Debra excitedly says “This was my wish last year. If someone had asked me what would you like your character to do, I would have said to see a glimpse of Shell’s background, to see why she is like she is. Last series, Shell was established as being a bitch and a bully - and now we see why”.
“We never knew what her background was before and now we meet her mother and discover that she has children. I hadn’t imagined Shell with any kids and I had to adjust to that, but it suddenly made such sense. It was strange to meet ‘my’ mother (played by Julie Le Grand), but I couldn’t wait to see how she was going to be played, as it really does colour how Shell has turned out”.
Debra finds it difficult to identify with Shell “There’s not a lot to like about Shell but hopefully you can definitely feel sorry for her in this series – I do. Shell’s had a tragic upbringing and the way that she has handled her life is also tragic. I don’t think anyone is bad through and through and there is usually a reason why someone is bad. Of course, Shell doesn’t make things any easier for herself but she just doesn’t know how to handle her emotions”.
Debra laughs wryly when she talks about Shell’s bullying “she’s not even any good at being a bully – she’s absolutely rubbish, and in that way you have to have some sympathy for her. Although Shell deserves all she gets, she always gets hurt herself. Ultimately she never really succeeds in hurting anyone else but herself – particularly in her relationship with Senior Officer Jim Fenner” (played by Jack Ellis)”.
“I don’t think I could find a more stretching role, not least of all because I haven’t got any real life experience of any of the things that Shell has been through. I don’t have kids and I’ve always had such a stable home as a child, and I’m now happily married. I’ve definitely had to use my imagination a lot”.
“We see Shell’s downfall from ‘topdog’ to rock bottom during the series. Shell starts going to group therapy sessions, initially as a laugh, but it opens up a can of worms for her. I’m pleased that the writers haven’t just gone for the story line that she will be reformed through therapy because it would be unrealistic – but I’m not going to give anymore away!”
Debra Stephenson grew up just outside Hull in East Yorkshire, where her parents teach. Her husband James, whom she married last year, is very supportive of her work and even helps her with her lines. But she tends not to bring her character home “as bringing home a character like Shell would be disaster!”
Debra was recently seen as Diane in Playing The Field and Zoe in People Like Us both for the BBC.
Since joining the cast of Bad Girls Debra has taken up horse riding because “Claire, Kika and Victoria are always going and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do – my teacher says I’m a natural!” Debra still enjoys doing her impressions for fun and is currently working on singers including Celine Dion - but most people like to hear her do Cilla!