Emmerdale star Elizabeth Estensen has announced that she is to retire from the soap after 22 years of playing matriarch Diane Sugden.
The 72 year old has already filmed her final scenes, and her character is set to bow out in the coming weeks.
She says, “For the past 22 years, I have loved playing Diane Sugden – she’s kind, reliable and fiercely loyal. However, I now feel the time has come to say goodbye.
“Emmerdale will always remain special to me. I’ve been treated with respect and kindness and I’ve had the very best friends and colleagues, both past and present.
“I’ll miss everyone dearly.”
Estensen joined Emmerdale in 1999, with her character Diane Blackstock arriving in the village for daughter Bernice’s supposed wedding to Gavin Ferris.
Diane decided to stick around when Bernice called off her engagement, and mother and daughter then became co-owners of The Woolpack.
Over the years, her high-profile storylines have included tying the knot with Jack Sugden, having treatment for colon cancer, surviving The Kings’ River show home explosion, being conned by boyfriend Charlie Haynes, and being stabbed in the back, literally, by Chas Dingle.
More recently, Diane has had a rather more quiet life, running the B&B with ex lover Eric Pollard.
Next week on the soap, she’ll be hoping for romance as she goes on a date with the suave Michael (Colin Baker).
But she’ll be left disappointed when he’s more interested in doing a jigsaw then wooing her.
And, in future episodes, Diane will decide to make a fresh start and swap the windy Dales for sunnier climes abroad.
Says John Whiston, Managing Director of Continuing Drama and Head of ITV in the North, “For 22 years, Liz has shone through the screen and into our living rooms as the natural heart and centre of the Sugden family.
“It’s a role she has made so totally her own, bringing compassion, humour and credibility to her portrayal of Diane.
“Whenever she’s on screen, as a viewer, you just let out a contented sigh and say to yourself ‘The Queen is on her throne and all is well with the world’.
“And off screen, you don’t get to stay in a soap that long unless you are a truly professional actor and really, really lovely person. Liz is both.”
Estensen was already a successful stage and screen actress before joining Emmerdale.
She made her TV debut in The Liver Birds back in 1975 playing Carol Boswell, who was a replacement for Polly James’ character Beryl Hennessey.
She went on to play the title role in the hugely successful ITV children’s show T-Bag, and had a guest role in Coronation Street from 1997 to 1998 as Pam Middleton, mother of Angela Griffin’s character, Fiona Middleton.
Emmerdale airs weeknights at 7pm on ITV, with an extra episode at 8pm on Thursdays – see our TV Guide for full listings. You can also catch up on ITV Hub now.