Patsy Palmer has said she did not tell EastEnders bosses she had a baby when she joined the soap over fears she would not get the job.
The actress joined the BBC One soap as Bianca Jackson in 1993 at the age of 20 and was a single mother to her son Charley, who was born the previous year.
She said she kept the fact she had a baby quiet in a bid to keep her role as the feisty character and that producers were “shocked” when she did tell them.
Palmer, 47, told Fabulous magazine: “I thought there was no way on earth I was going to get the job if they knew, so I kept it really quiet.
“The industry didn’t favour people with children, especially women.
“It was very hard back then for women. So I didn’t tell them until I started working there and they were really shocked.”
Palmer has four children. Charley is from her previous relationship with boxer Alfie Rothwell and she has sons Fenton and Bertie and daughter Emilia with husband Richard Merkell.
Speaking ahead of her return to EastEnders as Bianca next week, Palmer said she has found the experience of being on the set exhausting.
She said: “Even after just three weeks at work, I’m exhausted and I’m looking at them all and thinking: ‘God, this is hard’. Me and Danny Dyer were talking about it.
“He was new when I was there last time and back then he was full of energy and now he’s like… I mean, he’s there six days a week, 13 hours a day banging out one scene after another.”
“There’s hardly any rehearsal and they’re all trying to organise their lives and be with their families and have relationships outside of work. It’s difficult.”
Palmer, who currently lives in California with her family and enjoys a more relaxed lifestyle, added: “No wonder I needed to do something else! But it’s great fun and I told them that they don’t realise how close they all are.”
Palmer joined EastEnders in 1993 before leaving in 1999.
Her character’s relationship with Sid Owen’s Ricky Butcher was a hit with fans and their on-screen wedding drew an audience of more than 22 million.
Palmer returned to the fictional London borough of Walford for a second EastEnders stint in 2008, before leaving again in 2014.