Byline: Julie MacCaskill
FORGET nightclub lothario Beppe DiMarco or silky smooth businessman Steve Owen, it's mild-mannered fruit and veg seller Mark Fowler, played by Todd Carty, who is EastEnders' top bit of male crumpet.
At least according to Lucy Speed, who plays Albert Square's luckless Natalie Evans.
"He's lovely isn't he?" she says. "I had a massive crush on Todd when he was Tucker Jenkins in Grange Hill so I'd get to live out my childhood dreams if I got it together with Todd on-screen.
"Natalie would never consider having an affair with Beppe or Steve because they're just too dangerous."
Not that an affair is on the cards for Natalie. But 24-year-old Lucy secretly hopes that, someday, her EastEnders character will take a walk on the wild side away from dull on-screen husband Barry.
"Deep down, Natalie would love to live a more carefree life but she's tried that and never pulled it off so she's decided to settle for security instead," she says. "She'd never have an affair, it's just not in her personality."
So poor old Natalie is stuck doing what she seems to do best - crying.
As every woman will testify, sometimes there's nothing better than a right good cry but, for Lucy, blubbing has become something of an occupational hazard.
Natalie has experienced a roller-coaster of emotions recently. She's been fired from her job, made homeless and, to top it all, discovered, much to her distress, she's pregnant.
"Everything that could go wrong to Natalie has gone wrong," says Lucy. "She's certainly not had an easy time of it lately."
Things finally came to a head recently when Natalie told Barry she was not ready to have a family and planned to have an abortion.
Viewers watched a devastated Barry react badly to the news and chase after Natalie to the abortion clinic where he finally persuaded his wife to go through with the pregnancy.
The scenes between Natalie and Barry have been among the most powerful moments in soap with the couple battling to decide the fate of their unborn baby. For Lucy, the abortion scenes have proved to be emotionally taxing.
"It's stressful when you come in from work and you've been acting miserable all day," says Lucy.
Lucy's exhausting workload looks set to continue as EastEnders prepares to go four times a week as of Friday and, as the nation is promised more sensational storylines, the question is, will Natalie's future be a long and happy one?
Although the emotions of the abortion storyline were alien to Lucy, she didn't have to search for inspiration when the cameras started rolling.
"Crying came easy to me. In fact I've had difficulty knowing when to turn off the waterworks," she says. "Natalie desperately wants a baby, but the thought of becoming a mother makes her unhappy. Her family background is so awful she doesn't want to make the same mistake her mother made, but feels the odds are stacked against her and Barry."
Persuaded to go ahead with the pregnancy, Natalie agrees to let Barry bring up the baby on the condition she can go back to work.
"She's an extremely hard-working and efficient person who'll try her hand at anything. In fact I don't think there's anywhere Natalie hasn't worked in the Square, except perhaps the laundrette, but who knows, that could well be her next career move."
For Lucy, her character's decision to spurn the stereotypical role of playing mum at home is the sensible solution to the Evans' parenting problems. …