EastEnders star Pam St Clement, who plays Pat Butcher, is to leave the programme.

The 69-year-old actress, who has described herself as bisexual, made her debut in the soap in 1986.

Since then, Pat has loved and lost, survived a heart attack, been in prison and traded blows with Peggy Mitchell.

In a statement, she said: “I have enjoyed 25-and-a-half wonderful years in EastEnders creating the character of Pat but feel it’s time to hang up her earrings.

“Leaving the EastEnders ‘family’ will be akin to a bereavement. But I’m looking forward to the other work and life opportunities that I will have the time to pursue.”

EastEnders bosses have not revealed how Pat will leave the show, although an explosive finale is likely.

St Clement, who has campaigned for gay rights with Stonewall, has rarely spoken about her private life.