Playing downtrodden Lisa Dingle for 23 years, actress Jane Cox is as much a part of Emmerdale as the Woolpack and Home Farm.
But after the death of her mum and six months of soul searching, the star has taken the brave decision to kiss goodbye to the iconic role.
Jane has made long-suffering Lisa one of Britain’s best-loved soap matriarchs, alongside Corrie’s Gail McIntyre and EastEnders’ Pauline Fowler.
Today Jane, who is fit as a fiddle, reveals her tough choice was also influenced by her advancing years – she was 67 this month – and a nagging feeling that life has more to offer.
She says: “I know if I hadn’t have left now I never would. Life is such an exciting thing, you never know what is around the corner. It was a big decision but I know it is the right thing.
“It is completely life-changing. But I decided I wanted to do different things.
“My mum died a couple of years ago, so it does make you think a lot about the big things in life. As you get older life feels shorter – although of course I am going to live to 150!”
Fans have been heartbroken to learn that Lisa is dying from a terminal heart condition. And on Thursday there won’t be a dry eye on sofas up and down the land as Zak and Lisa wed for a second time, knowing their marriage will be short-lived.
But being the Dingles the day is also comical as Lisa, on the arm of stepson Cain, arrives late and filthy after tackling escaped pigs on the farm.
Jane will be sad to leave Lisa and her Emmerdale family behind, but knows deep down it is the right decision.
She admits the punishing schedule of being in a soap that now has six episodes a week played a part in her decision.
For the past 10 years, Jane has tried to write two films and a book but has not had the time. Although, astonishingly, she has studied for an art history degree.
She says: “It is long, long days and then you don’t have time in the evening because you have lines to learn for the next day.
“I decided that this is going to be my time to do things I didn’t have time to do. I still feel about 20-odd, but in 20 years I will be 87, and there are other things in life that I want to explore.”
Having said all that, Jane, who is married with a grown-up daughter, feels very privileged to have had the role of Lisa for so long.
The part was originally only supposed to last four episodes but show bosses were impressed how Jane brought the character to life.
Jane believes many women can relate to Lisa, who struggles to make ends meet, picks up the pieces for feckless men, and deals with everything life throws at her.
She says: “There are so many women out there that we know like Lisa Dingle, who are trying to juggle everything. They manage to retain a sense of humour but they look a bit careworn.
“These women know how to have a laugh but they have great strength and I salute them. Austerity is something a lot of people have to deal with every day.
“A lot of people go to foodbanks, and I just don’t believe that should be happening in this day and age. Life is never fair but at the minute things are very skewed in favour of the few rather than the many.”
And while Jane is now comfortable, thanks to her Emmerdale career, she knows what it is like to struggle financially.
Before the soap, the star, born in London and raised in Devon, spent most of her career working in the theatre.
Her love of drama came from her dad, who used to read her Shakespeare as a child, and she would go on to do two years at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Jane also appeared briefly in Coronation Street as Mrs Shaw, a cleaner at Pendlebury Paper Products whose bottom was slapped by manager Derek Wilton in a moment of madness in 1991.
She also starred as JJ in children’s TV show Allsorts between 1991 and 1995.
As a budding actress she sometimes had to take on other jobs, no matter how bizarre, just to survive. Jane says: “People do anything to try to make ends meet. I know from when I’ve been out of work how difficult things can be. I was sewing the final stitches in circus juggling balls to earn a few pounds extra on my dole money because I couldn’t afford childcare at the time.
“One time I worked as an auxiliary in an old people’s home. I loved the old people, I worked with people with dementia, feeding them. I’ve done all sorts of stuff.”
Jane adds: “I remember scrambling around the back of the sofa trying to find a few quid to buy either a glass of wine or a few tins of baked beans. That is the reality of acting for a lot of people.
“When I got Emmerdale I was able to go on holiday, which I hadn’t done before, and I was able to take my mum and my sister.”
And while Jane knows Lisa’s impending death means there is no going back to the comfort of Emmerdale, she believes producers have made the right decision in killing off her character.
“It is just starting to sink in now,” she says. “But I know I made the right decision.
“I will miss my Dingle family but we are friends for life.”
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