dream School was the perfect opportunity for me, as it showed me that you can still excel in life, even if you’re not academically smart’, pictured the castCredit: Channel 4
Feisty firecracker Lola Pearce burst on to Albert Square in the summer of 2011 as Billy Mitchell’s granddaughter.
During her stints on the soap (she took a break in 2015, before returning in 2019), viewers took Lola into their hearts as they watched her, during a seven-minute live scene in 2012, become a teenage mum, as well as navigate her way through a series of relationship and family crises.
Since last autumn, fans have been gripped by Lola’s heartbreaking battle with a brain tumour, which ended in tragedy earlier this year when she passed away with daughter Lexi and husband Jay by her side.
While Danielle was excited to be integral to such a storyline, it was bittersweet, as it meant she’d be out of a job by the end of it.
“Obviously, in this industry, having a nine-to-five acting job is a safety blanket,” she says.
“And getting to do what I love, while having that stability, was really special. It’s something I’ve been hugely grateful for.
“Now the door’s closed, it’s pushed me to keep working and continue my path.
“I didn’t get into acting to play one role, so I’m excited to explore other roles.”
Is it tough learning your character is going to be killed off?
“It’s a hard one, as you have to say goodbye to your job – and to Lola as well, which was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.
“People connected with her, and I did too, having played her for so long.
“It was sad to see her go, but I loved the way we dived into her backstory over the last year and a half, saw parts of her family history and got to know her so well.
“It meant that we’d rounded her off in a really lovely way.
“I’m going to miss her, though. She’s been so fun to play, as she was always up to some sort of mischief.
“It’sto be a bit naughty like that and she certainly kept me on my toes!”
Of course, it may not be the end. With EastEnders’ penchant for bringing characters back from the dead, including Cindy and Kathy Beale, might we see Lola rise up and take Walford by storm again?
“Never say never,” laughs Danielle. “I think I’ll have to make sure I don’t age in case they want to bring me back as a ghost years down the line!”
She admits that the story line, which was created in collaboration with the charities Brain Tumour Research and Macmillan Cancer Support, took its toll. Danielle was left emotionally drained.
“It was a harrowing story line to do for such a long time, which it needed to be so that it was true to life.
“I worked with a lot of people who were suffering with brain tumours. For me, it was a very sad period, and I struggled trying to separate it from my real life.
“I didn’t switch off. I wanted to do justice to the people who had sat with me and told me their stories. It wouldn’t have felt right for me to go home and push it all aside and forget about it.”
The hard work paid off and Danielle deservedly scooped Best Leading Performer at the British Soap Awards, Best Soap Actor at the TRIC Awards and then, last month, the National Television Award for Serial Drama Performance.
When her name was read out as the winner, Danielle couldn’t contain her shock and arrived on stage at the O2 Arena in a state of disbelief, with no speech prepared.
“I didn’t think I was going to win, but even if I had prepared something, I probably would have forgotten it as soon as I got up there!
“As I was walking off, I was thinking that there were so many people I didn’t thank, so I did a little post on Instagram adding everyone in.”
Since those final scenes aired at the end of May, Danielle has had little time to rest.
She went straight into filming Celebrity Hunted for Stand Up To Cancer, which is due to hit screens next year on Channel 4.
She’s also been shooting a featurein Scotland – although it’s top secret and she can’t reveal anything more about that just yet.
And recently, The Sun on Sunday revealed Danielle is in talks to appear in the new series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! later this year.
“It’s been busy and I’m starting to audition again, which is great getting back into that side of things, as it’s been a while.
“Most auditions are done by self-tapes these days, so I’m back to filming myself in my living room with lamps turned upside down to try to get the lighting right!
“I’m also really bad at technology, so when it comes to sending it over, I’m not great.”
Although single, Danielle has been linked to her EastEnders husband, actor Jamie Borthwick, 29, and today she refuses to deny the romance.
However, it’s more to do with the fact she finds the rumours so amusing, rather than there being any truth to them.
“I’m just going to leave that one out there, because it’s too funny,” she says. “It makes me laugh so much, I’d hate to squash it!
“I always say Jamie is the husband I never wanted or asked for, but nonetheless got. Seriously though, there’s no one like that at the moment.
“But I’ve been so busy, it’s probably for the best. I’ve got no time, which is something to feel really lucky about.”
There’s a busy Mitchell family WhatsApp group that keeps Danielle up to date with all the gossip from the set since leaving.
“We are a family,” she says. “In a way, it’s like I never left, because we talk all the time.”
And she made sure she took a few souvenirs, too.
“I have a few of Lola’s hoodies stashed away at home,” she says.
“And a few big hoop earrings… I may well have taken some of them to keep as a memory.”
Last month, she received the National Television Award for Serial Drama PerformanceCredit: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
The TV star went straight into filming Celebrity Hunted for Stand Up To Cancer after her final EastEnders scenes aired in MayCredit: MARK HAYMAN
Danielle is also in talks to appear in the new series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!Credit: MARK HAYMAN
In the make-up chair with Danielle
What’s your best beauty bargain?
I love Primark’s exfoliating mitts.
Do you have any make-up hacks?
I saw this on TikTok, and it works – apple cider vinegar on your nose gets rid of blackheads.
Any skincare heroes?
I wear a lot of make-up for work, and CeraVe Moisturising Lotion sorts my skin out.
What don’t you leave home without?
A Benefit Brow Pencil.
Any beauty icons?
Michelle Keegan and Margot Robbie.