The character's final scenes will air later this month on Friday 18th September.
When EastEnders returns, viewers will see Chantelle’s harrowing abuse has worsened throughout lockdown with ultimately fatal consequences.
The soap has worked closely with Women’s Aid and Refuge on the storyline, with the charities consulting closely on scripts that see Chantelle abused by her husband Gray.
The storyline was first announced July 2019, the domestic abuse portrayal and its prevalence in society meant it was important for the continuing drama to represent Chantelle’s story as accurately as possible throughout.
Since their arrival on the Square last year the Atkins’ seemingly perfect life was the talk of the town but the truth of their troubling relationship was revealed to shocked audiences. Chantelle was subject to years of mental and physical abuse by her violent and controlling husband.
Talking about her exit, Jessica Plummer said “It’s been such a privilege to play Chantelle and to be able to tell her story. Sadly what she goes through is all too common and her death is a reminder of the devastating effect of domestic abuse."
"I’ve known it wasn’t going to end well for Chantelle for a while now and although it was a shock to find out her fate, far too many men and women suffer in silence so I hope that by raising awareness we can ultimately save lives. I am so grateful to all the team and my lovely cast members for being so supportive, I’ll miss Albert Square!”
Toby Alexander-Smith, who plays Gray Atkins added “We hope that Chantelle’s story gives people the courage to speak out before it’s too late and to know that there are services out there to help. Working with Women’s Aid and Refuge has been invaluable in understanding the mindset of an abuser and the awful realities of abusive relationships."
"With such a tragic ending bound to be shocking for the audience, hopefully it serves as an important reminder of the devastation domestic abuse causes, especially at the moment. Working with Jessica has been wonderful, she’ll be greatly missed and I am so thankful that we’re part of such an important story together.”
Refuge, which runs the 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline, has seen calls and contacts to this life-saving service soar during the pandemic whilst Women’s Aid released the startling statistics that over two-thirds of survivors reported their domestic abuse escalating in lockdown.
More research revealed over three quarters of women living with an abuser said they felt they could not leave or get away because of the pandemic. In the first week of July, as lockdown lifted, Refuge saw a 54% rise in women contacting its helpline needing refuge emergency accommodation, when compared with the last week in June.
Viewers will see this mirrored on screen as Chantelle has been isolating with her husband and the show picks up as she makes the big decision to file for divorce. After attempting to escape, devastatingly Chantelle doesn’t make it and is killed at the hand of her abuser.
EastEnders' Executive Producer, Jon Sen said “Chantelle’s story is such an important one to tell accurately and upon both character’s inception we planned her tragic ending with the intention of embedding the stark reality of domestic abuse at the heart of the Atkins family."
"Being able to shed light on the realities of what goes on behind closed doors has never been more crucial given the harrowing statistics as a result of the current pandemic and hopefully Chantelle’s story will encourage people to speak out to someone they trust and get the support that they need."
"Jessica’s performance is nothing short of extraordinary and even in her final scenes, the audience will be moved by Chantelle’s strength. We’re very sorry so see Jessica go but hope that her impact on viewers is long-lasting.”
To which, Women's Aid's Head of Communications, Teresa Parker added “It has been a pleasure to work so closely with the team at EastEnders during the development of this storyline, and they have really listened to the real life experiences of survivors of domestic abuse to ensure that the scripts have been as realistic as possible."
"At the beginning of the storyline, we visited the studios with a survivor of abuse who spoke to Jessica, which was very emotional and had a huge impact on how she has played the character of Chantelle."
"At Women’s Aid we know only too well how horrific Covid-19 has been for those living with abusive partners, and this will be reflected over the coming weeks as Chantelle’s story comes to an end – tragically her death reflects the reality of many women living with abusers, and many more women than usual were killed at the hands of their current or former partners during the first weeks of lockdown."
"I know that this storyline will help to save lives by raising huge awareness of domestic abuse, signposting to the support that is available and starting an important conversation about domestic abuse in the UK and beyond.”
And Refuge's Director of Communications and External Relations, Lisa King said “Refuge is delighted to have worked closely with EastEnders over many months on this important storyline. The Covid-19 crisis has magnified the reality that many survivors like Chantelle face every day. Domestic abuse is the biggest issue affecting our society and millions of women and girls remain trapped with an abusive partner."
"Sadly, Chantelle’s murder is not an isolated incident – on average, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. We urge anyone who has been affected by Chantelle’s story to contact Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline (0808 2000 247, www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk). No one should live in fear – you are not alone.”
Over the past 35 years EastEnders has cemented itself at the forefront of British soap history tackling important social issues on screen whilst raising awareness, educating and enthralling viewers across the nation.
Domestic abuse can take many forms, some of which have been depicted in the soap over the years, from Trevor’s torment and rape of Little Mo 2001, Zainab’s abusive marriage with the controlling Yusef and more recently looking at domestic violence within the LGBTQ+ community with Tina and her girlfriend Tosh in 2014.
Find out more about the storyline here.
EastEnders continues Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays on BBC One