While struggling to learn her EastEnders lines, Dame Barbara Windsor realised she would have to make a heartbreaking decision.
The national treasure was secretly battling the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease back in 2014 after a change in behaviour which impacted her acting work.
Most devastating of all, Barbara realised that there was no coming back as her condition started to deteriorate.
This would be the end of Peggy Mitchell.
Realising she would always be drawn back to the iconic character she had created, Barbara made the decision that Peggy had to die.
In public, Barbara stated that the decision to kill Peggy was to shut the door forever – but she had a another hidden emotional motive relating to one of her co-stars.
When Barbara contacted Dominic Treadwell-Collins, who was executive producer on EastEnders at the time, the soap boss insisted he could not kill off such an iconic character.
It was husband Scott who then went to visit the EastEnders boss – and confided that Barbara was really struggling to learn lines and “wouldn’t ever be coming back again after this”.
With that Peggy’s fate was sealed, but she would not be going out alone.
While fiercely independent, Peggy wouldn’t have been the same character without her bald-headed boys.
The on-screen relationship between the Mitchells was mirrored in real-life, with Ross Kemp and Steve McFadden both fiercely protective of their TV mum.
When Ross made his exit in August 1999, Barbara was left in tears during his final day on the Albert Square set.
After going off to make documentaries, Ross made brief cameos over the years, but Barbara was determined to get both her sons back with her for her last scenes.
But with busy Ross flying around the world to war zones and dangerous gangs, his on-screen mum realised Peggy’s death would be the only thing to get him back.
“My darling son, he came back,” Barbara told The Mirror in 2016 after playing Peggy for the last time.
“Listen, I knew the only way I would get him back, because we all wanted him to come back, is maybe if I get rid of myself he’ll have to come to the funeral, you see, and that way I got him back.”
Barbara’s plan worked a treat, as Ross’ character Grant returned to Walford after discovering Peggy had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“Barbara is a very close friend, so when I learned of the storyline it felt right that the Mitchell brothers are reunited with their mother for the last time,” he told the BBC.
“I am really looking forward to going back to EastEnders and filming what are set to be some classic EastEnders episodes.”
In November 2015, the Carry On star secretly filmed her tear-jerking final scenes, which did not air until May the following year.
EastEnders fans were in floods of tears when Peggy visited her beloved Queen Vic pub for the last time and reunited with both her sons.
After speaking to the ghost of best friend Pat Butcher, Peggy took her own life and died peacefully in her bed.
Before her final scenes aired, Barbara explained to fans why it was finally time for her to quit the soap – but hid a major part of the reason behind her last exit.
“I made the decision a while ago that I need to say goodbye to Peggy once and for all as otherwise she will always be there, urging me to go back, and that is something I needed to shut the door on,” said the EastEnders legend in January 2016.
“After thinking long and hard about it, I realised that it is time for me and the audience to say our final farewells to the lady who I have loved for many years.
“When I finished filming the last scene, I couldn’t say anything. I knew that if I opened my mouth I would sob. But I couldn’t do that, because this is my choice.”
Barbara had an autocue on set but only 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,” admitted husband Scott.
At the time, Barbara was secretly amid her battle with Alzheimer’s disease but had not gone public with her devastating diagnosis.
When it became “more difficult for us to hide”, Scott decided with Barbara to announce her condition in 2018.
There was an outpouring of love for the national treasure, who was supported by her husband and close friends, including Ross.
Having been friends for over two decades, it was heartbreaking for Ross as Barbara started to forget who he is.
“The nature of the disease is that she initially knew exactly who I was and then three minutes, she turned to me and asked who I was,” he said, while opening up on the last time they spoke at her home.
“She looks at these pictures of her, her in her heyday on the wall, fantastic pictures of her incredible career and she goes, ‘Who’s that lady?’.”
Earlier this year, Ross filmed a two part series for ITV, Ross Kemp: Living With Dementia, which saw him try to get to grips with the disease.
Addressing the possibility of Barbara going into a care home, Ross said: “I don’t think it’s even a may, it’s going to happen and it’s going to happen in a near-future rather than the late future.”
Barbara’s condition has worsened over the past months, and sometimes she is unable to recognise her own husband.
Opening up on the first time she didn’t recognise him, Scott told Ross: “My heart sank the first time Barbara looked at me and said, ‘sorry, who are you?’
“Your whole history, 20 years or so at that time, is gone in their eyes and they’re looking at a stranger, and it’s hard to take.
“It still flips between, even now, I can either be the most important part of her world or she will look at me and say, ‘do you know where my husband Scott is?’.
“Sometimes I’ll squeeze her hand and smile at her and she will look at me puzzled, or sometimes she says, ‘don’t be so silly, you’re not my husband’.”
Despite her struggles, devoted husband Scott has stayed by her side but admitted that doctors have told him he may have to put her in a care home as her condition has worsened.
In the documentary, Scott told Ross that he had been through “dark moments” since a consultation from a specialist made him realise that he may have to put her in care.
“It’s the thing I’ve always feared,” he said. “He’s basically telling me I need to prepare myself that at some point it may not be sustainable to give her the kind of care she needs at the house.
“I’ve had some fairly dark moments since he said that because there’s a part of me that knows that most likely is the truth and that’s what needs to happen.”
This month, Scott shared his agony after putting her in a care home – admitting it feels “like a bereavement”.
“I have been used to hustle and bustle in this little space, then suddenly, silence… all you can hear are your thoughts, and that’s not always healthy,” he told The Sun.
Scott went on to confess he can’t stop crying when he thinks about how his wife is feeling about the move.
“I feel I’m on an emotional rollercoaster. I walk around, trying to keep busy, then burst in to tears. It feels like a bereavement.”
He added: “It’s always been my biggest fear, that one day I would have to take her somewhere and she’d be thinking, ‘Why would he do this to me?’
“That fear has become a reality. It’s something I never wanted.”