how this iconic eastenders moment became a viral, gay meme
Starting life in 2011, Vanessa Gold’s comedic fit of rage has caught a never-ending second wind on the internet. Years on, ‘Bubbly’s in the Fridge’ has become a shorthand expression for all of our most melodramatic fantasies. Here’s how it was created.
Think of the beloved British staple that is EastEnders and it’s likely that the first expression to spring to mind will be ‘doom and gloom’. Taking place in a fictional area of London’s East End, set within a cursed square where evil befalls every single character, week after gruelling week, it’s easy to see why. In between numerous people getting clobbered to death with blunt objects, lovely, sweet Bradley Branning fatally toppling from the roof of the Queen Vic, and the multiple devastating fires that have raged through every single building in Walford over the years, it’s not exactly a prime example of a laugh-a-minute television highlight. And yet, thanks to the Pat Butcher and Peggy Mitchell’s unintentionally hilarious cat-fights, Dot Cotton’s accidental cannabis use, and the positively iconic moment when Tanya Branning accidentally called Ian Beale by his real name (he’s played by actor Adam Woodyatt) during a live edition of the show, it’s the comedy heroines of the show that keep us watching.
With her always-pristine white outfits, and gigantic bouffant of hairsprayed blonde hair (a masterpiece that allegedly took a solid 45 minutes to perfect in hair and makeup) Vanessa Gold has to be one of EastEnders’ greatest tragic heroes. Glamourous in the face of adversity, repeatedly screwed over by man after scumbag man and rising up again like a smart-casual clad phoenix every single damn time, our V isn’t just one of the noughties’ finest gay icons; she’s a soap opera master of melodrama. Even her time on EastEnders was tragically short, but in a single year on Albert Square, Vanessa was responsible for one of the most memorable comedy scenes in the show’s 32 year history.
After discovering the secret love nest of her cheating boyfriend Max Branning and his ex-wife Tanya, Vanessa Gold understandably loses her shit. Overturning the coffee table, pulling down the linen curtains with a vicious yank, and repeatedly stabbing a framed photograph with rageful abandon, she does so while howling the words she found written on a crumpled yellow note -- “Bubbly’s in the fridge” -- in increasingly hoarse cries. The scene was filmed in just one take.
Vanessa Gold’s big moment isn’t just a highlight of EastEnders. These days it has morphed into a independent force, and standalone meme, brilliantly devoid of all context. Last year, like numerous other Americans unfamiliar with the charms of Albert Square, Chance the Rapper was perplexed when he stumbled across the scene in GIF form. The phrase also has its own entry on Urban Dictionary (definition: “something one says before losing their composure in an uncontrollable bout of intense rage”) and multiple fan tributes -- including this ‘Branning Scum’ EDM remix -- crop up every single year around the scene’s anniversary. It has even morphed into a technical expression among telly enthusiasts; deployed whenever a character shows hints of going “full bubbly’s in the fridge” in virtually any soap opera.
"The scene is relatable because we all have moments when we're angry or frustrated, but we tend to internalise it because our subconscious tells us it'd cost a fortune to replace everything, and we'd potentially get arrested for being a psycho."
“I wasn't aware that the “Bubbly's in the fridge” scene was still a talking point until my cousin Stuart showed me a meme -- just before Christmas -- with a caption about an Amazon delivery not arriving on time” explains Zöe Lucker, who portrayed Vanessa Gold in the show. “At the time, lots of people quoted [the phrase] at me when I was out and about. My friend sent me a text shortly after the episode had aired to say that he was in G-A-Y and there were post-it notes with 'Bubbly's in the fridge' written on them all over the toilets, and also on the night bus home! I think the scene is relatable because we all have moments when we're angry or frustrated, but we tend to internalise it because our subconscious tells us it'd cost a fortune to replace everything,” she adds. “And, we'd potentially get arrested for being a psycho.
“I didn't know Vanessa was a bit of a gay icon,” Lucker continues, “but I'm hugely flattered, happy and proud. The big dramatic scenes are always my favourites to film. I find being still and contained really difficult.”
