by LAUREN CODLING
THE latest star of popular soap EastEnders has spoken of her appreciation for the “positive” reaction to the Punjabi-heritage, bisexual character she plays on the show.
Gurlaine Kaur Garcha, 26, is one of the newest additions to the legendary Albert Square. Playing the role of Ash Kaur, the actress is the youngest sister of the Panesar family. The family, of Punjabi heritage, consists of Ash and her three brothers – Kheerat (Jaz Deol), Jags (Amar Adatia) and Vinny (Shiv Jalota). Their mother has also recently been introduced to the show.
Although she has only featured as a series regular in the soap for a few months, Garcha’s character has already been a talking point with viewers. For instance, in one of her first major story lines, Ash was revealed to be the girlfriend of Muslim character Iqra Ahmed. The plot was widely praised by fans for its portrayal of a modern-day LGBTQ+ relationship between two women from the British Asian community.
Since the coming-out episode has aired, Garcha has received a stream of positive messages from fans. Many have admitted they are going through a similar situation and expressed happiness that the soap has tackled such a realistic, everyday issue.
“It is nice to know when someone can relate to your role and storyline,” Garcha told Eastern Eye. “It is very rewarding as an actor when you feel like you’re helping people and then giving them a sense of comfort, so they know they are not alone.”
The Panesar family are the first ever Sikh family to feature on the soap since it was first broadcast on BBC One in 1985. The importance of this is not lost on Garcha, who described herself as “incredibly proud” to be part of the family dynamic. The Panesars are true representations of Punjabi Sikh families, the Luton-born actress added.
“There are definitely some things in there that are very true to life – lots of drama, lots of laughter and lots of love,” she mused. “Regardless of what happens, they really love one another.”
Garcha has a close relationship with her three onscreen brothers, similar to the relationship she has with her real-life brother and cousins. “[Our relationship] is exactly the same [as that with my real-life family],” she said. “We all click, and we did from day one. We all got on instantly which made it really easy.”
Although she has starred as a series regular since October, Garcha was initially told she was playing the role of Ash in the summer. When the first episode featuring Ash aired, Garcha’s family all gathered to watch it together. The moment she first appeared on screen was a memorable one – Garcha admitted she couldn’t even hear her first lines due to the screams of excitement from her family.
“I was having to go ‘I can’t hear what I’m saying, stop screaming’,” she laughed. “We had to rewind it back on Sky Plus!”
As a long-time fan of the soap, Garcha said it was surreal seeing herself on a programme she regularly watches. When she was growing up, her mother would limit how much the family watched television. However, Garcha’s drama teacher told her she needed to find a character on TV she could study.
“I thought ‘I’ve got an excuse now to start watching it all the time’,” Garcha joked. “I told my mum that I really wanted to watch Stacey Slater on TV and I had to do it because it was homework.”
On her most memorable moment on the show so far, Garcha recalled her first scene when she walked into the Queen Vic. The pub is an iconic fixture on the soap, which has seen hundreds of famous faces walk through the doors.
Her first scene was with actor Danny Dyer, who plays pub landlord Mick Carter. The moment of realisation came as Garcha sat across from Dyer and ordered a drink in the fictional pub. “It was that moment of ‘Oh wow, I’m actually in this famous landmark that is part of our television culture’,” she said. “Being in the soap is incredible anyway but having your first scene in such an iconic place was amazing.”
Although Garcha has previously starred in Holby City and Doctors, EastEnders is her first major role and she is excited to see where it will take her. Although she has many ambitions, she is adamant that her full focus will be on the soap for the time being. “I want to see what happens and just take it all in – live in the moment,” she said. “I don’t want it to be over before I know it. I want to make this my priority.”
As for the future of Ash and her soap family, what is next on the cards for them?
“All I can say is it will be very exciting, lots of drama,” Garcha revealed. “People will be stuck to their screens and I think the main thing that will come across is that family unit. Ash and Iqra are focusing on their relationship and now we’ve got our mum here and the boys have just moved onto the Square. So, it is definitely the start of something.”