Irene is the ex-wife of Ted Hills and the estranged mother of Sarah and Tony Hills, and she arrives in Albert Square following Ted's departure to South Africa in August 1997. She comes to stay with her children after she was fleeced out of her divorce settlement by a conman. Her children are initially hostile to her for being absent for so many years, as is her sister-in-law Kathy Beale, who resents her for her treatment of her brother. Irene soon manages to sway her children's opinion back in her favour and they begin to grow close, although she does manage to ruin her son's relationship with Simon Raymond, when she reveals Tony's fling with his colleague Polly Becker.
It isn't long before Irene finds an eligible man to flirt with, and this happens to be the recovering alcoholic, Terry Raymond, Their romance soon begins to blossom and it isn't long before they plan to marry. The ceremony takes place in 1998, but just as Terry is about to say "I do", his first wife, Louise Raymond, halts the proceedings by announcing that she and Terry are still married. Irene is furious and humiliated, but Terry manages to win her round and they decide to go on their honeymoon anyway. Despite this hitch, Irene goes on to marry Terry, secretly at a registry office, after his divorce from Louise has been finalised. Irene becomes good friends with local restaurant owner Rosa di Marco and she is a fan of any new-age fad she ever comes across; during her time she participates in feng shui, aromatherapy, and meditation, much to the bemusement of her sceptical husband. Together, Terry and Irene run the local grocery store, First Til Last'.
Despite Terry's desperate attempts to please Irene, he always seems to manage to get it wrong and their relationship is often volatile, with Irene seemingly unable to communicate what she really wants of Terry. Things reach an all time low when Irene starts going through menopause in 1999. She often gets severely emotional, depressed, and irritated, particularly with Terry, who often unintentionally humiliates her about her condition. Terry is incapable of doing anything right in Irene's eyes at this time. Irene's restless nature means that she soon begins to tire of married life with Terry and in 1999, after continual chasing, Irene succumbs to the advances of her lodger Troy Harvey. Troy is considerably younger than Irene (almost half her age), and although he makes her feel special and desirable, Troy is only playing the field and later tries it on with Irene's best friend Rosa. Irene refuses to believe Rosa however and the affair continues. Things reach a head on Christmas Day in 1999. Terry discovers a watch that Irene had got engraved for Troy and suddenly understands what has been occurring. Terry is hurt, but his angst is directed at Troy and not Irene. After sending Irene on an errand, he confronts Troy and evicts him without his wife knowing. When Irene returns she is devastated to learn that Troy has gone. Terry forgives Irene, but the marriage is severely strained and Irene is never fully content or happy with her life after Troy's departure.
Terry is desperate to hang on to Irene, so after a man smashes his van into theFirst Til Last by mistake, Terry uses the insurance money to buy her a holiday in a luxury villa in Alicante, Spain in 2000. Irene is over the moon but her joy soon turns to rage when she discovers that Terry has invited fellow Walford residents Frank and Peggy Butcher, as well as Roy and Pat Evans. Whilst on holiday, Terry begins to despair over Irene's obvious unhappiness with their marriage and her complaints about her dull life in Walford. In an attempt to 'call her bluff' he sets Irene up with a rented car, gives her a wad of money and suggests that she leave there and then and travel the world like she has always dreamed. Unluckily for Terry, Irene leaps at the chance of freedom and leaves him, and he goes back to Walford alone. Her current location is currently unknown, although when Terry departs in 2002 he contacted Irene to give their marriage another chance.