Dame Barbara Windsor is battling Alzheimer’s disease, her husband has revealed.
The legendary EastEnders star, 80, was first diagnosed with the neurodegenerative condition four years ago after first seeing a doctor for memory problems in 2012, The Sun reports.
Windsor’s husband of 18 years, Scott Mitchell, told the newspaper the couple had decided to go public with the diagnosis after her symptoms rapidly worsened in recent weeks.
“Since her 80th birthday last August, a definite continual confusion has set in, so it’s becoming a lot more difficult for us to hide”, Mitchell, 55, said.
“Firstly, I hope speaking out will help other families dealing with loved ones who have this cruel disease. Secondly, I want the public to know because they are naturally very drawn to Barbara and she loves talking to them.
“So rather than me living in fear she might get confused or upset, they’ll know that if her behaviour seems strange, it’s due to Alzheimer’s and accept it for what it is.”
Windsor, who rose to fame in the Carry On films of the 1960s and ’70s and played formidable Queen Vic landlady Peggy Mitchell in EastEnders from 1994-2010, first exhibited memory problems as far back as 2009, according to Mitchell.
The actress made regular guest appearances as Peggy following her initial departure from the soap, but soon after her diagnosis in April 2014 requested that the chracter to be killed off for good – something that eventually happened in May 2016.
“Barbara contacted the Executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins to make the suggestion and, at first, he said, ‘I can’t kill an iconic character’,” Mitchell recalled.
“So I went to see him and, without giving the full situation, confided that she was really struggling to learn lines and wouldn’t ever be coming back again after this.
“I asked that she have an autocue on set, just as a safety net. But in the end, she just used it to refresh her memory between takes. If you saw the Peggy death scenes, you could see she wasn’t reading it.
“Ironically, I think it’s some of the best work she ever did. I was incredibly proud of her.”
Mitchell said that he hoped the press would treat Windsor – who was made a Dame in 2016 for services to charity and entertainment – with “the same respect she’s shown them over the years” following her diagnosis.
“She deserves that”, he added.