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usedto Amy comeand visit afterrehab me andhelp me my learn for lines EastEnders; BARBARA WINDSOR'S SECRET FRIENDSHIP.

Byline: Alun Palmer

IT was an unlikely friendship they kept from the public glare.

But, for the first time, Barbara Windsor has spoken about how she forged a close attachment with Amy Winehouse as the troubled singer fought the demons that eventually claimed her life.

"I kept our friendship private even though she was often in the news," Barbara said.

'asked "We kept it a secret. We always said our friendship would be very private because we knew what it would be like ... 'Friends with Barbara Windsor, what's that all about?'" The girlie moments they shared seem improbable.

to be a of Foundation..

it was moving' For a start there was the near 50-year age gap. One was a national treasure, the cheeky Carry On star turned EastEnders landlady, while the other was a hellraising singer with a rock'n'roll lifestyle.

Yet Barbara - who has had her fair share of heartache - remembers fondly the times so they shared as Amy got treatment at a London addiction clinic, and how the singer loved helping her learn lines for the BBC soap.

Barbara's husband Scott Mitchell had known the Winehouse family since he was young. But it was chance that brought the women together. Barbara said: "My husband's family are very friendly with Amy's family. The two have known each other for a long time.

"I live near Regent's Park and she used to go to a clinic near us. She would sit out at the back entrance and have a cigarette.

"I spotted her one day and said to Scott, 'That's Amy out there having a cigarette, you should go out'.

"He went out and she said, 'I was wondering which house you lived in'.

"He told her to stop sitting outside and come in. Then, whenever she was there, she knew she didn't have to sit on a wall and could come and see us. She would knock on the door and we would have quality time with her."

Barbara and Scott's home became a safe haven for the singer, a place she could be herself. The Amy Barbara knew was not the one pictured falling out of nightclubs.

"There was always an EastEnders script on the coffee table and we would read the scripts together," said Barbara, who played Queen Vic landlady Peggy Mitchell.

"There was one heavy scene between Peggy and Pat where it really kicked off.

"I pretended to be Peggy and for the first time Amy played Pat. Afterwards she always insisted on playing Peggy, which was lovely. That was one of our smashing moments. It was lovely and we always said we would never tell anyone."

But away from the sanctuary of Barbara's home, Amy struggled to beat her addictions. The couple were devastated when they heard she had died of alcohol poisoning at the tender age of 27 in July last year.

Barbara said: "I was so upset when I heard the news. She was an amazing talent. It was tragic that she was getting herself sorted out... but that's life isn't it? "We stayed away from her funeral but we said prayers with her family."

Yet out of the tragedy has blossomed something positive. Amy's father Mitch asked Barbara to become a patron of the Amy Whitehouse Foundation and she jumped at the chance of promoting the good work done in her friend's name.

She said: "Mitch asked me to be patron and I have time now I'm not in EastEnders.

"We raised pounds 25,000 for a children's hospice in Ireland. I have just come back from there. It was so moving seeing how much good is done there."

Barbara, having just turned 75, has found a new lease of life.

Gone is the relentless pressure of EastEnders - her latest role is starring in a new advert for Jackpotjoy bingo. She has come never spoken about why she left the soap three years ago, and how the demands became too much on her personal life... until now.

She said: "It was a hard decision. We would do the odd Saturday but they us more. quality y gave ss - I have d I never "I am steady, I know the business been in it 63 years. I enjoy it and take it home with me. "Then one day my husband sat and he said, 'You know, Barbara, bringing it through the front Everything is Peggy this, EastEnders You are not switching off at all'. "He said we didn't go anywhere, go to the movies or the theatre. they gave me that Saturday that was the thing that did it. me down , you are nt door. ders that.

we didn't So when "It meant come Sunday I was learning my lines again. You hit an age have to study that bit harder - unless you are June Brown who, at 84, can pick it up and learn it in a second. But that did it."

when you less ck at The change, since she left, has been remarkable. Scott is busy managing Steve McFadden - Phil Mitchell in EastEnders - and Barbara says she ging l e is kept busy looking after her husband... up to a point. "Scott won't let me cook," she laughed. "I used to but he says I have got a little bit scatty in the kitchen, so I understand that. That is a bit of old age I got, scattiness. I just forget things." Since leaving EastEnders, Barbara has been working on a Radio 2 series and appeared in Sky's Little Crackers at Christmas.

have g Sb And this week, she returns as the "Queen of Bingo" in a new advertising campaign for Jackpotjoy. It gives her the chance to work without TV's relentless schedule.

She said: "I get a lot of shows offered but I can afford to be a bit choosy. There isn't a week goes by when something doesn't come in."

But dressing up in the huge Elizabethan for the adverts has set her eye on acting pinnacle she has yet to conquer - costume drama.

o ch som Bu dress one a - cost She costu that. wou?S Que the for giggles: "I look great in period costume. I would love to do something like Not a big part, just something small would be lovely."

See Barbara Windsor return as The Queen of Bingo in the new "Just for Jackpotjoy of It" advertising campaign www.jackpotjoy.com

CAPTION(S):

SWITCHING OFF 3 Amy's showbiz life was far from her girlie chats with Barbara CHARITY Barbara and Mitch shared as Amy got DEMONS Z Amy before her death, aged just 27 NATIONAL 3TREASURE Barbara at 75
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 7, 2012
Words:1105
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