Introduced by Kate Harwood
|Classification Present; regular|
Portrayed by Diane Parish
Daughters Chelsea Fox, Libby Fox
|First appearance Episode 3149
11 May 2006|
Spin-off appearances "East Street" (2010) The B&B (2012) The Ghosts of Ian Beale (2014)
Other names Denise Wicks Denise Johnson
Similar Patrick Trueman, Kim Fox, Phil Mitchell, Max Branning, Shirley Carter
Denise Celeste Fox (also Wicks and Johnson) is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Diane Parish. She made her first appearance on 11 May 2006 and temporarily left EastEnders in early 2008 to give birth to her second child. Her exit coincided with the permanent departures of cast members Phil Daniels (Kevin Wicks), Kellie Shirley (Carly Wicks) and Matt Di Angelo (Dean Wicks). She returned to Walford on 6 June 2008. This is Parish's second role in EastEnders, as she previously played singer Lola Christie in 1998.
Introduced as a single mother to Chelsea Fox (Tiana Benjamin) and Libby Fox (Belinda Owusu) who has come from an abusive marriage, Denise has gone on to marry two additional times. Firstly, to Kevin Wicks in 2007, who dies months later, and then to Lucas Johnson (Don Gilet) in 2009, with them divorcing two years later after he is imprisoned for murder. She also embarks on a loveless engagement to Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt), flings with younger men Fatboy (Ricky Norwood) and Kush Kazemi (Davood Ghadami) and a drunken one-night stand with Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) which results in a pregnancy. Denise's third child, a son, is born in 2017, but she gives him up for adoption, shortly before discovering she is adopted herself.
Moving to Walford, Denise has a tempestuous encounter with Kevin Wicks (Phil Daniels); however, an attraction develops and they begin dating. Denise's former husband, Owen Turner (Lee Ross), an alcoholic, tries to reunite with Libby and he later kidnaps her. He tries to drown himself and Libby but she recovers and Owen is arrested. Denise, who never knew her father but knows he played in a band called "The Five Hectors", thinks that Patrick Trueman (Rudolph Walker) may be her father as he was in the band but a DNA test proves that he is not. The band also consisted of Aubrey Valentine (Joseph Marcell), Cedric Lucas (Ram John Holder), Dwight and Earl. The identity of Denise's father is never discovered, but Aubrey also eliminates himself.
When Kevin's former wife, Shirley Carter (Linda Henry), arrives in Walford, she causes problems for Denise and Kevin. Shirley reveals Kevin's secret, that he is not Dean (Matt Di Angelo) and Carly (Kellie Shirley)'s biological father. After Shirley tells everyone this, Kevin flees. Upset, Denise threatens to move away but stays when Kevin returns and proposes marriage. Shirley unsuccessfully tries to ruin the wedding and Denise deals with various problems, including Chelsea and Dean's imprisonment for framing Sean Slater (Robert Kazinsky), Kevin's attempts to conceal the crime, and a feud with her boss at the post office, Zainab Masood (Nina Wadia). Kevin starts selling cars for Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden), but discovers they are cut-and-shuts; he tries to destroy the cars but dies in an accident. Denise and Carly leave Walford after the funeral, seeking the right place to scatter Kevin's ashes.
Denise returns, but is angry to discover Chelsea is using drugs and in contact with her father, former drug addict Lucas Johnson (Don Gilet). Denise is initially hostile but she warms to him when she sees he has changed and they eventually reunite. Denise proposes to Lucas but he is married to Trina (Sharon Duncan Brewster). Trina attempts to seduce Lucas but he accidentally kills her. Denise helps Jordan come to terms with his mother's death, with them believing it to be an overdose. With Trina dead, Denise and Lucas are able to marry, though further complications arise when Owen is released from prison. He desperately tries to show Denise that she cannot trust Lucas but they marry regardless. Lucas kills Owen on their wedding day and his body is discovered eight months later. Lucas confesses to Denise, claiming self-defence. At first, she agrees to protect him but convinces him to go to the police. However, he instead drives her to a canal. When she refuses to submit to God, he strangles her. He murders a prostitute, Gemma (Rita Balogun), and identifies her as Denise, her family believing she committed suicide. Lucas keeps Denise prisoner in the house next door but she escapes after a few weeks and Lucas is arrested, later sentenced to life imprisonment. Chelsea, needing a fresh start, moves to Spain with Owen's mother, Liz Turner (Kate Williams) and Libby joins them for a holiday before returning to university. Denise is heartbroken to see her girls leave but is distracted by her sister, Kim Fox (Tameka Empson), arriving and saying that she has left her boyfriend, Dexter Mulholland (Robbie Gee), and asks to move in with them.
