Highlighting the seriousness of Type 2 diabetes on the EastEnders’ set – by Senior Clinical Advisor Pav Kalsi

It’s not every day you get to step into the film set of a TV drama, so when it came up through my work I jumped at the chance. I was a huge fan and had grown up watching it, so it was a truly surreal experience to walk around the set and pose outside many of its famous landmarks!

We were invited by the script writers and researchers working on BBC1’s EastEnders to go up to Elstree Studios to meet them and the actor himself. I went along as my role as Senior Clinical Advisor to give some background about the two main types of diabetes, dispel some myths and to make sure the storylines were as realistic as possible. It’s a brilliant platform to raise awareness of diabetes and its seriousness.

The EastEnders team has spent a lot of time planning for the moment Ian Beale finds out he is at high risk of Type 2 diabetes. The writers have sought out our advice from the early stages of developing this storyline, to reflect what happens in real life, really taking on board our feedback on the scripts for each scene.

If you’re an EastEnders fan you might remember Paul Coker had Type 1, played by our supporter Jonny Labey. You can read about how that storyline came about in the March/April issue of Balance, our magazine for members. Whilst his character had Type 1 diabetes and Ian Beale is a high risk of Type 2 diabetes, it is a good opportunity to raise awareness of the difference between the two types of diabetes.

I’ve been really impressed by the amount of time and effort the team are putting into finding out about diabetes and how it affects people. And I’ve been really pleased by how receptive they are to our suggestions. They are clearly keen to make the scenarios as realistic as possible, with a little wriggle room for ‘dramatic licence’.

To inspire the writers, one of our supporters came with me to talk about his personal experience of finding out he was high risk of developing Type 2 and how he reacted. Mark is just one of 3.6 million people in the UK with the condition. Every day hundreds of people are diagnosed as Type 2.

I’ve been following the story and am pleased the hints dropped leading up to Thursday’s big reveal are close to real life, from Ian being invited to health check to highlighting some of the factors that increase his risk of getting Type 2 diabetes. And that includes his reaction to realising it’s ‘just diabetes’, not cancer, is relief. This too echoes how in real life too many people don’t really understand how serious diabetes can be – a message his doctor gave to him and he repeated to his family.

We often get a sense people feel it’s inevitable they will go on to get Type 2 diabetes, but it’s not – around 3 in 5 cases of Type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented by making simple changes in our everyday lives. Our website offers lots of information about making lifestyle changes.

The big question now is, will Ian changes his ways like he’s said to his family and embrace a healthier lifestyle, or will he carry on regardless? I’ll be watching!

Find out if you might develop Type 2 diabetes with our Know Your Risk tool. If you are at risk, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your risk.

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