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Alison Slade

EastEnders star Lacey Turner on ‘really scary’ London Marathon challenge — and how you can donate to Babs’ Army

EastEnders star Lacey Turner as Stacey Slater wearing her hair down and a red jacket

The London Marathon 2023 takes place this Sunday, April 23, and amongst the 50,000 competitors pounding the tarmac is a group of familiar faces from EastEnders decked out in orange vests.

Babs’ Army is their name, and they’re taking on the grueling 26.2-mile challenge to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK in memory of EastEnders legend Dame Barbara Windsor — better known as the iconic Peggy Mitchell — who sadly passed away from the illness in 2020.

Dame Barbara’s widower Scott Mitchell heads up the 12-strong team, which includes former EastEnders stars Jake Wood (Max Branning), Tanya Franks (Rainie Cross) and Adam Woodyatt (Ian Beale), and current cast members Jane Slaughter (Tracey the barmaid), Heather Peace (Eve Unwin), Natalie Cassidy (Sonia Fowler) and Lacey Turner (Stacey Slater). 

Lacey Turner's sister Daisy Luckett, Adam Woodyatt's son Sam, former Great British Bake Off winner Candice Brown, and EastEnders 'extra' John McIntyre complete the team.

The group hopes to raise a whopping £50,000 — click here if you’d like to donate.

We caught up with Lacey to talk about the challenge ahead and her memories of a national treasure…

The big day is fast approaching — how do you feel?

Oh my god, I am really nervous — I’m no runner! It was a really good idea at the time and now it’s a really scary one, but you have to remember what we’re doing it for and it makes it that bit easier. I’m praying that the crowd will get me round — that’s what everyone tells me!

You originally signed up for the marathon in 2019, but had to withdraw because you discovered you were expecting your first child, daughter Dusty. When you were asked to run in 2023, was it an instant ‘yes’? 

When I said I’d do it in 2019, I was child-free and had plenty of time on my hands, but when Scott asked me this time round, I thought “Can I commit to this?” If you go for a long run, you’re out for four or five hours — well I am because I’m particularly slow! It’s hard when you’ve got two small people who you’ve got to get to swimming club and football club (Lacey now also has a second child, son Trilby).

I texted Natalie Cassidy and said “Am I running this marathon or what?” and she said “It’ll be the best day of your life” so I said to Scott, “Count me in.” I didn’t think about it until a couple of months later, and then I thought “Oh my god, I’ve got to actually do it now.”

Training buddies: Lacey with EastEnders co-star and fellow Babs' Army member Natalie Cassidy. (Image credit: Instagram@babsarmy)

A lot of the Babs’ Army team have run the marathon before. Are you the only first-timer?

Yes. My sister has never done it, but she’s a runner so she doesn’t count! I’ve got the benefit of naivety. I feel quite blessed that I genuinely have no idea how hard it’s going to be, running 26.2 miles. Jamie Borthwick (who plays Jay Brown) says to me every day, “Lace, it’s the point two that kills you!”

Have you had a personal trainer to prepare you?

No, I’ve had the lovely Heather Peace. This is her fourth marathon, I think, and we’ve been running together in our gaps at work. Shorter runs I can do like that, and at weekends, my husband Matt has the kids while I do a longer one.

I got to a point where I couldn’t get past five miles. I kept trying to find a route that was long enough to get me to the 10k mark but I got stuck, so Heather said “Find a canal.” I thought, “It’s easy for you - you live in Brighton, you can run along the sea front.” Where I live, in Hertfordshire, it’s so hilly. But I found a canal and I managed to run 10 miles.  

After that, I went into London to run with Scott, Tanya and Jake and did 11 miles, and the week after, I ran with Scott and Natalie and we did a half marathon. But then I got a dodgy foot and had to take 10 days out, and since then I’ve just been doing five and 10kms, because I’m scared that if I do another long one, it’s going to play up. On the day, I’m just keeping everything crossed and hoping the adrenaline will kick in.

Leading the way: Heather Peace is an old hand at marathons and has helped prepare Lacey for the big day. (Image credit: BBC)

Do you play any songs when you’re running, to get you motivated?

I’ve been listening to audio books. I also hired a treadmill - which I’m definitely not keeping! - and when I’m on that, I’ve been watching Happy Valley, which I’ve been meaning to watch for years. I watch an episode and run six miles. I don’t know how I’ll get round the marathon without Sarah Lancashire — I need to take her with me! 

Tell us about Barbara Windsor - was she a mentor to you?

100%. She had this presence. If you walked in a room, you automatically knew if she was there. She had a natural instinct to take people under her wing. She had that old school, showbiz professionalism. You’d watch her work and you’d be in awe of how she would bring her character to life.

I actually knew her before EastEnders, from when I was 15, because Matt’s dad and Scott are best friends, so if we had family barbecues or parties, Barbara would be there. 

I remember doing a scene with her, Ross (Kemp, who played Grant) and Steve (McFadden, who plays Phil), and I had to punch Ross in the chest. In the rehearsal, I just did it really gently, and she took me outside and went “You’re not gonna do it like that, are you?!” I loved the way she said it how it is. She wasn't going to stand there and let you make a fool of yourself. She was a natural leader.

Iconic: Lacey credits the late Dame Barbara Windsor as a mentor and 'natural leader.' (Image credit: BBC)

What are your plans for the day — will you all run together as a group?

Some people have got a target time, but most have run it before and it’s just about being in a team and running together — though I’m not sure they want to be there for six hours whilst I finally make it to the finish line! My target is to get to the end. My sister really wants to do it in four and half hours, but as long as I get over the line, I don’t care how long it takes me. I’ll be near the back if you want to look for me!

What do you think Barbara would make of it all?

She’s having a right old giggle up there, and she’s definitely laughing at me! 

Seriously, I think she’d be so proud of Scott — what he has achieved is so incredible. When Barbara was still here, she managed some groundbreaking things just by being open and honest, as she always was. Scott is carrying that on, and is doing an amazing job. 

We’re nearly at our target, and people have been so generous at a time when they haven’t got a lot of money. We weren’t expecting it to be like previous years because the world has changed, but people have still given, which is lovely.

You can watch coverage of The London Marathon on BBC One from 8.30 am to 2.15pm and then on BBC2 from 2.15pm till 3pm. There will also be highlights on BBC2 from 6pm to 7pm.

If you would like to sponsor Babs' Army and donate to Alzheimer's Research UK, head to the team's official page

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