Kim and Denise later buy the house next door and open a bed and breakfast. Denise talks to Zainab, who helps her move on by destroying memories of Lucas. Denise starts dating Yusef Khan (Ace Bhatti), Zainab's former husband, but ends it after realising he is still in love with Zainab. On Christmas Day, Denise opens a present containing a broken toy car and a USB stick with a recording of Phil talking about his part in Kevin's death. Horrified, Denise calls Phil a murderer and tries to get him arrested but fails to do so.
Yusef starts a fire at the bed and breakfast, damaging it so badly that Denise, Kim and Patrick are forced to move out. The insurance company refuse to pay out as it was arson so Patrick gives Denise and Kim the Minute Mart but Zainab gives them Yusef's money so they can rebuild the bed and breakfast. When the B&B opens, Denise is angry that Kim simply flirts with the customers, leaving all the work to her. They have an argument and Denise quits but returns on the condition that Kim puts in more effort. When Zainab's brother-in-law. AJ Ahmed (Phaldut Sharma), arrives in Walford, he attempts to con Denise but fails. The two later have drinks but AJ leaves. Denise attends Christian Clarke's (John Partridge) stag party where a man gives her unwanted attention. She has sex with Fatboy (Ricky Norwood) when he defends her from an overly-persistent interest and allows him to walk her home. The next day, Denise is embarrassed and tells Fatboy it was a mistake. However, it is revealed she has feelings for Fatboy and after she welcomes him into her home, they have sex again. Denise agrees to pursue a secret relationship with Fatboy. When Fatboy tries to encourage her to make their relationship public, Denise calls it off, telling Fatboy she will treasure the memory of their time together. After a lonely Christmas, Kim and Zainab decide to set up a date for her. However, this fails and when Kim's boyfriend Ray Dixon (Chucky Venn) comforts her, they share a kiss. Ray tells Kim about it but says Denise made the first move, so Kim slaps Denise and says she is dead to her. Denise and Kim reconcile until Ray ends his relationship with Kim. Kim blames Denise so Denise stays with Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt). When Ray tells Kim the truth, Denise and Kim reconcile and Denise moves back in with Kim.
When Denise and Ian get locked in the Minute Mart's storage cupboard and share a kiss, it leads to a relationship. This becomes public, thanks to Ian's daughter, Lucy Beale (Hetti Bywater). Denise helps Ian open a restaurant and supports him when Carl White (Daniel Coonan) threatens and blackmails him. Denise moves in with Ian and his children and are joined by Cindy Williams (Mimi Keene), daughter of Ian's dead former wife. Denise begins to feel part of the family and supports Ian when he intends to testify that he saw Max Branning (Jake Wood) tampering with the brakes of Carl's car. However, Ian fails to do this and Denise is devastated to learn that Ian was intending to lie to frame Max on Carl's orders. The return of Ian's former wife, Jane Beale (Laurie Brett), causes Denise to have doubts about their relationship. She accepts Ian's marriage proposal and during their engagement party, she shares a kiss with Fatboy. They come to their senses when they are caught by Cora Cross (Ann Mitchell). Fatboy's girlfriend, Poppy Meadow (Rachel Bright), learns of the kiss and posts a letter to Ian, before leaving Walford but Lucy reads it and challenges Denise. For the sake of her father's mental health, Lucy agrees to keep it a secret. Denise and Ian drift apart due to his busy lifestyle. After visiting Libby in Oxford, she plans to leave Ian. However, when Lucy is murdered, Denise feels forced to stay and support him. Denise is sidelined by Ian and decides to leave, confiding in Patrick that she feels trapped. However, worried that she will look like a bad person, Denise changes her mind and returns but still feels ostracised. She does not attend Lucy's funeral after seeing Ian and Jane comforting one another. Under advice from Libby, Denise tells Ian she can no longer be with him but he begs her to stay. Denise agrees to stay when Ian admits he has taken her for granted and encourages her to go with Libby to Spain to celebrate Chelsea's birthday.
