Star of British soap opera Emmerdale, Michelle Hardwick, has said that her role in the television series helped her to come out as gay publicly.

The 37-year old who plays Vanessa Woodfield on the ITV soap, announced in July that she is in a happy relationship with her girlfriend Rosie Nicholl.

She said she came out to her family ten years ago, but that she realised that playing the high profile role would have made it harder for her to keep her private life private.

In an interview with Reveal, she said: “I was so tired of saying I didn’t want to talk about it, or lying and saying I was single… I’m proud of who I am and I’m proud of my girlfriend.

“Now [I'm] in Emmerdale there’s more interest in me. It was something I was going to do anyway, but being in the show probably jogged me on to do it sooner.

“There were always going to be people who knew about me and they could have been quick to put in on Twitter or whatever, and I just thought, ‘I want to do it myself’.”

On coming out publicly, she said: “I wasn’t nervous about whether or it was the right thing or wrong thing, I was just like: ‘Oh my goodness, what’s going to happen now?’”

Since coming out, Hardwick has said that the reaction from fans had been “very positive”.

“A lot of people have even said that I’ve been an inspiration to them, so it’s amazing to be helping other people,” she said. “It all happened at the right time for me and I’m so glad that I did it. I’ve not had one negative comment at all, which is lovely.”

The latest storyline featuring Hardwick in Emmerdale, saw her character Vanessa develop feelings for her married best friend Rhona Goskirk.