Feisty, funny, and fearless; Tracy Beaker was the ultimate heroine of kids’ TV back in the noughties.
The Story Of Tracy Beaker, which ran on CBBC from 2002 to 2005, focused on the lives and experiences of young people in care, and is set at a residential care home that Tracy – played by Dani Harmer – nicknames The Dumping Ground when she is placed there aged 10.
Now, 20 years since the character (invented by author, Dame Jacqueline Wilson) was first on our screens, she’s back – and she’s a mum.
And Berkshire-born Harmer, 31, jumped at the chance to play Tracy once again.
“I was just so excited because I’m like everyone else; I just really wanted to know what happened to Tracy. Where did she go?”
Well, now in her 30s, Tracy is doing everything she possibly can to give her 10-year-old daughter Jess (Emma Maggie Davies) the best start possible in life, working multiple jobs to keep a roof over their heads.
The three-part drama, which is based on Wilson’s 2018 sequel book, is told from Jess’ perspective as their lives are changed drastically by the arrival of Tracy’s rich new boyfriend, Sean Godfrey (Jordan Duvigneau), who is a recently retired football star.
Harmer, who has a four-year-old daughter Avarie-Belle with her partner, Simon Brough, loved the relationship between Jess and Tracy, explaining “they’re not just mother and daughter, they’re friends as well. They tell each other everything, and they have loads of fun”.
Did she find being a mum herself helped her with the role?
“Definitely, because I know that feeling; you just want to give your child absolutely everything. And your life isn’t your own anymore. You have to completely lose any selfish habits that you did have before.”
Of her character, she adds: “We are completely different. But our parenting styles are pretty similar!
“Everything is for our daughters. I’m fiercely overprotective of my daughter, just as Tracy is as well.”
Avarie-Belle does not have a clue what her mum does for work, says Harmer.
“I don’t think she’d care either, unless I’m a Disney Princess, to be honest with you,” she quips.
“She’s still a bit young, but you never know, maybe when she’s a bit older, I’ll show her Tracy Beaker, and what mummy does.”
Other favourite characters from the original series are returning for the new episodes, including Tracy’s former foster mum Cam (Lisa Coleman), and Justine Littlewood (Montanna Thompson), another resident of The Dumping Ground who has grown up to become a successful businesswoman.
Discussing the success of the Tracy Beaker adaptations, Harmer notes how she couldn’t remember “a single really strong female character – especially on kids TV” when she was growing up.
“It was kind of all very kind of slapstick, and comedy; we had like the Chuckle Brothers and stuff,” she follows.
Then Tracy Beaker came along, and it was a drama and about something a lot of us had no idea about at all.
“Obviously, it’s not completely what it’s like being in care – it’s still a programme, and it’s still a kids’ programme and it’s still made to be entertaining.
“But it still gave people like myself, who didn’t really know anything about being in care, a reference point, really – and it became less of a taboo subject. So it was a really important programme, and I think that’s kind of why it stood the test of time really.”
The star also notes the poignancy of Tracy being someone who isn’t afraid of jumping over obstacles and proving that she is more than just her childhood.
“She wasn’t going to let that hold her back,” she continues passionately.
“I think part of the reason why I really wanted to do this programme was to show that she’s still successful in her own way. Yes, she might not have a big house, and loads of money, but she’s got a family, and she’s providing for her daughter, and she’s a really good mum.”
Harmer was 12 when she filmed the first series of The Story Of Tracy Beaker, her first big leading role.
“It kind of changed me really and it made me 100% sure that this was what I wanted to do as a job,” she reflects.
“It’s such a great thing for an actor to be able to play a role for this amount of time because you grow up with it and it’s really rare. So, I’m really lucky.”
She went on to film further projects as the character, including Tracy Beaker Returns in 2010, in which we saw Tracy as a care worker offering her advice and experiences to a new generation of ‘dumped’ kids.
She says Wilson has always been so complimentary about her portrayal of her much-loved creation.
“Thank goodness – could you imagine if she didn’t like what I was doing with the character?!” she exclaims.
She still keeps in touch with the author and sees her “every now and again”, she says.
Noting how supportive Wilson is, and how she always has time for everyone, Harmer recalls doing a book signing together when she was about 13 or 14.
“We were both blown away by how many people there were.
“I mean, we must have sat there for about six hours, constantly signing – but she made sure that she personalised every single one, and she had a little chat with everyone. She’s just so lovely.”
Another career highlight for Harmer, who owns a performing arts academy in Berkshire, was being a contestant on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2013 (she reached the final with her partner Vincent Simone).
Would she do any other reality TV shows in the future?
“Maybe I’d give the Jungle (I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!) a go… But not while it’s in Wales,” she says, chuckling.
“I’d want to go to Australia; if I’m going to be away from my family, I at least want to get a suntan, and I feel like I’m not going to do that in a castle. So, I would love to do it when it goes back to the jungle.
“I mean, I love having a challenge, so I would pretty much take on anything, to be honest with you. As long as I was going to have fun doing it.”
My Mum Tracy Beaker airs over consecutive days from Friday February 12, with all episodes dropping at once on BBC iPlayer from that date too.