Starting out as a rebellious pupil, determined to flout uniform regulations, Justine Dean went on to become editor of the school newspaper and one of Grange Hill’s longest serving and most popular characters. Rachel Victoria Roberts looks back on her time at Grange Hill.
How did you get the part of Justine?
I went to Italia Conti, but really just because I wanted to be a dancer. Every year most kids my age auditioned for Grange Hill, but I had never acted before. Everyone I think in my class was seen for the 3 parts that year – Justine, Chrissy and Susie. I read for Chrissy. I was recalled twice, then the final audition was filmed for the documentary. I think they only considered me because I was a Londoner!
I joined in 1987, the year after the Just Say No campaign, so Grange Hill was at its height. Everyone watched it, but becoming part of it at the start, we didn’t really know how much it would impact our lives. We didn’t realise how famous it would make us. We were kids and looked up to the older members of the cast a lot. They were lovely to us!
Who were you friends with on the show?
I worked on Grange Hill for over 7 years, so there were many people I was friends with. Joshua Fenton (Mauler McCall) went to my school and was with me the day we started. He is a couple of years older than me but always looked after me. John Drummond, Luisa Bradshaw-White, Desmond Askew, Sean Maguire, George Wilson, Tina Mahon, Ruth Carraway. There are so many but they are just a few!
Are you still in touch with anyone from the show now?
Me and Josh Fenton. have been friends for life since I was 10. I’m nearly 40 now but he is one of my best friends in the world. I adore him and his family. I am in contact with many ex Grange Hillers. I don’t see them…some I have not seen for over 20 years but will talk, text, or email. I would love to see them but unfortunately that’s not always possible.
Justine became arguably one of the programme’s most popular characters. Why do you think this was?
I’ve not got a clue!! I think she was too nice for her own good! She rebelled in the first series and we didn’t ever know why but Tegs was almost her protege. She was kind and she cared for everyone but not much for herself!
Did you have a favourite storyline that you were involved with?
When Justine’s boyfriend Liam died. It wasn’t nice,but challenging!
What are your fondest memories from Grange Hill?
June and Joan and all my chaperones! I lost my dad during the first couple of months I worked on Grange Hill and everyone – cast and crew – were wonderful. I don’t know what I would have done without them. Sadly, June Bettles died in 2003, I was absolutely devastated. She really was such a special woman. I have contact with Joan, who celebrated her 80th birthday last year! Maureen, Elsie, Eileen, Carrie, all women who put up with all of us but still smiled and were kind! They really were lovely, lovely women!
As soon as I left Grange Hill, I had my hair cut! In between series of Grange Hill I always worked, but always cast as a page 3 girl, prostitute, dumb, blonde! The haircut helped! The same day I was cast in 2 commercials! I worked consistently for a couple of years. Then discovered I was pregnant!
What do you do now?
I’m a stay at home Mum! My eldest daughter Tilly is nearly 13, and my baby Rosie is nearly 10! They are my life!
If you were offered the chance to return to acting would you take it?
If I was offered the chance to do it all again, I would. I loved it all, and all the lovely people I’ve met and known. But I don’t think the camera would be so kind to me 25 years on!
Thanks to Rachel Victoria Roberts
Interview © 2013 Neil Mattocks. Reproduced by kind permission