Sharon's back! And she's not the first to return with a humdinger of an 'EastEnders' storyline

As actress Letitia Dean once more steps into Sharon's stilettos after nearly seven years away, Kate Youde looks at the Walford characters who left and bounced back – and those who vanished for ever... da da da, da dah di daah

Portugal: Grant Mitchell

Last seen in 2006, one half of Albert Square's answer to the Krays now lives in Portugal with his daughter, Courtney. The pair had been in Rio de Janeiro between 1999 and 2005, living on money Grant stole by intercepting a drug deal. In Portugal, Grant (once married to Sharon) has his sister, Sam, and her son, Richard, for company.

Italy: Cindy Beale

In 1997, Ian Beale hired a private detective to trace Cindy, who had fled with her sons after hiring a hitman to kill him. As you do. With the help of the Mitchell brothers, Ian brought the boys back to Walford from Italy. Lucky blighters. Cindy followed but it didn't end well: she died in childbirth in 1998.

Miami via Spain: Angie Watts

Best known for receiving divorce papers from Dirty Den on Christmas Day 1986, the Queen Vic's lush landlady, and Sharon's adoptive mum, left in 1988 to be with her lover, Sonny, in Spain. She later moved to the States and remarried, but didn't have much time for cocktails on the beach: she died of cirrhosis in 2002.

Spain via Somerset: Frank Butcher

After leaving in 2000, he later popped up on the Costa del Sol. A spin-off episode, "Perfectly Frank", tracked the former used-car salesman's return to the UK in 2003, when he set up two businesses in Somerset. He made later visits to Walford and died in 2008, more than two years after he was last seen in the square.

New Zealand: Simon Wicks

In January 2012, Wicksy – Sharon's ex-beau – made his only return to Walford since leaving in 1990, to pay his respects at the graveside of his mum, Pat, who had died of cancer. He was seen for one night only, soon hot-footing it back to a safe distance from E20, aka the other side of the world.

South Africa: Kathy Beale

After a traumatic time even by Walford standards, she fled to South Africa with her son, Ben, by Phil Mitchell, to live with her brother. She later remarried but then died in a car accident in 2006. All rather convenient, as it meant Ben returned to the square to live with his dad.

Dubai: Ricky Butcher

Swimming in the buff is not an image you would like to associate with the dopey mechanic. But in 2011, when Bianca was jailed, he accepted a job in Dubai. After he was fined and deported for skinnydipping, he returned briefly to Albert Square, but left Walford again this year.

Florida: Michelle Fowler

While the mere thought of sleeping with Grant Mitchell would be enough to send most women up West, Michelle – once Sharon's best mate – packed her bags for America after a one-night stand with the gruff hard man in 1995. She is currently kipping in Florida with her second husband, daughter Vicki, and son Mark Jnr.

US via Spanish prison: Alfie Moon

Nice guy Alfie left the square on Christmas Day in 2005 with his wife, Kat, to drive across America in search of a new life, but he returned in 2010. It later emerged that, in the intervening years, he'd served time in a Spanish prison.

Afterlife via Spain: Dennis Watts

Walford's most improbable comeback saw Sharon's dad, "Dirty" Den, return after he was gunned down alongside the canal in 1989. When he resurfaced, in 2003, it emerged that he'd fled to Spain after surviving the attack. He was killed (again) in 2005, by second wife Chrissie, and is most unlikely to return, in the flesh at least.

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