Michelle Hardwick, an actress best know for her role in soap Emmerdale, has spoken out publicly for the first time to say that she is gay.

The 36-year-old actress, who plays Vanessa Woodfield on the ITV soap, said she is in a happy relationship with her girlfriend Rosie Nicholl.

Speaking in an interview with the Mirror, Hardwick said the couple met eighteen months ago, and were friends for a year before becoming a couple.

“Life is good – and my life with Rosie is a big part of that, it really is bliss. I’ve not spoken about it sooner because it never seemed like the right time.

“When I was in The Royal, the majority of our audience were older and I would have been nervous of revealing too much. But since joining Emmerdale I’ve been getting asked about my personal life and when people want to know ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ it’s tricky.

“I don’t want to hide anything. I’ve never actually been able to talk about ‘my girlfriend’ or ‘partner’ – this person that means everything to me, and it feels good to be able to finally do it.”

She went on to say: ”I do tweet, so people can see me and Rosie on there but they probably think we’re mates who share a house. People say, ‘I’d never have guessed you were gay’ because they expect you to look a certain way and I don’t fit their stereotype.”

Hardwick said she came out to her family at the age of 29.

She said: “The only thing my family were upset about is I hadn’t felt I could come out sooner… As a teenager, it was hard as I had to keep things secret and it shouldn’t be that way. Hopefully things are different now.”

Fans of the soap will see, by coincidence, a sexuality storyline for the character Vanessa, which will begin next week.