Published: 00:01, 13 June 2015
A convicted criminal with a history of kidnap and abuse who is struggling with his sexuality – Ben Mitchell is fast becoming one of the most intriguing and talked-about characters on EastEnders.
Now, actor Harry Reid has revealed how growing up in Gravesend and his strong relationship with his own father has influenced his portrayal of the troubled son of Phil Mitchell.
The 22-year-old, who went to Northfleet School for Boys – now Northfleet Technology College – has had a rapid rise to soap stardom since he started in the role in September.
From attending star-studded award ceremonies to finding himself involved in an online storm of comments after his character had a gay kiss, he has already had a taste of both the good and the bad sides of fame.
This week, he expressed his disappointment at the reaction to homophobic comments posted on Twitter and Facebook after his character shared a moment of passion with another man.
Some viewers tweeted to say the BBC was wrong to show the kiss before the watershed.
User Faze posted: “EastEnders please stop showing these disgusting scenes, I’m a long-term viewer but scenes like this will put off your audience.”
Adrian Henderson posted: “There should be a warning before scenes like this happen.”
The 22-year-old actor decided to intervene in the debate saying he wanted people to know he cared about the issue but he admitted to being “disappointed” by some comments.
The day after the episode was aired last Monday, he posted a photo of gay London gangster Ronnie Kray on photo sharing website Instagram with the caption: “It’s upsetting to read the negative tweets about the gay kiss in last night’s episode of @bbceastenders. I only want to ask one question. Would you of [sic] called Ronnie Kray disgusting? #whatwouldronniesay”
"Ben Mitchell is a great character to play – he’s not a nice character but his layers are what really take me in..." - Harry Reid
The post attracted more than 800 likes and in excess of 100 comments, and was widely reported by the national media.
Reflecting on the furore, he said: "I like that it has provoked a reaction ... I was just disappointed because we are in 2015. Times have changed.
"The photo that I put on Instagram was me saying that I am there for the gay community.
"I didn’t want the gay community to see that I haven’t reacted to it all and that I don’t care."
Asked how he was finding the role, eight months in, he told KentOnline: “I love it. Ben Mitchell is a great character to play – he’s not a nice character but his layers are what really take me in.
“He comes from two families who are very different. There are so many possibilities with him and it will be interesting to see if he does become the new Phil Mitchell or like a more gentle Ian Beale.”
Harry said that it is the twisted morals of Ben’s character – the first major role he has secured since leaving The Arts University Bournemouth – that he finds most appealing, but he also revealed how he is able to use his experience with his own family to immerse himself further into the role.
“I come from a family that is a very strong unit, and it’s the same with the Mitchells. There is a real strong family bond there. Phil is quite like my old man in terms of his strong connection with his immediate family.
"I like that it has provoked a reaction. I was just disappointed because we are in 2015. Times have changed..." - Harry Reid on his gay kiss scene
“Obviously, he is not completely like Phil. But the relationship is a bit like that. My dad is very old school. He wasn’t too impressed when I said I wanted to become an actor.
“My mum was worried as well because she didn’t want me to put all my eggs in one basket.
“I struggled to convince them at the time. But my family have been absolutely unbelievable since then. I just had to be honest and tell them that I love this.
“My dad now still can’t believe that I’m on the telly.”
The young actor, who was born in Gravesend, has lived here for almost all of his life and can’t praise the town enough.
He said: “I absolutely love Gravesend. It’s such a multicultural place and there is a great load of a talent here. You only need to look at the success of Gemma Arterton.
“With London Paramount and the garden city on the way Gravesend is such an up and coming area.”
Harry looked back fondly to his time at Northfleet School for Boys. “I was a fan of school actually,” he said. “I was mischievous in my own way. I first took acting lessons in Year 8 and it was then that I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
“My teacher Mr Barnard really helped me during this time and made me realise that acting was for me.
“It is a school that will always be in my heart and I am hoping to go back and do some theatre shows soon.”
After leaving secondary school, Harry went on to study at the Dartford-based Miskin Theatre. “I would recommend the place to anyone who wants to become an actor,” he said. “It’s on par with the Brit School. You’re treated like an actor.”
As for what comes next, Harry said he is committed to developing the role of Ben Mitchell for the foreseeable future.
He said: “I would like to stay at EastEnders forever because of the character.
“I have come into a part that I adore. I don’t like the character but I want to make the part my own. I want to find out how to make people like him.”
Luckily for Harry, his growing fame has not forced him to start wearing a disguise when around town.
“I grew up here so many people already know me – so there has not been too much of that,” he said.
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