Barbara Windsor sent love to EastEnders' co-star Shane Richie before his I'm A Celeb debut as star reveals final message

SHANE Richie has revealed that Dame Barbara Windsor reached out to him before his I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! debut last month.

The 56-year-old star opened up about his final message from the 83-year-old TV icon, who passed away last night.

Shane and Barbara became close friends after he joined EastEnders in 2002, where she starred as Peggy Mitchell.

Presenting The One Show alongside Alex Jones this evening, Shane said of the icon: "Before I went and did the show in the castle, before they took our phones away in isolation, I got a text from Scott, Barbara's husband.

"He left a message saying: 'The Duchess sends her love, just be yourself'.

"That was the last time I heard from her."

Shane narrowly missed out on a spot in the I'm A Celeb final earlier this month, which was won by Giovanna Fletcher.

He also explained how his affectionate pet name for Barbara came around, with his Walford alter ego Alfie Moon calling her character Peggy 'Duchess' on the BBC One soap as well.

The actor shared: "That happened purely by accident, it was in the early days back when I started in the show in 2002.

"Off camera, I made a joke – we were talking about our careers over the years and I said: 'Ah, you're like a duchess!'

"I think I was making reference to Upstairs, Downstairs so I called her The Duchess off camera.

"All the writers and producers can see the studio floor and they must have twigged onto something as a couple of weeks later I got a script with Alfie and Peggy and I thought: 'Oh, hold on, there it is' – he was calling her The Duchess!"

The nickname stuck over the next 18 years, with Shane playing sweet tribute to Barbara on Twitter earlier today as he shared a selection of photos alongside the caption: "There are no words. She will always be my Duchess."

Barbara's husband Scott Mitchell confirmed that the star had died "peacefully" at 8.35pm yesterday [10 December] evening at a London care home.

Barbara was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2014 and made the news public in 2018.

In a moving tribute, he called her his "precious Bar" and said: "I've lost my wife, my best friend and soul mate."

He said the cherished actress's final weeks were "typical of how she lived her life" and "full of humour, drama and a fighting spirit until the end".

Mr Mitchell told PA: "Her passing was from Alzheimer's/dementia and Barbara eventually died peacefully and I spent the last seven days by her side.

"Myself, her family and friends will remember Barbara with love, a smile and affection for the many years of her love, fun, friendship and brightness she brought to all our lives and the entertainment she gave to so many thousands of others during her career.

"Barbara's final weeks were typical of how she lived her life. Full of humour, drama and a fighting spirit until the end.

"It was not the ending that Barbara or anyone else living with this very cruel disease deserve.

"I will always be immensely proud of Barbara's courage, dignity and generosity dealing with her own illness and still trying to help others by raising awareness for as long as she could."

Mr Mitchell, who alongside his wife campaigned for greater dementia care from the Government, added: "Dementia/Alzheimer's remains the UK's number one killer.

"Although in challenging times, I urge the Prime Minister, his government and other parties to be true to their previous promises and invest more into dementia/Alzheimer's research and care.

"Thank you to all the doctors, nurses and carers who are angels at the care home for your kindness and care to Barbara and I throughout her stay with you. You are my heroes.

"And my gratitude to our family, friends and everyone in the media and the general public for all the good wishes and warm support that has been shown to Barbara over the last few years during her illness. Barbara deeply appreciated that."

At the end of his moving tribute, Mr Mitchell said: "May you rest in peace now my precious Bar. I've lost my wife, my best friend and soul mate and my heart or life will never feel the same without you."

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