Ian Beale is a restaurant manager. He has been in the show since it first started in February 1985. In addition, he is well known for two things - his reluctance to spend money even on important things and his five marriages which have created some of the most dramatic storylines in the show's history.
As a teenager, Ian experiences conflicts with his father Pete over his desire to become a caterer. He begins several business ventures, becoming the owner of a local café soon after graduating from catering college. Ian becomes engaged to Cindy Williams in 1989, however a one-night-stand with her former lover Simon Wicks leaves her pregnant. Cindy marries Ian and pretends that her son, Steven, is his, resulting in Ian attempting suicide upon learning the truth. He recovers and causes Simon to have a vehicular accident in revenge, prompting Simon, Cindy and Steven to leave Walford together. Ian immerses himself in his catering business, though his exploitative working practices alienate his friends, employees and family. He and Cindy later reconcile, and Ian is overjoyed to become a father to twins, Peter and Lucy . After opening a fish and chip shop, Ian becomes so obsessed with building his business empire that he neglects Cindy, who decides to leave him for his half brother David. Ian wins custody of their children, and makes Cindy so miserable that she hires a hit man to kill him. Ian is shot, but is only clipped by the bullet and recovers. Cindy flees the country with Steven and Peter, and spends a year in Italy before Ian traces them and retrieves the boys. Cindy returns to Walford and wins back custody of the children, but is implicated in Ian's shooting. She is jailed on remand and dies several months later in prison.
Ian's next serious romance is with Mel Healy, manager of his bric-a-brac shop. Mel proposes to Ian, but later cheats on him with Steve Owen. Suspecting that she is planning to leave him, Ian manipulates Mel by falsely claiming that Lucy is dying from lymphoma. They marry on New Year's Eve 1999, but Mel leaves Ian during their wedding reception after discovering that Lucy is fine. Ian then pursues a new business venture: development of high-market flats. He begins a casual relationship with his nanny, Laura Dunn, but only commits to her after being declared bankrupt. Laura buys back the fish and chip shop and, despite fearing that Ian is only interested an inheritance she has received, they marry in May 2001. Their marriage deteriorates when Ian attempts to kiss Mel. He refuses to have a child with Laura, who frequently belittles him. Steven learns that Ian has been visiting local prostitute Janine Butcher and tells Laura, before moving to New Zealand to live with Simon. Laura forgives Ian on the condition that they have a baby. Although he agrees, Ian has a secret vasectomy and throws Laura out when she becomes pregnant later that year, conning her into signing over control of their businesses. Laura's son Bobby requires a blood transfusion shortly after his birth, leading Laura to realise that Ian must be his father, as her lover Garry Hobbs is not a match. Laura dies in 2004, breaking her neck after falling down the stairs. Ian takes custody of Bobby, and later also takes in his half brother Ben, following the death of their mother. Ian fights Ben's father Phil for custody, worsening their long-standing enmity which stems from Phil's disastrous marriage to Ian's mother Kathy.
Ian meets a new romantic interest, Jane Collins, in 2004. He helps her to come to terms with the death of her husband David from Huntington's disease, and although their relationship is severely tested when Jane has a brief affair with Phil's brother Grant, they marry in July 2007. Steven returns to Walford and stalks Ian, escalating to holding him hostage for several weeks. He accidentally shoots Jane during an altercation, which results in her needing a hysterectomy. Ian is able to forgive Steven, but banishes him from his life when he later helps Lucy to run away. Ian and Jane temporarily separate over Ian's reluctance to adopt a child. When Lucy becomes pregnant, Jane offers to raise the baby as her own. Ian agrees, but secretly assists Lucy in having an abortion, lying to Jane that she miscarried. Jane later learns the truth, and decides to steal Ian's money and leave him. Ian arranges for her to adopt Bobby, and is devastated to discover Jane's plans. Although she decides to remain with him, Ian begins an affair with Glenda Mitchell . He decides to end it for his family's sake but accidentally reveals the affair to Peter. Peter does not tell Jane, but leaves Walford to stay with Lucy (who has already decided to live with her aunt in Devon), disgusted at his father's behaviour.
Phil blackmails Ian over his affair with Glenda but when Ian brings Phil the money, he walks in on Phil having a heart attack while with Glenda who calls an ambulance, but Ian takes revenge by sending the paramedics away, hoping that Phil will die. However, when he hears Ben asking where Phil is, he changes his mind and calls an ambulance for Phil. When Glenda reveals her affair with Phil, Ian worries that she will also reveals her affair with Ian to Jane. Ian asks Jane to renew their wedding vows, which she accepts. Glenda attempts to blackmail Ian but he gives her less than she wants. He then tells Jane about the affair and she is heartbroken. He proposes that they renew their wedding vows, but Jane says she is leaving him as she is no longer in love with him. Ian sees her kissing a man named Martin so he hires an escort, Jeanette, saying she is his new girlfriend who he knew from his school days. However, Jane finds out the truth. She tells Ian she regrets ever meeting him, and Ian calls her a prostitute disguised as a wife, so she vows to take everything from him in their divorce. However, she decides against taking the house as it is Bobby's home, and instead gets the café. Afterwards, Ian reveals Jane's had an affair with Masood Ahmed (when in fact they didn't as it never went further than a kiss) to his wife Zainab Masood . Jane leaves for Bobby's sake, as he is witnessing arguments, and Ian refuses to give up the café, but eventually he is forced to hand it over to Jane in the divorce settlement after which Jane leaves the square, selling the cafe to Ian's arch rival Phil Mitchell who allows Shirley to manage it.
After Jane left, Ian became single and starts dating many different women at the same time, telling all of them that Jane had died. He even resorted to buying a pot of which cremated ashes are stored in from Eddie's Antique store. Of course, his plans fail miserably.
Mick and Ian seem to be getting on well since Mick has bought the Vic and moved to Albert Square Walford. Ian and Mick seemed to bond more in 2014 because of the death of Lucy Beale. When Ian and Mick saw each other at the local Swimming Pool, Ian offered to help Mick and we found out that Ian used to bring his kids to the same pool and tought them how to swim. When the Police wouldn't tell Ian more information about Lucy's murder investigation, Ian asked Mick to go swimming. Then Mick told Ian that Billy had something to do with his daughter's murder. On the 5th August we saw Mick asking Ian about how to dive into a swimming pool as he didn't know so Ian and Mick are on the bench pretending to dive, later on in that episode we saw Mick do the fundraise swim and Ian by his side watching in the audience. Also Rainie and Mick had some sort of bond.
In December 2017, after Luke Willmott-Brown beat Ben Mitchell, he tells Lauren Branning that he is being let out of hospital that day. After she finds out Ian sold the freehold of Kathy's Cafe to James, Kathy storms into Ian's house and asks him when he was going to tell her. Ian tells her that he didn't know who he was selling it to, to which Kathy shouts "how could you not know?!".
Later that month, Max tries to strangle Ian with Christmas lights as Lauren walks in.
Abi tells Ian, Lauren and Kathy that Max killed Steven. Ian is enraged, and runs outside to try and kill Max. The Brannings have to stop him.
Ian later hears news of Abi and Lauren falling from the Queen Victoria roof.
As Abi and Lauren are being wheeled through the hospital ward, Tanya can be seen staring after them, blank-eyed. Ian and Kathy arrive just after and try to comfort her.
Later, Ian can be seen talking to a policewoman. After being pressured by Kathy, he admits Max tried to stab him and strangled him with Christmas lights.