On Denise's return, things are much better between her and Ian and he arranges for them to visit Libby in Oxford for a weekend. As she is about to leave, Patrick tries to stop her, but fails and leaves a message, asking her to call him as soon as possible. However, she learns that Patrick has had a stroke and they return to Walford. When he leaves hospital, he stays with Ian and Denise. Denise learns that Ian had sex with Rainie Cross (Tanya Franks) on the night Lucy died. Feeling betrayed, Denise locks herself in the Minute Mart. On returning home, she discovers that Cindy has returned and that Ian has delivered her newborn daughter, Beth. She tells Ian that she forgives him but leaves him the next day, taking Patrick back to live in his own house, declaring that Ian isn't the man she loved. Going into Patrick's house, Denise is devastated to find that the house has been broken into. Denise struggles to care for Patrick alone, despite support from Shabnam Masood (Rakhee Thakrar). She finds that Denise has been stealing alcohol from the shop but does not report it if Denise returns the value. Patrick is devastated to learn that he may lose his allotment so Denise goes there, intending to maintain it, only to dig up Lucy's phone and purse. Although hesitant, she returns them to the Beales.
On New Year's Eve, a pregnant Kim surprises Denise and accuses Ian of ruining Denise's life. The next day, Kim finds bruises on Patrick's arms and realises Denise had beaten him and confronts her. At the pub, Denise gets drunk, and after hearing of Emma Summerhayes' (Anna Acton) death, drunkenly slurs that Lucy's killer would be jailed if Emma had done her job properly. In anger of Denise's disrespectfulness, Ian says that despite what Kim said, Denise has been ruining her own life. On arriving home, she tells Kim she cannot be Patrick's carer anymore. After an argument with Denise in The Queen Victoria pub, Kim goes into labour and gives birth to a daughter named Pearl. Although she disowns Denise, they eventually reconcile the next day. After Pearl's christening, she tells Denise that her husband doesn't exist and she made him up because of fear of being alone. However, Kim's confessions to Shirley, Kat Moon (Jessie Wallace), Linda Carter (Kellie Bright) and Patrick reveal that her husband does exist but she left him when she found out that he was a criminal.
Denise is visited by the police, saying someone in their custody has given her address as theirs. Eventually she realises that it is Jordan (now Joivan Wade). She discovers that Jordan stole from Chelsea and Libby advises Denise to stay away from him. Denise visits Lucas in prison and he tells her that he thinks about her, asking her to find Jordan. Despite her family begging her not to, Denise sends Jordan a message online. He does not reply but visits and tells her to leave him alone. However, when Kim hits Jordan, he allows Denise to clean the wound. Jordan is received badly by the rest of the family but Denise defends him after he pushes her in frustration, he leaves when Patrick says he is just like Lucas. The police visit Denise and tell her that Jordan was attacked by a gang but discharged himself from hospital. She tracks him down and learns that Jordan's girlfriend died from a drug overdose. Denise brings Jordan and his son, JJ Johnson (Zayden Kareem), home and although Patrick comes around to the idea, Kim believes it will bring Lucas back into Denise's life. Denise visits Lucas again and he wants Jordan to visit too. He does and Denise agrees to help Lucas get a job in the prison kitchens, not knowing that this is part of Lucas and Jordan's plan for him to escape from prison. When Jordan tells Denise, she refuses to help and alerts Libby to call the police. Denise finds out Libby is pregnant and attempts to stop a termination but fails; distressed, Denise turns to drink and has a one-night stand with an equally drunk Phil, but Phil has no memory of this.
