Michelle A. Collins (born May 28, 1962 in Hackney, East London) is a British actress best known for her roles on television in the BBC soap opera EastEnders, as Cindy Beale, and BBC dramas Sunburn and Two Thousand Acres of Sky. At one time, she was also a TV presenter on The Word.
Collins’s acting roots are firmly theatrical, as she trained at the Royal Court Activists and Cockpit Youth Theatre from the age of fourteen and progressed to Kingsway Princeton College, where she studied drama and theatre at O/A level.
After her exams, she landed a role in Bulgakov’s 'The Crimson Island' at The Gate Theatre, directed by Lou Stein. Her career changed direction when, having performed in the video for the Squeeze songs "Up the Junction" and "Cool for Cats", she joined Mari Wilson and The Wilsations as the backing singer, “Candide”. The band spent eighteen months touring the country, working with artists such as Marc Almond, Level 42, Altered Images and Kid Creole and the Coconuts. When the band broke up in 1982, she went back into acting and with the help of her friend, the British actor Tim Roth, she successfully gained a part in a musical with the late Gary Hutton and Gary Shail known as H.M.V.
Collins's first TV appearance was with Gary Oldman in the BBC drama Morgan's Boy. Other TV credits included: two series of the sitcom Running Wild, where she played Ray Brooks daughter; a part in ITV drama The Bill; a Screen Two production Lucky Sunil, directed by Michael Caton Jones and a BBC play Pressures. She later appeared in three films: Personal Services, Empire State and Poliakov’s Hidden City.
While she was filming the BBC play Pressures in 1988, Collins was spotted by EastEnders’s producer Julia Smith, and she was asked to audition for the role of Cindy, who was due to feature in eleven episodes of the soap. However Collins excelled in her role, and the manipulative, reckless nature of her character was a hit with viewers so her contract was extended and the character became one of the most renowned villains in soap history. She played Cindy Beale, the unfaithful wife of EastEnders stalwart Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt), from 1988 - 1998. During breaks from Eastenders she filmed the drama Real Women for the BBC, with Pauline Quirke and Frances Barber. The drama was a success and it helped to confirm Collins as a versatile actress of considerable stature. Contrary to popular belief, she did not appear in the popular comedy show Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge 1994. "Michelle Collins" is credited as a magician's assistant, but the role was played by a different actress with the same name, as confirmed in the audio commentary on its DVD release.
After leaving EastEnders in 1998 (when her character met an untimely demise offscreen), her career flourished with a series of drama roles, making hers one of the more successful post-EastEnders careers. These include: two series of Real Women (BBC1); two series of Sunburn (BBC1), for which Collins also sang the theme song (which was a minor hit in the UK Singles Chart in 1999) reaching the official UK top 40 at #28!; Daylight Robbery (ITV); The Sleeper (BBC1); Uprising (ITV): three series of Two Thousand Acres of Sky (BBC1): the 2-part series Perfect (ITV); Lloyd And The Hill (ITV) and Ella And The Mothers (BBC1). In 2003 Collins played Sarah Barton in Single, which further established her reputation for playing tough, contemporary women who also have a touching vulnerability.
In 2003 Collins filmed the BBC drama Sea Of Souls and then went on to star in a film for Granada/Channel 4 called The Illustrated Mum, which told the story of two girls coping with the unpredictable behaviour of their depressed, alcoholic mother. The film, written by Jacqueline Wilson, was based on the children’s novel of the same name. It was screened to great acclaim over Christmas 2003 and won an Emmy Award and two BAFTAs.
In 2004 she starred in an episode of the British comic sketch show French and Saunders and also starred alongside fellow EastEnders actor Martin Kemp in the ITV drama Can't Buy Me Love, which was watched by nearly 8 million viewers. The programme was inspired by the real-life story of Howard Walmsley, who was jailed for fraud after pretending to win the lottery in order to keep his wife Donna (played by Collins) from leaving him. Their lives and marriage were subsequently turned upside down by the events that unfolded.
In 2005, Collina starred in the ITV drama The Last Detective and she starred in the BBC drama The Family Man, alongside ex-EastEnder Daniela Denby-Ashe, which aired in March 2006.
She starred in the West End musical Daddy Cool, and while working during the night there shot sequences for a cameo in the short film Broken written and directed by Vicki Psarias, to be shown at film festivals from April 2007; and will feature in the film Don't Stop Dreaming due for release late 2006/early 2007. She left Daddy Cool in January 2007 to shoot the Doctor Who episode "42". .
On July 2, 2007, it was announced that Collins has been cast for the lead role of Karina Faith in new ITV drama series, Rock Rivals, produced by Shed Productions.
Collins has a daughter, Maia, who was born in 1996. Her pregnancy was written into her return to EastEnders the same year. She owns a pet Chow Chow called Jingle.
Collins's complex love life includes dating cameraman Mark Waters, whom she met while filming the BBC travel rep drama Sunburn, for two years; and lighting technician David Oldroyd whom she met while shooting the BBC's Two Thousand Acres of Sky. Collins and her Welsh boyfriend Parry Cockwell called off their wedding in February 2005, saying things were moving too fast, before splitting in October 2005.
Collins was a chain-smoker, and tried quitting a number of times to become a social-smoker who didn't buy her own cigarettes. She eventually undertook hypnosis to give up and protect her voice for her role in Daddy Cool.
Michelle currently lives in Muswell Hill.
Collins is heavily involved in charitable causes. She is an ambassador for Oxfam and has visited Brazil, South Africa and Armenia promoting the need for the basic right to education. She also continues to be involved with a variety of fund raising projects for Stonewall, Smart Justice; and Breakthrough Breast Cancer where she is a spokesperson for a project to recruit 100,000 women to research the causes of breast cancer.