Nigel Bates was born on the 25 May 1956. He grew up in the East End and became a good friend of local delinquents, Phil and Grant Mitchell. As Nigel's family had quite a bit of money, Nigel was bullied at school because of this. Soon, the Mitchell brothers saw the bullies off and Nigel became respected in school.
Nigel attended school with Phil and Grant Mitchell and starts frequenting the Mitchells' home town of Walford in 1992, before finally moving there himself following the death of his mother later that year. He lodges with Dot Cotton and is known in the community for his extravagant shirts and ties, and his mop of shaggy curly hair. Dot comes to think of Nigel as the son she never had because he is the complete opposite of her own son Nick Cotton. This causes trouble between Nigel and Nick when Nick bullies Nigel, jealous of Dot's friendship with him.
In 1993, he falls in love with Debbie Tyler. Debbie is estranged from her abusive husband, Liam Tyler; however, Liam returns in 1993 to reunite with Debbie and visit their young daughter Clare Bates. He reacts with fury when he realises Nigel is seeing Debbie and bullies both in an attempt to split them up. Eventually, Liam is frightened away by Grant. Nigel and Debbie marry in 1994 and are happy until 1995, when Debbie is killed in a hit and run accident. Nigel is devastated for some time. Liam returns and fights Nigel for custody of Clare but is unsuccessful because of his history of violent behaviour towards Debbie; Nigel legally adopts her.
Following a long period of mourning, Nigel grows close to Lorraine Wicks and attempts to ignite a relationship. This goes awry as Lorraine does not return Nigel's romantic feelings and is instead attracted to Grant, which deeply hurts Nigel. In 1997, he meets Julie Haye, Clare's school teacher, who occasionally dropped into Nigel's video shop to rent French films. Their friendship blossoms into romance but Nigel remains reticent believing he is tarnishing Debbie's honour. He almost loses Julie after she announces she is moving to Scotland, but on the night of her departure, Nigel sees sense and pledges his love for Julie and in April 1998, he and Clare leave Walford for Scotland to be with Julie and her son, Josh Saunders.
Dot occasionally visits Nigel off-screen. Clare returns to Walford in February 2008 to stay with Dot. Nigel is meant to visit her in July 2008, but does not arrive. This upsets Clare and she confides in Bradley Branning that her and Nigel's relationship had become strained in her time away from Walford. According to Clare, Nigel had transferred his affections to Julie's son Josh as he struggled to cope with Clare's teenage dalliances. In October 2009, Pat reveals that Nigel had suffered a heart attack and Dot goes to visit him.