“Fenner’s in an old people’s home and he gets murdered”

BY CARRIE LYELL

It’s been 20 years since Simone Lahbib and Mandana Jones, better known to millions as Helen and Nikki, appeared on the cover of DIVA magazine.

Two decades on, Bad Girls – and Helen and Nikki’s love story – still captures the hearts of lesbians and bi women, not least because it’s still one of the only happy endings we’ve ever seen for a lesbian couple. On a recent Zoom call with the pair (pinch me), I asked that all important question – where’s the reboot we’ve been longing for? 

Inside Story: Simone and Mandana on the cover of DIVA in April 2001

You’ve been asked many times over the years about the potential for reboots and remakes. Is that something you would be open to? 

Mandana Jones: Yeah! Simone? 

Simone Lahbib:  I’ve answered “yes” every time I’ve been asked it. Sincerely. 

What might Bad Girls look like in 2021? 

Mandana: I like my idea of Fenner in an old people’s home and he gets murdered. [Laughs] And then all the people who he’s crossed swords with… It could be her, could be him. Which one killed him? A bit like Who Shot JR. 

Simone: That’s a great idea!

Fenner was the ultimate baddie – just thinking about him makes my skin crawl. There’s something very powerful in that idea, tying into conversations around accountability. To see women “winning” would be amazing. 

Mandana: It would be great. All his crimes against humanity coming back to haunt him. Because there’s this thing, isn’t there. People getting away with shit. It’s so annoying. I think people would love it, and I would love to see it. He’s got to relive it. He’s imprisoned in his past, which he can never escape from, and he has to face it. He has to get real about it. 

Has no one has ever seriously talked about a reboot? Because honestly, I think it would be a huge hit. 

Simone: Nope. It’s never happened. 

Mandana: Give them a call. Say “Hey, let’s go again. Let’s do it”. 

DIVA is completely behind you! The show was groundbreaking in so many ways. Do you think Helen and Nikki would set Twitter alight if the show were on today, Line Of Duty style? 

Simone: That’s a good question and I’m now feeling my age. [Laughs] Am I enough up on technology to really even imagine that? I’m not sure!

Mandana: I don’t know if it would have had such an impact, or be such an explosion. There’s been a lot of forward movement, hasn’t there? Because legislation and everything has changed. And the landscape has changed so drastically since Bad Girls. 

Simone: And yet what I find fascinating in this age, when everything has to be fast cut and bam, bam, bam, Bad Girls is still finding a new audience. 

It’s been very jarring to see you play a baddie in EastEnders, Simone. 

Simone: Yes. She’s a nasty piece of work. 

What else is keeping you occupied while – fingers crossed – the Bad Girls reboot we’ve been dreaming about for the last 15 years comes to life? 

Simone: I just did a little guest in Vera. I’ve done a beautiful audio book called The Metal Heart and I’ve been doing some voiceovers. My agent phoned me up and said, “Simone, can you do an Orkney accent?” And in true Lahbib style, I said “Yes I can’” We ended the call and I was straight on YouTube: Orkney accent. 

Mandana: Do it!

Simone: [Laughs] No! Don’t do that to me. I’ve got to key into it. I’ve also [directed] a couple of music videos, I’ve written and directed a short film, and I do quite a bit of teaching. And of course, being a mum. 

What about you Mandana? 

Well, I’ve just done the last bit. Being a mum. I have a son who has got quite severe neurological disorders – he is high functioning autistic and also has severe ADHD. In 2019, he ran away 17 times… That’s really heavy. It’s just not possible to think about anything else when you’re in that situation. 

Thank you for sharing some of your experience, Mandana. There are a lot of people in your position, caring for neurodivergent loved ones, who will take a great deal of comfort from your story. You’re also appearing at the third Bad Girls Reunion event in September, which Simone has organised. Had you stayed close since the show? 

Mandana: To be honest with you, no. But sometimes you have a very close period with somebody, you don’t see them for two decades, and then you meet again, and it’s wonderful. We’d grown up a bit and life had happened and beaten us all around in various ways, but we had that bedrock, we had that knowledge, we had that knowing. So you just click back in. You go, “You’re really cool now!” You were always quite cool, but now you’re really quite extraordinary. That’s certainly what I felt about seeing Simone again. We hadn’t been in touch at all until she said, “Will you take part in this?” And so we met again, and then stayed in touch. Our children are weeks apart in age. Very different kids, but they click, they get on. Simone had also set up a part-time acting course. My son has never fitted in with anything, ever, but for some reason he was curious and interested to try some acting lessons there. It’s been really nice to reconnect. 

Simone, the reunions are fundraising events for the Eilidh Brown Memorial Fund, set up in memory of your niece. How have things grown since we last spoke in 2016? 

Simone: Well, the house is built. It’s nearly there – they’ve even started buying some of the soft furnishings. So it shall be up and running soon. The fundraising will be ongoing. It has to be, because there will be no charge for the families that come. It’s a beautiful house and it’s a wonderful memorial to Eilidh. It’s taken a long time. There’s not been any great funding that’s come in. There have been little things here and there but it’s mostly been the guys on the street, doing a marathon, having a sponsored haircut. That’s how the money’s come together. And everything’s from scratch. When it was first conceived, it was hugely underestimated what it was going to cost. That was a real blow. But we said, okay, we just have to redouble the efforts and keep going. [Recently] we went up to see the house and they said, “If any of the core Bad Girls fans who have really been supportive with the fundraising really want visit, we’ll bring them up and we’ll show them round the house”. I think that’s a lovely recognition of the support that’s come from the fanbase. 

That’s fantastic. 

Simone: I just find it amazing. That all these years later, there’s such a passionate following. There’s a community online. And everybody enjoys the conventions. It’s a get together. A lot of people have made friends. There’s been a few falling outs! But mostly, people have made friends which is a really positive thing. It’s a chance to get together and party. And that includes us, the cast. There’s such a fondness. 

Mandana: I feel sad at the conventions because I always wish we were going be to filming again and hanging out. 

Let’s make it happen…

Read more from Simone and Mandana in the June 2021 issue of DIVA magazine, on sale now via linktr.ee/divamagazine. Tickets for the Bad Girls Reunion are on sale now at bgreunuion.co.uk

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