For Emmerdale stars Paige Sandhu and Rebecca Sarker, the year has been a roller-coaster ride in the best possible way.
The pair have been at the heart of one of the most thrilling soap storylines of 2021, as murderer Meena Jutla and her sister Manpreet Sharma.
Fortunately, away from the Dales, Paige and Rebecca are very close.
“We’re like actual sisters,” reveals Rebecca, with Paige adding that they constantly send voice notes and message each other on WhatsApp.
“If I ever feel anxious or need to vent, I go to Rebecca for support,” says Paige.
Newcomer Paige has certainly had a busy six months acting out Meena’s murder spree, during which she’s killed off Andrea Tate (Anna Nightingale), Leanna Cavanagh (Mimi Slinger), and most recently Ben Tucker (Simon Lennon).
Rebecca has also been flexing her acting muscles – and actual muscles – this year. She did many of her own spectacular stunts during Super Soap Week, and the fitness fan reveals she hopes for more of the same in 2022.
To celebrate their incredible year – including filming those jaw-dropping Woolpack explosion scenes for the Christmas Day episode! – Notebook magazine treated the pair to a glamorous photoshoot.
Here, Rebecca and Paige tell Notebook about the close bond they’ve formed during their time together on set, why “everyone is so happy” before Christmas at work, and how they’ve both spent the festive season…
LORNA ROACH PHOTOGRAPHY)
Hi, Paige and Rebecca! You have had quite a year playing Meena and Manpreet in Emmerdale. How have you both found it all?
Paige: It’s been crazy, but I love playing Meena. At the start of 2021, I told myself this would be the best year of my life – and it has been. I’ve had such a great time.
Rebecca: Manpreet had such an epic storyline during Super Soap Week in the autumn, and it has all carried on over Christmas with her sister. It’s been great fun to be in the thick of it.
The festive season is finally here. What has it been like at Emmerdale at this time of year?
Paige: Everyone is so happy! The catering guys put on Christmas lunches, so there was lots of turkey, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings going around.
I’ve heard that in pre-Covid days, there used to be a Christmas fair with stalls selling festive goodies and a big party, but I’ve not experienced any of that.
Rebecca: It was a countdown to the holiday – we were like greyhounds waiting to be released on a track. The summer do is always quite a raucous affair – we party hard! But, thanks to Covid, I’ve only ever been to one Christmas party and it was quite tame on my part, because I wanted to get home to my family.
You play sisters in the soap. What do you like most about working with each other?
Paige: Rebecca is a really kind and caring person. We care about the work and pour our heart and soul into every scene.
Rebecca: Acting with Paige is half the reason this time has been such a joy. She’s lovely to work with and so kind, giving and encouraging. We get on really well and give each other advice and support. I love the dramatic scenes we’ve been doing recently, where we’re both firing on all cylinders.
LORNA ROACH PHOTOGRAPHY)
What’s your relationship like behind the cameras?
Paige: We’re constantly messaging and sending each other voice notes on WhatsApp. If I ever feel anxious or need to vent about something, I go to Rebecca for support.
Rebecca: We speak lots outside of work. We’ve both been so busy, it’s hard to socialise in any normal kind of way, but if I were to socialise with anyone, it would be her!
How lovely! And Paige, has Rebecca taken you under her wing and shown you the ropes of showbusiness?
Paige: [Laughs] Not really, because I started during Covid so I’ve never even been to a red carpet event. We’re really similar to each other in that we like to do our jobs well, have fun, go home to our families and be private.
Rebecca, you’ve been in Emmerdale since 2018. What is your most embarrassing moment on set?
Rebecca: I fell asleep in a hospital bed. I was hooked up to all the medical equipment for a scene and I dozed off! So many people told me beforehand that they’d done the same, and I said, “No! I’d never do that, I’m too professional.” It was so cosy, I couldn’t help it. I was woken up by the medical adviser stroking my arm, telling me it was time for tea break! Luckily I didn’t snore. I’d have been mortified!
