EastEnders chronology with Sam Mitchell: From the greatest storylines to actress changes

Kim Medcalf or Danniella Westbrook, who played her last?

For the first time since 2016, Samantha “Sam” Mitchell has returned to EastEnders. Sam, who has been a member of the soap’s most illustrious family for more than three decades, has gone from teenage tearaway to man-eating manipulator, causing older brothers Grant and Phil, as well as late mother Peggy, no end of grief with her minxy antics.

Sam has been involved in several affairs, feuds, conspiracies, and showdowns during her time in the Square, leaving a trail of ruin in her wake. She last appeared during Peggy’s funeral, and now she’s returned home to assist Phil in maintaining control of the Mitchell empire while he’s in prison.
In 1990, Danniella Westbrook was cast in the part, but due to off-screen issues with the actress, Kim Medcalf was cast in her place in 2002. Westbrook played her again in 2009, but it’s the first time in 17 years that Medcalf is reprising the role. If you need a refresher on the character’s biography, as well as who played her and when, read on as RadioTimes.com relives Samantha Margaret Priscilla Mitchell’s tumultuous history and changing looks.

The first ten years of Danniella Westbrook’s career (1990 – 2000)

Danniella Westbrook, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, was introduced as the younger sister of freshly arrived rough lads Grant and Phil. She was a little madam who could wrap her bruiser brothers and protective mother Peggy around her little finger, despite her appearance.

In 1991, she married gormless boyfriend Ricky Butcher in Gretna Green, but the marriage fell apart two years later when she began modelling and left Walford (and her husband) to travel the world. She made it all the way to Spain, where Phil and Grant discovered her working in a filthy bar while on vacation in 1995, and hauled her back to Albert Square to keep a watch on her.

Ricky was dating gobby Bianca Jackson by this time, and the two women began a long-running rivalry as Sam tried to seduce her ex back into her bed. Ricky selected B (possibly out of fear), and Sam left once more in 1996, when she fell in love with attractive Spanish holidaymaker Guillermo and followed him home.

By 1999, Sam was single and ready to mingle, and he had tempestuous flings with Italian stallion Beppe di Marco and suave gangster Steve Owen. She left again six months later, deciding she was better off alone.

Off-screen, the difficulties surrounding Westbrook’s tumultuous personal life, particularly her high-profile drug addiction issues, threatened to overshadow her acting career, so ‘Enders producers wrote her out of this third stay earlier than anticipated.

Kim Medcalf assumes command (2002 – 2005)

While Westbrook took a break from the spotlight to focus on her rehabilitation, the producers decided it was time to reintroduce Sam, so they went with the recast option. Peggy was taken aback when she unexpectedly ran into her daughter in Spain (where else?) in 2002. Not only was Sam a professional lap dancer, but she also had an entirely new visage.

During Medcalf’s three-and-a-half-year stint, the flighty, bubbly character matured and stepped up with a mature, gentler attitude and more serious tales, which included a breast cancer scare and an attempted sexual assault by a scary pub patron.

However, Sam’s attempts to be taken more seriously by her family were thwarted when Phil’s nemesis Andy Hunter duped the gullible girl into marrying him so he could take over the Mitchell empire while Phil was on the run for armed robbery, and an ill-fated fling with the resurrected Lothario Dirty Den Watts ended with him stealing the Queen Vic from under naive Sam’s nose.

Sam teamed up with his scorned wife Chrissie Watts and mistress Zoe Slater, who was forced to get an abortion by her older lover when she became pregnant. The three women (called ‘the Witches of Walford’ at the time) had an explosive showdown in the Vic, and despite the fact that Chrissie was the one who killed Den with Pauline Fowler’s doggy doorstop (don’t ask), she shifted the responsibility to Sam, accusing her of his murder.

On Sharon Watts and Dennis Rickman’s wedding day, Sam was profoundly troubled by Den’s death and psychologically unravelled, understanding she was out of her depth until she went absolutely insane and dug him up from beneath the barrel shop, where Chrissie had concealed the body (at least the father of the bride got to attend in some form).

Chrissie was apprehended, but Sam escaped to Brazil in 2005 to avoid incarceration for perverting the course of law and concealing up the murder. Until…

Danniella Westbrook makes a comeback (2009 – 2010, 2016)

Westbrook was asked to reprise the role a decade after her last appearance, and Sam was back to her bad girl ways. She tried to steal Ricky from Bianca (again), slept cousin Ronnie’s guy Jack Branning, and was used by wicked uncle/step-father Archie Mitchell, who turned her against the Mitchell family (to resent divorced wife Peggy) to the point that they tried to frame her for his murder.

Sam surrendered to the cops while still technically on the run and was released nine months later with a big secret and a big belly: she was significantly pregnant. Richard, her newborn son, was born to her, but who was the father?

Sneaky Sam pretended to be Ricky in order to get rid of Bianca so he could play happy families with his childhood sweetheart, but it turned out that Jack was the true father. Ronnie was enraged enough that he bribed Sam to flee with the love child, so mother and son relocated to Portugal to live with Grant.

In 2016, Sam and Ricky came for Peggy’s funeral, but the single mother admitted to cousin Roxy that motherhood isn’t easy and abandoned her son, leaving him with Jack and sped away in the usual black cab.

Kim Medcalf makes a triumphant return (2022)

What kind of reception will Sam get when she returns to Walford, given the amount of bad blood and past scores that need to be settled? Will anyone wonder why she looks the same as she did 15 years ago…?