Tagging along with them on the trip, Whitney thinks that she's found a safe haven - but Rob follows her and it's not long before he makes his presence known… Here, Shona McGarty, who plays Whitney, chats to Digital Spy about the dramatic episodes ahead for her character.
It's been a big year for you on EastEnders with another high-profile storyline. Have you enjoyed it?
"Yeah, I'm privileged - I've been so lucky with the storylines that I've been given. I think they've all been really important storylines and I'm really grateful that I've had some good feedback so far. And obviously that feedback's not just for me but for the show, too - it's important that we do it properly, we do our research and we make it look as real as possible. I'm really honoured to have been given the opportunities that I have."
EastEnders worked with Comic Relief for Whitney's sexual exploitation storyline to raise awareness of the issue. When the episodes aired in March, did they have the impact that you'd all hoped for?
"Yes. I've had members of the public say to me that they can't believe these things can happen so quickly - that a vulnerable young girl can meet someone and something like this can happen to them. I think people had overlooked it or weren't really aware of the issue at all, or they thought it was something that happened overseas but not here. But it happens absolutely everywhere and there's so many cases, which I was shocked about when I did my research. I don't think I'd been fully aware of it, either."
"Well, I did a lot of research and I met some real-life victims of sexual exploitation. That was a real insight and it felt a lot more real. I really felt for them and I felt like I really needed to do this storyline properly for them. But at the same time, I don't take anything home with me - I literally leave Whitney at the gate and take Shona home."
We're about to see Rob make a surprise return into Whitney's life. What's her reaction when they come face-to-face again?
"When Rob returns, it's the worst thing that's happened to Whitney in her life - she relives all of those dreaded moments. Whitney was sexually exploited but I'm not sure that she even fully realises that she was - she finds it very hard to speak about it. So you can imagine that when Whitney sees Rob for the first time in such a long time, she's absolutely devastated. She feels like it's happening all over again and she doesn't know where to go."
Is that why Whitney heads off to Southend with Fatboy and Dot - she wants to be as far away from Rob as possible?
"Yes. Whitney literally jumps in front of the car - it's a massive cry for help. She doesn't tell anyone what's happened, but she just asks Fatboy whether she can get in and where him and Dot are going. She doesn't really care where they're going - she just wants to be taken away from Walford because Rob is there and he's so dangerous."
Whitney must feel even worse when Rob follows her to Southend…
"Definitely - Whitney thinks that she's got away and Rob doesn't know where she's gone. She decides that she can stay there for as long as she needs to, and then when she goes back everything will be fine. But little does she know, Rob is just around the corner…"
"There is, and I think it's not really a surprise that Whitney is tempted. If anyone shows Whitney a bit of attention, she's so confused because she never really got much attention as a child - and the attention that she did get came in completely the wrong way with Tony. So I think there is a chance that Whitney will fall for it - just because she's so lost."
How does Fatboy fit into the situation? Does he become quite protective over Whitney?
"Big time! Fatboy becomes her closest friend while they're away - he almost becomes her saviour. At one point, Whitney's waiting in her hotel room for Fatboy and there's a knock on the door. Whitney thinks that it's Fatboy, but it turns out that it's Rob. Later, though, Fatboy does turn up and the next thing Whitney sees is him and Rob fighting on the floor."
What happens next?
"Fatboy calls Ryan, who then turns up in Southend. Whitney is so happy that Ryan is there and she thinks that everything will be okay now. But all I can say is that everything goes horribly wrong…"
"Absolutely. In Ryan's last scene, Whitney is absolutely devastated and she cannot stop crying. But I felt the same way and when they called 'cut', I couldn't stop crying! I was in hysterics - I was so upset."
Did you enjoy doing all of the on-location filming in Southend?
"Yeah - I absolutely loved it! It made a really nice change to be away from the studio, but the weather was a bit unpredictable - one minute it was raining and the next it was sunny. That was a bit of a nightmare - I didn't know what to put in my suitcase! But after a really long and hard day's filming - where we'd be shouting, screaming and trying to find that dark place inside of our characters - we'd all sit down for a nice meal in the evening and chill out. We'd run lines together and we all really bonded, actually. We do bond in the studio, but at the same time we're all rushing around and sometimes just passing each other in the hallway. But in Southend, it was really, really nice - we all got on so well. Everyone sat down together - make-up, lighting, camera - and we all really got to know each other."
What has Jody Latham, who plays Rob, been like to work with on the storyline?
"He's amazing - I really respect him as a person, as well as an actor. I think he's very brave to play a character like that, and I felt the same way about Chris Coghill, who had the role of Tony. It's something that could be frowned upon among some of the viewers who take it so seriously, but Jody played that role really, really well. He scared me when he was doing his lines! He's brilliant. We also had a lot of fun on set together - working with him was a really good laugh."
> For loads more EastEnders chat from Shona McGarty, read the second part of this interview in Soap Scoop.