You were also in Coronation Street [as Nita Desai from 1999 to 2000], alongside some of your Emmerdale co-stars. Was it nice to have some familiar faces on set when you joined?
Rebecca: Yes! It was so lovely to see Chris Bisson and Gaynor Faye when I started. Having two friendly faces made me feel like I belonged. I’m also still in touch with Kevin Kennedy from my Corrie days.
What are your hobbies outside of your acting work?
Paige: I love singing. Now that I’ve got some time off over Christmas, I’ll be picking that up again. I could read all day, and I also really enjoy practising yoga, Pilates and meditation.
You’ve spoken about having anxiety, Paige. Does that kind of thing help you?
Paige: Completely. I felt a little bit anxious recently over nothing I could put my finger on, so I did some yoga and meditation and it made me feel like a different person. As long as you take care of yourself, anxiety won’t feel as overwhelming. That’s what my experience has taught me. When
I look back on when it was really bad, I feel grateful for that time, because I learnt how looking after my diet, my sleep and my mental health all adds up.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the fame that comes with being in Emmerdale?
Paige: I must admit, when I see fans waiting outside the studio, I do get a bit nervous.
It’s a completely new experience because I’ve been working through Covid and not really had to deal with that kind of thing. However, I’d rather embrace it than shy away.
Rebecca: I do get recognised more often now, but that’s part of the gig, isn’t it? I only ever have lovely reactions though, and I’m really grateful for the support.
Rebecca, how have your two sons been reacting to it all?
Rebecca: My youngest son is 10, and he loves the fact that his older brother, who’s now 15, is never mentioned in the press. And my eldest son always wants me to set the record straight and remind everyone I’ve got two boys [laughs].
I say, ‘Yes, darling. I’ll big you up at every opportunity’. He’s a black belt in karate, plays the guitar, and is very handsome.
After what happened on Christmas Day, Meena surely can’t get away with her antics forever. Can you tease anything about her downfall?
Paige: Manpreet is the one chink in Meena’s evil armour, so I think it’s got to revolve around the sisters. In terms of a teaser, all I’ll say is everything we’ve seen from Meena so far is small fry compared to what’s coming up from Christmas Day onwards. She feels invincible right now, so her behaviour becomes more and more outlandish and people begin to notice that something isn’t quite right.
Rebecca: There’s something of The Terminator about Meena, although she might have met her Sarah Connor in Manpreet. For her last hurrah, I’d love to see her starved of her evil oxygen. She’s the kind of person who wants notoriety and thrives on the terrible stuff she does.
It would be great if she was transformed into a dog-petting, flower-sniffing goodie. I think that would be the most awful thing for Meena to experience.
So basically, if she had therapy?
Rebecca: [Laughs] Exactly! That would be horrific for her.
Is there anyone in Emmerdale you would be scared to kill off because of the potential fan backlash?
Paige: Paddy! He’s so lovable, so that really wouldn’t go down well with viewers.
Did you watch the Christmas Day episode?
Paige: I had to. My mum’s mum is a huge Emmerdale fan and she was spending Christmas Day with us this year.
How have you both been spending the festive break?
Paige: I always spend it with my family. I make vanilla fudge for my grandma. She’s got a massive sweet tooth.
Rebecca: We get two weeks off and we were all working really hard in the run-up to Christmas in order to have that break.
At home, our Christmas tends to be quite traditional – I baked mince pies while the tree was being put up. On Christmas Day itself, we spent the day at home, and the children opened their presents by the fire, with George the cat stuck in his Christmas jumper in the background, bless him.
Finally, what are your hopes for 2022?
Paige: Like I said, I set a strong intention last year that this would be my best year yet, so I think I’m going to carry on that tradition. I truly believe that as long as you focus on the positives, and choose to see challenges as things that are happening for you, things continue to get better.
Rebecca: I’d like to leave behind boarded-up theatres, homeschooling and Boris’s briefings. I’d also love to see the back of those oversized shackets that everybody looks amazing in except me! My hopes for 2022 are for more of the same, where work is concerned. I’ve loved exploring Manpreet’s character and I hope it can continue