Denise befriends Carmel Kazemi (Bonnie Langford) and has a brief fling with her son, Kush Kazemi (Davood Ghadami). Denise ends it, saying she does not want to ruin her friendship with Carmel. When Denise faints, she researches her symptoms and initially fears that she has cancer but discovers that she is pregnant. Kush learns about Denise's pregnancy and believing he is the father, goes with Denise to her appointment. Denise learns she is 18 to 19 weeks pregnant, meaning Phil is the father. Denise tells her family but refuses to name the father. Denise tells Carmel that she has decided to have the baby and put it up for adoption. Kim finds out about Denise's plans and tries to talk her out of it whilst Patrick agrees to support her. Kim tells Denise that she and Vincent will adopt her baby, but Denise declines their offer. Shirley suspects that her former boyfriend, Buster Briggs (Karl Howman), is the father but Denise admits that Phil is the father. Phil's wife, Sharon Mitchell (Letitia Dean), overhears this. Denise is later taken to hospital to be induced. Kim and their mother, Emerald Fox (Doña Croll), also go to the hospital. Kim and Emerald are angry when they learn that Denise is putting her son up for adoption but Denise refuses to change her mind and says an emotional farewell to her son alone. Sharon tells Phil the truth about his son and he goes to the hospital, demanding to see him but then agrees to the adoption. Libby, Emerald and Carmel come to accept Denise's decision but Kim is against it, calling her selfish and saying Denise is dead to her. Denise is injured in a bus crash, but rejects Kim when she tries to support her. After a check up at the hospital, Denise admits to Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) that Kim was right and that she should've never given up her son for adoption, though he reassures her that it is the best decision she has made for him. Denise soon realises that Kim still sees her as a mother figure since Emerald abandoned them as children and thinks that if Denise can give up her son, then she can abandon Kim, so Denise tells to consider herself abandoned. Denise later goes to Emerald's farewell party where Emerald criticises Kim's parenting; Denise stands up for Kim and Kim admits that she is thankful for her sister, to which Emerald replies that they are not sisters and that Denise was brought to her as a baby. Emerald then leaves and Kim and Denise hug. Denise confronts schoolboy Keegan Baker (Zack Morris) after he vandalises the Square garden. After continuously insulting Denise, she hits him in the face and he falls on the floor. Using witnesses to his advantage, Keegan threatens to report Denise to the police; he does so and she is consequently fined £250.
Denise later learns that her son's potential adoptive parents have named him Raymond as they are fans of the late singer Ray Charles and she soon signs the adoption forms. While she is adamant that she will not change her mind after that, she continues to struggle with her decision and angrily tears up a newly-arrived letter from Raymond's adoptive parents without reading it. Kim then wrongly believes Ian is Raymond's biological father and confronts him, causing Denise to break down and admit to her her that Phil is the father, shocking Kim and she begs Kim not to tell anyone. With Kim's help, Denise finds the letter from Raymond's adoptive parents in the trash, informing her that he is happy with them, which comforts and reassures her.
Casting and introduction
On 7 November 2005, the BBC announced that Diane Parish had been cast in EastEnders as a "sassy, strong" character with links to the established Wicks family, who would be "a force to be reckoned with." Parish had previously appeared in the serial as singer Lola Christie in 1998. In January 2006, Parish's character was revealed to be Denise Fox, who would embark on a romance with fellow newcomer Kevin Wicks (Phil Daniels). Tiana Benjamin was cast as Denise's daughter Chelsea, and spoke of her admiration for Parish, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to work with her. Lara Gould of the Sunday Mirror described the new characters as the "feisty Fox family", revealing that Denise would have a second, younger daughter, Elizabeth ["Libby"], played by Belinda Owusu. Gould reported that the family would "arrive in Albert Square with a bang and [...] cause friction from the off", expanding: "The Fox girls don't take any nonsense – they'll be a force to be reckoned with." Lee Ross was later cast as Denise's former husband and Libby's father Owen Turner. Kris Green of media and entertainment website Digital Spy described Owen as having had "a disappointing life", revealing that Denise had separated from him as a result of his heavy drinking.
Denise went on to marry Kevin, acting as stepmother to his children Carly (Kellie Shirley) and Dean (Matt Di Angelo). Parish briefly departed from the show to take maternity leave, and when Daniels declined to renew his contract, he, Shirley and Di Angelo were written out permanently, coinciding with Parish's temporary exit. In Denise's absence, Chelsea reunited with her estranged father Lucas Johnson, with Don Gilet cast in the role. Upon Parish's return, Denise and Lucas ultimately reunited, with Gilet commenting: "He's found a woman who's strong-willed, strong-minded, a good mother to their shared child and to Libby and [Lucas' son] Jordan (Michael-Joel David Stuart). It's kind of ideal and he's worked so hard for it. Nothing, but nothing, should stop that - he deserves to have this. It's one of these situations where he likes the idea that he's earned this relationship. That seems to be more of a priority than the pure love he has for her. He loves what he's earned and he's now this respectable person who wants to hold on to what he has by any means necessary."
