Revisiting the UK chart hits from the year Jamie Oliver made his TV debut in The Naked Chef, and when Zoe Ball got engaged to a certain Mr Fatboy Slim, this is The Story of Pop: 1999. This week – a former resident of Britain’s most famous town square bursts the soap bubble and pops into new chart life…
If there’s one thing the British public took as much ownership of as pop stars over the course of the final two decades of the 20th century, it was soap stars. And more specifically, those that blurred the lines between the two and left to pursue pop careers. The end of the 80s had undoubtedly been the explosion of this, in particular from Aussie soap opera Neighbours, with the great (Kylie Minogue), the passable (Jason Donovan) and the bloody awful (Stefan Dennis) all breaking out into the charts. And at the end of the 90s, it happened all over again with one of our own homegrown soap starlets.
Known to legions of viewers as tart-with-a-heart Queen Vic barmaid Tiffany, on the BBC’s flagship soap opera EastEnders, Martine McCutcheon had kept viewers gripped with her storylines, most famously her doomed marriage to the greatest simian in all of the Albert Square jungle in Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp). But ‘our Tiff’ – as she came to be known to fans – was harbouring a secret. She could sing. And rather well too it has to be said.
She’d had a brief flirtation with music just before she joined the show in 1995 with a dance band called Uno Clio on a low charting flop called ‘Are You Man Enough’. But it was only when she performed a version of ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ from the popular musical Funny Girl two years later, on the BBC Children In Need telethon in 1997, that suddenly ears pricked up. She had demonstrated a showstopping voice to rival her idol, Barbra Streisand, and soon she was being signed up by a live agent to perform in a one off, one woman show at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Several record execs were at this show in 1998, and talked up the possibility of her doing a one off single. Innocent Records, the recently launched pop division of Virgin, who had just steered Billie Piper to two number one hits, went one further, and offered her a £1 million, five album record deal. Wanting to strike whilst the iron was hot, Martine approached the producers of EastEnders about taking some time out from the show to go and pursue an obviously blossoming music career for a year.
Her request however, came at a time when a new scriptwriting regime was bought in to the show, headed by the notoriously ruthless Mal Young, who banned such requests. And when storylines subsequently leaked to a national newspaper of Tiffany being killed off under this new scriptwriters’ rule, something approaching a national outcry was sparked.
But still the axe fell, with Martine making her final appearance as Tiffany, as she met her untimely end under the wheel of Frank Butcher’s car, in the episode screened on New Year’s Eve, 1998. Three months later, all eyes were now on what she would do next, and if she could turn the attention to her advantage with her new pop career.
A classy, lushly produced romantic ballad originally recorded by European singer Edyta Gorniak two years before, ‘Perfect Moment’ was, in many ways, to Martine what ‘Especially For You’ had been to Kylie and Jason ten years previously, a happy ending for those loyal fans that had been so invested in her on screen character immortalised in pop record form.
With that kind of goodwill behind it, it couldn’t fail to be a hit. ‘Perfect Moment’ smashed straight in at the top of the UK charts, selling over 200,000 copies on its first week out, staying there for two weeks all in all. Martine followed it up with a further four top 10 hits, and two platinum albums before she branched out into stage and screen work, most famously alongside Hugh Grant in Richard Curtis’ blockbuster romcom Love Actually in 2003. She has made a return to music with another hit album ‘Lost & Found’ in 2017, and still continues to be a much loved public face on TV and in the media. But here this week, we toast to Martine, and her ‘Perfect Moment’ that turned soap tragedy into pop joy.
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