Joe Swash’s dramatic transformation from hard-partying Casanova to devoted dad
Back in his EastEnders hey day, Joe Swash's hell-raising was so legendary that it earned him the dubious title of 'the Swashbuckler'.
He worked hard but played even harder, so much so that frustrated bosses at the BBC One soap were forced to order him to rein it in.
"Before EastEnders I’d been the ginger kid. Being famous was like a superpower," he explained to The Mirror in 2014 of his wild ways.
"I was like a kid in a sweet shop – I could get into places I never could before, girls were talking to me, so for the first two years I made a name for myself as being quite naughty."
But the Dancing On Ice winner's carefree world came crashing down in 2005 when he was struck down with viral meningoencephalitis which causes swelling of the brain.
Finding him in bed partially paralysed and unable to talk, his frantic then-girlfriend Emma Sophocleous dialled 999 and as he clung onto life in intensive care his family was warned to prepare for the worst.
"The doctors said they weren’t sure I would pull through. It was so scary. Before, I thought I could do all this mad stuff. But it made me realise life is fragile," he told The Sun.
After six nail-biting weeks Joe, 38, was finally deemed well enough to return home but was forced to take three months unpaid leave to undergo gruelling rehabilitation to restore his speech.
Admitting he'd been 'irresponsible' with his EastEnders wages, the lack of income plunged Joe into a spiral of debt and he went bankrupt in 2009 and again in 2013.
“I was chucking it away on stuff I didn’t need. I went out every night and had a house with a mortgage.
“When you are young you just don’t think it is ever going to end. I thought I was going to be on EastEnders for years and years.”
He was axed from the BBC One show in 2008 after producers ran out of storylines for his character, which only exacerbated his problems.
"I buried my head in the sand which was the worst thing to do. I should have faced up to it," he continued.
“The second time it happened I was on TV and I felt embarrassed and wondered how I managed to get myself into the situation. But it can happen to anybody.”
But while his financial life was in dire straits, his personal life was on the up with Emma falling pregnant, sparking a new, 'calmer' chapter.
"I'm older and looking to settle down. I'm so broody and I'd love kids! I think I'll make a fun dad! I think I want three," he gushed.
Sadly, their engagement came to an abrupt end in 2008 when son Harry was just seven months old.
Party planner Emma accused him of dumping her in favour of clubbing, telling The News Of The World: "My only fault is that I didn’t like nightclubs and I’m a 'boring mum'."
Joe, however, insisted they'd been arguing and decided to split as "amicably as possible" for the sake of their son.
With no job or relationship, Joe headed Down Under to star in I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here in November 2008.
After being crowned the King of the Jungle, it also emerged that he'd got himself a new girlfriend in the form of EastEnders co-star Kara Tointon.
They first met in 2005 when Kara, 36, joined as Mickey's sister Dawn Swann, but she dated co-star James Alexandrou (Martin Fowler) for a year, and also had a relationship with Busted rocker, James Bourne.
And he could hardly believe his luck, telling Now magazine he was 'punching well above' his weight.
"It’s going really well," he gushed. "She’s beautiful and we get on great.
Kara was equally smitten, revealing she had marriage on her mind and even hoped to start a family with the actor.
But the cracks reportedly started to show when the couple starred in Snow White at Bristol's Hippodrome in 2009.
Sources claimed the pair were having epic rows behind the scenes of the panto, prompting Kara to issue a denial, insisting: "We're very happy together, everything's going really well, but you'll have to ask him when we're getting married."
However, in May 2010 the devastated actress pulled the plug and apparently fled to Marbella with friends to 'get her head together'.
"She is really upset – there have been a lot of tears," an insider claimed at the time.
"Both she and Joe are really upset about it – but their rows were getting too frequent and they knew they couldn't make it work anymore."
So what went wrong?
While Kara has never dished the dirt, Joe admitted he was to blame.
"It was all down to me, and nothing to do with Kara," the lovesick star confessed.
"She genuinely does everything right. It was my fault it broke down. I didn't know what I had until she was gone."
And when Kara moved on with her Strictly Come Dancing partner Artem Chigvintsev later that year, a repentant Joe was distraught.
"It hurt so much when I read they might be an item. I wanted to watch Strictly to support her but I knew it was going to rip my heart out," he said at the time.
"I couldn't believe it when I saw she was with Artem. He's a Russian hunk with muscles bulging out everywhere. Why couldn't they have given her Anton, or that little Italian dude who thinks he's a stallion?!"
Fearing he'd be left on the shelf, Joe told The Mirror he desperately wanted more kids but "just can't see if happening for me."
But all that changed in 2016 when it emerged he was dating fellow I'm A Celebrity winner, Stacey Solomon – the woman he has hailed the 'love of my life'.
After moving in together in 2018, son Rex arrived in May 2019, completing their picture-perfect family.
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