I agonised on my own for a week over quitting EastEnders.. I'm sad and a bit scared but I want to play strong women, not weak ones; EXCLUSIVE: TAMZIN OUTHWAITE ON HER BIG DECISION.
ALONE with her thoughts, Tamzin Outhwaite steeled herself to carry through the toughest decision she has ever had to make.
Not even her closest friends among the EastEnders cast knew the soap's biggest star was thinking of quitting.
She had shut herself away from the world to decide her future - and when tortured Tamzin finally realised it was time to leave the hit show she was overwhelmed with heartbreak.
It had been the most difficult week of her life.
And after yesterday's sensational Mirror exclusive on her shock Albert Square departure, the blonde actress voted the sexiest woman on TV revealed: "No one at the show knew I was going until they read it in The Mirror.
"I didn't talk to anyone, not even my family, because I wanted to make the decision by myself.
"I needed to be away from EastEnders, and after filming Red Cap in the summer I took a week off to be alone and I spent the time thinking about it. That's how I came to my decision.
"I hadn't told any of the other cast members. It's just something you hold on to, and I'm sure they understand the situation.
"It's not that I don't trust them - I've been dying to tell them that I'm going, but it's tricky.
"I'd have told Lucy (Benjamin, who plays Lisa Shaw), but she's on holiday at the moment so she's not been around."
TAMZIN, who says she is quitting to go for new roles in BBC dramas, recalled how she went away into the countryside to make up her mind.
She spent a week of solitude wondering whether she was making the right move. Now she believes she has, but she knows that leaving Eastenders will still be a big wrench.
She says: "Part of me feels terribly sad because I'm letting go of something that has fed me for the past three years, that has excited me and exhilarated me.
"I'm a bit scared already - although I've got quite a few months in EastEnders yet, so the fear hasn't really set in.
"But at the same time I'm feeling really enthusiastic about the future."
First we will see the 30-year-old beauty from Essex in Red Cap, a military drama. TV bosses have been so impressed with her performance as Special Investigation Officer Jo McDonagh in the film, to be screened next month, that they are poised to commission a full series.
The only person who knew of her decision to quit Albert Square was show boss John Yorke. Tamzin told him last week, but the pair agreed to keep it secret for a few days.
The actress believes that her character Melanie Owen has gone as far as she can take her.
"To be honest with you, Mel's role in EastEnders has come to a kind of natural end," she says.
"I always said I'd go when I felt that the character had run her course, and I'm going to leave when my contract runs out next year.
"A lot has happened for Mel. She's been married twice, she's slept with her best friend's boyfriend and then she was kidnapped, and I think that those kinds of heights would be difficult to repeat. It's fantastic that she's leaving on a high.
"I've never stayed in a job for three years before, so I think I've done pretty well, really."
Tamzin will be back on screen in Albert Square in three weeks' time. Then she will have around five months to sort out her marriage (or not) with Steve, played by Martin Kemp, before she leaves the show at Easter.
"I think there'll be a good bit happening to Mel before she leaves," she says.
"If you think how much has happened to her in the last three years, I'm sure she'll go through more roller-coaster rides in her final few months.
I CAN'T reveal what it's like for Mel and Steve when she returns, but it won't be a comfortable ride."
Tamzin started her career performing in West End shows Grease and Oliver - and in 1998 she got her big break when she was picked to play man-magnet Melanie.
Since then she's become a household name, and she's enjoyed every minute of her fast ride to stardom.
"I've had the best three years of my life, without a doubt," she says. "I've made some really good friends and I'm very thankful for everything we've done.
"The whole of my career has changed since EastEnders - a whole new door has opened.
"Before, I was very happy with what I was doing, but I didn't have the opportunities that I have now.
"It's not so much that I'm famous, but that I've proved myself in a way that makes people think that I'm versatile enough to do other things.
"There's a whole heap of projects I'm interested in doing at the moment. I'm very interested in playing strong women rather than weaker women."
The EastEnders cast have seen their gruelling filming schedules intensify in recent months to cope with the new fourth weekly episode of the soap on Friday nights.
But Tamzin says the extra work is not behind her decision to quit.
She insists: "The schedule will always be heavy when you're in lots of storylines, but this has got nothing to do with the hours and everything to do with me trying new challenges.
"It's about me still being hungry and wanting to go for it now.
"It's not because anyone's upset me or told me my time is up. I've just decided it for myself.
"John's been brilliant and very supportive, and he's told me I can come back if I want, which is brilliant."
Writers are already working on a storyline for Martin Kemp's exit next year, following his decision to quit the BBC for ITV in a pounds 2million deal.
Now it is likely that he and Mel - currently involved in a huge marital war on screen - will leave the show together in a sensational final storyline.
BUT Tamzin says reports that Steve McFadden, who plays Phil Mitchell, is leaving the show are wide of the mark.
"Steve isn't leaving, he's really not," she says. "That was just a load of rubbish.
"Martin and I are in very similar situations with our characters.
"We came in at a similar time, and now it looks like we'll leave at a similar time, too.
"Mel and Steve had some kind of aura, a chemistry, that was unique. I was really proud of it."
Now it seems the only thing that remains to be sorted out for Tamzin is her love life.
Eventually she'd like to get married and have children, but when asked if there is any chance of her getting hitched in the near future she just laughs.
"Me? Plans for marriage? I'd need to find a man first!" she says.
"Whatever anyone says about it, I'm properly single, and happily so at the moment."
And with soap bosses promising not to kill off her character so that she can return if she wants, will we ever see the lovely Mel again?
"All I'm saying about that is who knows?," replies Tamzin.
"I can't predict - but never say never."
STORMY: With Steve (Martin Kemp); A HUNGER FOR FAME; Tamzin wants to prove herself in a string of drama roles; SERIOUS: In new drama Red Cap
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Oct 6, 2001|
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