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Thursday, 26 July, 2001, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
EastEnders' Kemp joins ITV
Martin Kemp in EastEnders
Kemp: At the centre of many dramatic storylines
EastEnders star Martin Kemp is to leave the BBC soap after signing a deal with ITV.

Kemp, who has played shady character Steve Owen in the show since 1998, will star in a number of ITV dramas, the network confirmed.

There are some very strong programme ideas on the table for Martin

Nick Elliott
ITV controller of drama
He will leave EastEnders after his contract expires in April 2002, when an exclusive two-year deal with ITV will begin.

"I have had a wonderful time at EastEnders and I will be very sad to leave, but I feel that its time to move on," he said.

"This new relationship with ITV will be a great opportunity for me to develop my career across a range of projects and I'm really excited about working with them in the future."

Kemp has won three best actor awards for his role as businessman Steve during his time on the show.

Steve (Martin Kemp) and Mel (Tamzin Outhwaite)
Steve's wedding to Mel was seen in April
It is reported that the actor wanted to broaden his range, and was persuaded by the drama projects on offer at ITV.

The commercial network said it is "thrilled" to have signed Kemp - one of EastEnders' strongest characters.

"Martin is an extremely talented actor," said Nick Elliott, ITV's controller of drama.

"There are some very strong programme ideas on the table for Martin and we are really looking forward to working with him."

Kemp's EastEnders character has been described as "Walford's favourite villain", having killed his former girlfriend, developed a drug habit and orchestrated a number of dodgy business deals.

Phil Mitchell
Steve was a suspect in the shooting of Phil
He now owns nightclub E20 and is married to Mel, played by Tamzin Outhwaite.

Kemp's departure comes just one day after producers announced the soap will get a new Friday night slot from August - meaning it will be shown four nights a week.

An EastEnders spokeswoman said the show is bigger than just one character.

"EastEnders is the viewers' number one show and will continue to be," she said.

Great for the show

"Martin has contributed a huge amount to the programme but, as history has taught us, it's far bigger than any individual actor."

He has been great for the show, and the show has been great for his career, she said.

"While we wish him well, his departure only opens a door for someone else."

Martin Kemp
Kemp had chart success with Spandau Ballet
Kemp was named best actor at the British Soap Awards in May and at last year's National Television Awards and TV Quick Awards.

He was also a former member of hit pop band Spandau Ballet, which reached the UK top 10 singles chart 10 times.

Hits included True, Gold and Only When You Leave.

Acting success first came his way when he and his brother Gary starred as gangsters in the film The Krays.

He has also been diagnosed with a brain tumour - which was removed during major surgery with a metal plate inserted to replace the top of his skull.

He is married to Shirlie, former singer with Wham! and one half of chart duo Pepsi and Shirlie.

Not the first EastEnder to have defected to a rival channel, Ross Kemp - who played hardman Grant Mitchell - left the soap in 1999 for ITV for major drama roles.

See also:

26 May 01 | Entertainment
EastEnders triumph at UK soap awards
25 Jul 01 | TV and Radio
EastEnders gets fourth episode
05 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
EastEnders in the frame
28 May 00 | Entertainment
EastEnders cleans up soap awards
12 Jan 00 | Entertainment
EastEnder Tamzin's getting hitched
09 Oct 99 | Entertainment
Shock verdict in EastEnders trial
27 May 99 | Entertainment
EastEnders killing too 'macabre'
29 Sep 98 | Entertainment
Spandau star Kemp becomes an EastEnder
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