Barbara Windsor is “totally aware” her Alzheimer’s diagnosis has been made public

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Kayleigh Dray
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LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22: Barbara Windsor attends the Ivor Novello Awards at The Grosvenor House Hotel on May 22, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images)

“I hope speaking out will help other families dealing with loved ones who have this cruel disease.” 

Dame Barbara Windsor is, undoubtedly, a British icon. The actress began her career on stage in 1950 at the age of 13 and made her film debut in The Belles of St Trinian’s, before going on to tread the boards opposite Vanessa Redgrave in the West End production of Threepenny Opera. 

She later went on to find fame in the Carry On films, picked up a cameo in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and, of course, took on the role of EastEnders matriarch, Peggy Mitchell.

However, the born-and-bred Londoner has now been forced to retire from acting after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Confirming his wife first learned of her condition in 2014, Scott Mitchell told The Sun: “Firstly, I hope speaking out will help other families dealing with loved ones who have this cruel disease.

“Secondly, I want the public to know because they are naturally very drawn to Barb­ara and she loves talking to them.

“So rather than me living in fear she might get confused or upset, they’ll know that if her behaviour seems strange, it’s due to Alzhei­mer’s and accept it for what it is.”

In the unpaid interview, he added: “I’m doing this because I want us to be able to go out and, if something isn’t quite right, it will be OK because people will now know that she has Alzheimer’s and will accept it for what it is.”

Scott went on to explain that Windsor has continued working as the disease progressed, having just finished narrating a documentary about Abbott and Costello for Radio 2 a few weeks ago.

However, her condition (which she learned of four years ago) has progressed significantly over the last few weeks – particularly in terms of her memory.

As such, Mitchell has made the difficult decision to have his wife stepped back from the spotlight.

“So many journalists have said that Barbara has always been a good sport,” he said.

“She’s been the subject of many scandalous stories, dusted herself off and got on with it. She accepted it was part of her job and theirs too.

“So I would like to hope that the press will now show her the same respect she’s shown them over the years. She deserves that.”

Speaking on ITV’s This Morning about the announcement, Windsor’s close friend Jane Moore revealed that the actress is “totally aware” her diagnosis has been made public.

“She sometimes repeats herself or gets a little bit confused,” she told Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. “The great thing is she knows who she is, her history, what she’s done and how much the public love her.

“Today I spoke to them on the way here. She’s having a really good day. She’s totally aware of what’s happened and is watching now.

“She’s absolutely thrilled to bits there’s been a positive response from the media and the public.”

Moore added: “I think I’ve known [about her diagnosis] for about two to three years. There were rumours floating around for some time that something wasn’t right but we didn’t know it was Alzheimer’s.

“Scott was adamant he didn’t want it coming out. In the early days the symptoms were mild and she protected herself by being in a little bit of denial about it.”

BArbara Windsor and Scott Mitchell

Barbara Windsor with husband Scott Mitchell after she was made a Dame Commander of the order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II 

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting an estimated 850,000 people in the UK.

The NHS explains: “Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition, which means the symptoms develop gradually and become more severe over the course of several years. It affects multiple brain functions.

“The first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is usually minor memory problems. For example, this could be forgetting about recent conversations or events, and forgetting the names of places and objects.”

Symptoms also include signs of mood changes or periods of confusion. However, as the disease develops, symptoms become more pronounced – and those affected may exhibit obsessive or repetitive behaviours, delusions, disturbed sleep, problems with speech and language, hallucinations and difficulty performing spatial tasks.

However, while this may make work more difficult, Alzheimer’s UK advises that it “may be better for your physical and emotional wellbeing to carry on for as long as you are happy or able to do so.”

You can find out more about the symptoms of Alzheimer’s – or advice on working after a diagnosis – here.