When Lucas' former wife Trina (Sharon Duncan Brewster) began interfering in their relationship, Lucas was instrumental in her death, and went on to kill Owen when he came close to discovering the truth. In May 2010, Green reported that in an upcoming episode, Lucas would be seen to strangle Denise and dispose of her body in a canal. He questioned whether Parish was to be written out of the soap, following the announcements that both Benjamin and Owusu would be leaving EastEnders later in 2010. Discussing the storyline, Gilet refused to reveal whether Lucas would kill Denise, but indicated that events may not be as they seemed. Parish commented: "It looks really bad as he gets Denise in a headlock and chokes her. If she survives, it'll be a miracle." Following the episode where Denise appeared to be strangled by Lucas, entertainment journalist Sharon Marshall appeared on This Morning, saying there would be "twists and turns" but would not confirm whether Denise was dead or alive. It ultimately transpired that Lucas had faked Denise's death to hold her hostage in a basement. Parish found it difficult to keep details of the storyline a secret, and struggled to lie when questioned by members of the public.
Questioned about the future for Denise following the departure of her daughters, Parish responded: "She is lost without her babies, but then her sister Kim comes along and she's a brilliant distraction. As for men, I think Denise should give them up and get a cat, but I'm sure she'll end up in another destructive relationship." She told Daniel Kilkelly of entertainment website Digital Spy: "I don't think she'll be looking for a new man any time soon. I think she's just going to take it easy on the man front. I think what needs to happen with the family is that everybody just needs to find their own way to find their own peace. I think that's the future really for all of them."
In October 2012, it was confirmed that a new storyline would see Denise and Fatboy (Ricky Norwood) spend the night together after he rescues her when she gets unwanted attention from a man. Norwood told Inside Soap, "I don't think Fatboy is looking for love—but he's happy to be swept off his feet by Denise, who's this hot older woman he never imagined he could be with. Denise is a scorching woman—she's got a dynamite body and a beautiful smile. She's way out of his league, but there is a lot of chemistry between them. I think they'd make a really good couple. That would be cool. Fatboy may be young, but he's got an old soul and he's not just some young boy messing about. There is potential there if Denise could see it, but because of the age thing, I think she might worry that people were saying things about her. Right now, she's just enjoying herself." Norwood added that while the pair's relationship was sexual, a serious future for them could be possible.
In February 2013, it was reported that Denise would enter a relationship with EastEnders long running character Ian Beale, portrayed by Adam Woodyatt. On the match, Parish said that Denise had "always had a soft spot for Ian", but also commented that "whether they go the distance in the next few months remains to be seen."
Parish has been nominated for several awards for her portrayal of Denise. In 2007, she was nominated for the "Best Actress" award at The British Soap Awards 2007, while Denise was nominated in the "I'm A Survivor" category at the All About Soap Bubble Awards. In 2009, Parish was nominated for the "Best Actress" award at the Inside Soap Awards, and in 2010, she received a nomination for the "Best Soap Actress" award at the TV Choice awards. In January 2011, Parish was nominated for "Serial Drama Performance" at The National Television Awards 2011 for her portrayal of Densie but did not make it through to the shortlist. In 2014, she was nominated for "Best Actress" again at The British Soap Awards 2014, but lost out to rival soap Coronation Street's Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays Hayley Cropper in the serial.
In 2009, Ruth Deller of entertainment website Lowculture—who runs a monthly feature chronicling the most popular and unpopular soap opera characters—profiled Denise, stating: "The Foxes are one of the strongest families on EastEnders at the moment, and that's pretty much all down to Denise, who is a-mazing. We also love her frenemy-ness with Zainab." Jim Shelley of the Daily Mirror questioned the credulity of the storyline which saw Lucas hold Denise hostage having faked her suicide. He quoted Denise's line: "Another thing I don't get. Why am I supposed to have killed myself? What 'reason' did I have?!" observing: "NO REASON of course. The writers hadn't even made one up - although that didn't stop Walford CID quickly deciding Denise had killed Owen and Trina even though they had no evidence and she had a watertight alibi." Nathan Bevan of the Wales on Sunday also deemed the storyline far-fetched, commenting: "she'd been kept prisoner in the basement of the abandoned house next door [...] and no one heard her screaming for help through the walls? What part of the East End is this?" Inside Soap stated in January 2011 that whilst Denise headed up the Fox family, they were "a right bunch of miseries" and opined they would party with lively sister Kim and only let Denise come if she "promises to crack a smile". The magazine published a feature about Denise in April 2013, naming the scene where Lucas told Denise she had 'died', her "classic scene". Mark James Lowe called Denise "fiery" and when reviewing Denise's time on the show said, "Denise has never had it easy both blokes. Getting knocked up as a teen by a drug addict - who later became a serial killer - was just the start of her traumas with men. No wonder she considers Ian Beale a catch..."