How did the return come about?
"The return came about at Christmas. I had a phone call from Bryan Kirkwood saying that he was doing his final episode and would I be involved, and that was it really! I was the first person Bryan employed and now the last person too! I did it for my love of Hollyoaks. When Bryan asked me I rang my agent and said 'no matter what the fee is - whatever, just let me do it!' It was really lovely to go back and see everybody - just amazing."
Did you not worry that it's compromised your award-winning exit?
"I see what you're saying, and the comeback had to be written well. But when you watch it, I don't think the audience will be disappointed at all with her return. I think in fact it matches or could possibly even outweigh the exit!"
Have you moved back up to Liverpool?
"I haven't moved back yet. We get six weeks of expenses at Hollyoaks so I'm still over at The Abbey, which is the pub where I started in the first place. I'm actively looking for a place at the moment though, and seeing what's in store for me in the future. I'm loving being back in Liverpool and I've missed the Trafford Centre in Manchester, too."
How does Clare wind up back in the village?
"She's back for revenge. Obviously Warren and Justin are involved but one minute she's not there and the next minute she is - you don't expect her to come back. She's definitely a shadow of her former self - in the nicest possible way! She's deranged and completely psychotic. She's greasy-haired and looking like a trashy prostitute, but it's absolutely fabulous! No holds barred as far as she's concerned, and that's what's been great for me to play. Before you always had to hide Clare's nastiness and act like she's nice and normal, but this time everybody knows what she's like so there's no hiding the psychopath. That's why I don't think the audience will be disappointed - I think they'll love it or hate it!"
Where's she been? With Miles, the guy she met in the airport?
"I think when you see what she looks like when she comes back she's probably been with Miles for a bit and then moved on. To be fair, out there, it's not really worked for her and I think she's let it grate on her. One of her lines is "You won", talking to whoever she's talking to, and that's the main point - she lost in the end. I think it's just been going on and on in her head that she needed to get revenge, and you can just see that she's a woman on the edge..."
Does she still have those red high heels that she left in the airport in?
"She's got red high heels, don't you worry. She's still in red, just a bit more worn down than you saw her last time!"
More like when she climbed out of the lake?
"Well this is what Nick Pickard said to me, he said, 'Gemma, you look like you've been in the lake the whole time! You didn't go off with Miles did you? You look like you've just come out of the lake after two years!” It looks like things are growing off me!"
What was it like filming the stunt scenes? Did you have the same body double as you did with the Who Pushed Clare stunt?
"No I didn't, but funnily enough the woman that did the stunt in the red car going off the cliff did my my fall out of the car in EastEnders when I first went in in my silver dress, so I've had the same stunt double in two different soaps! I think we ended up doing most of our own stunts anyway. There was a lot of falling over. I ended up with more bruises after the exceptional fire scenes than Dancing On Ice - I was literally black and blue!"
Would you consider a more permanent return?
"Definitely - as long as the storylines are right, there's plenty of room for Clare. There are plenty of other people she can cause havoc with and wreak revenge on! I wouldn't hesitate."
What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
"I can't give away too much because I can't say whether I'm staying or going so it's difficult. Although I filmed Celebrity Masterchef back in November, so that's coming out in May."
How did you fare? Are you good at cooking?
"I didn't do as badly as Dancing On Ice, let's put it that way!"
Is there any chance you'll go back to EastEnders as Clare Bates?
"Well, it's been left open for me, so it wasn't a goodbye forever. We'll just see what happens."
Maybe for the 25th anniversary at the beginning of next year?
"I get asked all the time 'Would you go back?' and the way the world is at the moment you've got to go where the work is! At the end of the day I want to work and as long as I'm enjoying myself doing what I'm doing I feel absolutely honoured to be being paid to act - it's fantastic."