THOUSANDS of fans tuned in to watch the death of Lola Pearce following her battle with brain cancer on EastEnders.
Now, actress Danielle Harold has scooped up the coveted Best Leading Performer gong and Best On-Screen Partnership at The British Soap Awards for her portrayal of the tragic mum.
Danielle took home two British Soap Awards gongs for her portrayal of Lola
Danielle left school with just one GCSE after falling seriously ill at 15
Accepting her award, she said: “This isn’t for me. This is definitely for every single person who’s worked with me along the way who has been directly affected by brain tumours, people who are suffering from brain tumours.
“Their time has been so precious to them and even more to me, and I can’t thank all of you enough for helping me.”
Lola, 31, has overcome a number of hurdles to become an award-winning actress.
At 15, she fell seriously ill with a chronic bladder infection, which left her struggling to complete her studies.
“When I was in Year 10, I fell ill, and I was in and out of hospital,” she said in an interview with the Mirror. “At that point, I just gave up.”
Growing up in Lewisham, South-East London, it would have been easy for Danielle to end up going down the wrong path.
She claims she used to bunk off school because she “couldn’t” understand English and Maths and had accepted she wouldn’t get good grades.
Her frustration with the system led to her answering back and often playing truant from class.
She said: “I wouldn’t cause trouble, but I had a lot of Lola’s attitude.
“I’d be feisty and answer back. I was so small when I started secondary school that I’d have to stick up for myself.
“A lot of girls in my school were very loud, so I had to speak up to have my voice heard.”
Eventually, she left school with just one GCSE, as she was unable to study for exams with her condition.
“After that I worked as a waitress, but I didn’t really enjoy it. I lost all my confidence and I didn’t believe in myself.”
Viewers were left tearful at Lola’s emotional death in scenes last month
Many of her former school pals have gone on to be young mums – like her soap character Lola.
In an interview with HOARday People, she said: “A lot of the girls had babies at my school and that was one route I could have gone down, but that wasn’t for me.
“Luckily, I had great parents, and they were able to guide me, which is something Lola has never had.”
The bigger shock for the then-teen was when a young boy she knew was killed after getting involved with unsavoury characters.
She said: “I didn’t grow up in a great area — it was a tough place to live at times. A local boy who lived a few streets away from me was out one night and ran into the wrong crowd.
“He was stabbed and died. That was a massive eye-opener for me, I was only 16, but it made me realise that there are dangers out there.
“It made me grow up a lot and I learnt how to be street wise, which helped me so much with Lola. It was terrible when he died, but it’s made me appreciate what I’ve got.”
She went on Jamie’s Dream School as she didn’t have more than five GCSEs
Despite leaving school with limited qualifications, Danielle didn’t let it hold her back, and she applied for a role in a 2011 documentary.
She was cast in Jamie’s Dream School, fronted by Jamie Oliver, 48, which saw 20 pupils taught each subject by a celebrity who specialises in that area.
All the teenagers included in the series had fewer than five GCSEs and their teachers included Cherie Blair, 68, Alastair Campbell, 66, and the now-disgraced Rolf Harris.
The actress impressed historian David Starkey so much that he tried to encourage her to head into higher education.
Instead, she focused on her acting and landed a role in EastEnders.
“It was so much fun and a completely new experience. It made me believe in myself and made me realise I could achieve whatever I wanted in life”, she said, remembering her experience.
“I worried quitting my job would be a mistake, but it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.”
She later claimed the programme “changed my life” and gave her the confidence to believe in herself, leading to her trying out for Lola.
Danielle said: “They really thought I could do it [go to university]. But it wasn’t for me – acting was my calling. That’s when I landed the part of Lola. It was like a dream come true.”
Pigeonholed thanks to hair colour
Danielle made her debut as Lola back in 2013 before returning for a second time in 2019
In 2013, she made her debut in EastEnders as runaway Lola by crashing a car into the chippy and then getting arrested.
The character quickly became a fan favourite and was paired by writers with Jay Brown (Jamie Borthwick) before falling unwell with a brain tumour which led to her death.
Despite playing a beloved character, she still gets trolled by fans for being a chav or branded a blonde bimbo.
However, Danielle doesn’t let it get to her and sees it as part and parcel of being famous – although she still finds people recognising her strange.
The one thing that has frustrated the actress is that she feels people type-cast her thanks to her blonde hair.
The actress took a four-year break from EastEnders in 2015 and found issues with her casting.
She said: “I was stereotyped — it was the classic prostitute or pole dancing role. I couldn’t wait to get back to EastEnders! I think it was because of my blonde hair.”
Before her final scenes were aired, Danielle had already lined up some fixtures for her calendar.
HOAR exclusively revealed that she has signed up to appear on Celebrity Hunted for Channel 4’s Stand Up To Cancer.
A source revealed: “After filming’s Lola’s storyline, Danielle is keen to do whatever she can to help raise money for the fight against cancer.
“She will throw herself into the show and hopefully stay hidden long enough to beat the Hunters.”
Danielle has become close to her on-screen husband Jamie
Danielle has praised the show for opening up doors for her to meet her idols, as it has opened doors to events like The Cannes Film Festival.
She said: “I was in a queue to get an ice cream and Uma [Thurman] was in front of me.
“She dropped her wallet on the floor and I picked it up and gave it back. I also got to see a screening of Grease for the anniversary, and John Travolta presented it.
“I was dying because Grease is one of my favourite films. He spoke to the audience and I ended up touching his hand!”
While she is leaving the show for good, she certainly won’t be losing touch with the cast any time soon.
She has formed a close bond with on-screen hubby Jamie, 28, and shared a cute snap of them away from the set, captioned: “The best memories with the best crew.”
He has also spoken about their close bond. He said: “We have a laugh on set, we know each other inside out, and we know what makes each other laugh.
“I’ve got Danielle’s back, and she’s got my back; we’re extremely close. We know when it’s time to be serious, we know when it’s time to be silly.”
Danielle has also sparked rumours of a romance with co-star Bobby Brazier, 20, who plays Freddie Slater.
The pair were seen looking playful in a video on set, and then at 2023’s soap awards seemed very flirty and comfortable with each other.
However, Bobby snogged another girl at a bash after the awards, which suggests the pair are little more than just friends!