Is there any part of Peggy’s costume that makes you feel like her?
Yes, her gold pendant. It was my mother’s and inside is a picture of those rascals Phil and Grant.
Have you missed Peggy in the time you’ve been away?
I haven’t and the reason for this is that I still receive lots of fan mail for her. Plus hardly a week goes by when someone on the street has not yelled out “get out of my pub!” or ask when I’m going back. But the thing I miss most is the family feel you get from being on a show like EastEnders. Not only the actors, but the crew, make-up, wardrobe, publicity and administration staff. Oh and how I miss the gossip! I have some great memories of my 16 years on the show.
So what does it mean to you to get such a response from the public?
I absolutely love it and that’s the truth. Some people ask whether it gets on my nerves being stopped all the time for photos and autographs. And the answer is simple: no! In fact, I embrace and encourage it and sometimes even stop people and force them to have their picture taken with me. Of course, I’m joking, but the day they stop asking me is the day I’ll hang up my tap shoes.
Have you kept up with anyone from the show since you left?
Obviously I see Steve a lot. Other than him, I still see and socialise with the magnificent June Brown and Pam St Clement. We like to go to the theatre and have dinner and a good old rabbit afterwards. June is an incredible lady and, when I was in the show, we’d always lunch together and our dressing rooms were next door to each other. I adore her. And as for Pam – my nights out with her are equally as enjoyable. I think that the character of Pat is sorely missed and it was a bad choice to kill the character. I’m sorry if I offend the people who made that decision, but that’s how I and millions of other EastEnders fans feel.
Have you been tuning in since you left?
Yes, I have and I always will. I like to watch all the soaps and they all have their ups and downs. That’s the nature of the beast.
Did doing this one-off give you a taste to do further episodes?
Of course it did, but who knows what the future holds? To be a part of such a great British institution is an honour. I still have my bingo adverts and several series for Radio 2 which come out in the New year. But EastEnders will always be so very special to me.
Barbara Windsor returns to EastEnders on Friday 20 September