Doing away with the show’s usual convoluted revenge plots in the run up to the scene itself, and storming straight over to Tanya’s house to whack her across the face instead, Vanessa is filled with the kind of scathing one-liners we all wish we could muster in our own fits of rage, the reactionary fury few have the nerve to summon. “If you’ve been wondering why she’s been a bit knackered in the bedroom department, now you know!” she yells at Tanya’s dumbfounded husband Greg, departing the house with an especially charming parting farewell: “What are you looking at, skank!”. And once she’s alone again, it’s the smallest detail of all that sets her off into her Telenovela-level bout of ridiculousness; an inconsequential note that’s long been forgotten about until now.
“If it has become a catchphrase, Zöe has to take the credit for that,” says Jesse O'Mahoney, the EastEnders scriptwriter who wrote the Bubbly’s in the Fridge episode. “The note, ‘Bubbly’s in the fridge’ was designed as window into the casual indifference Max and Tanya had towards Vanessa,” he explains. “It’s the lightness of it that eats away at her. Her life, her happiness, destroyed in the face of a flirtatious, throwaway note. It also has a metaphorical element; her rage has been kept on ice and here she explosively pops the cork. But again, without Zöe’s performance, it’s just a line in a script.
“One of the great strengths of EastEnders is its ability to be so many different things whilst maintaining its identity” O'Mahoney remarks. “It can veer from slapstick to thriller to kitchen sink tragedy, sometimes within episodes. Learning to combine these elements in a way that embellishes, rather than diminishes them, has been one of the great educations of working on the show.
“Zöe is not a vain actor,” he adds. “The role comes first. You can see that in this scene. She throws herself into a frenzied breakdown without reservation. You could imagine her continuing long after the end of the take, rampaging from set to set, tearing down the whole studio. She played the role of Vanessa with such confidence and poise and style that to see her properly lose it, with such authenticity, was a just joyful shock to the system.
"There’s a reason why the comedic protagonist keeps cropping up again and again; they’re here to live out our most furious fantasies."
“I wish I’d thought of her stabbing the photo frame over and over,” O'Mahoney finishes. ”I don’t know if that was her idea or the director’s but it added a new dimension to her rage.”
The melodrama that courses through the scene might be overblown to the point of disbelief, verging on campy theatricality, but the truth is that when we’re seething with burning anger, we’ve probably all experienced the same itch as Vanessa to trash a flat in an indulgent outburst. There’s a reason why the comedic protagonist keeps cropping up again and again; they’re here to live out our most furious fantasies.
“I think viewers loved it because most of us have to keep that animal passion locked away,” O'Mahoney reckons. “We have to obey the rules of civility (with good reason) and so I think Vanessa lost her rag on behalf of all of us in that scene. She tore the house down so we don’t have to.”
Two months after her fateful champagne discovery, Vanessa Gold exited EastEnders far too soon. In her final scene, she’s fled Albert Square -- and the police -- after robbing a wad of banknotes as part of an overly-complicated Moon family revenge plot that appears from nowhere; seemingly serving as yet another narrative device to ruin Vanessa’s life. She truly believes that an escape to Spain with her scheming accomplice and new romantic interest Eddie Moon awaits, but -- just because it seems that poor ‘Ness just can’t seem to catch a bloody break -- of course she’s screwed over one final time. Eddie -- the bastard -- chucks her suitcases out of his car, nabs all of the money for himself, and runs away. Left shaking and sobbing on the soaked pavement, holding a few crumpled banknotes, Vanessa seizes hold of her bags, and takes a effortlessly timed second to compose herself. And just like that, her white blazer somehow completely untouched by everything Walford has put her through, she marches on to fight another day.
And as for Zöe Lucker, she’s still carrying one vital lesson with her, seven years later. Her bubbly, if you were interested, is still very much in the fridge. “Of course, darling,” she quips without missing a beat. “It's where it belongs.”