Actress Michelle Collins explains to PinkNews why she has long supported the work of the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) and recalls how she lost a close friend to an AIDS-related illness.

At a recent THT parliamentary event to mark World AIDS Day, Collins, who plays Rovers Return landlady Stella Price, told PinkNews.co.uk: “We’ve come a long way today in that loads of people support gay charities and it has sort of become the norm really, hasn’t it?

“I had a very good friend who died, who was HIV positive. And even when he died, his parents refused to accept the fact that he was gay. They just couldn’t come to terms with it because there was such a stigma then and they were in complete denial and we couldn’t go to the funeral.

“It was awful and I think we’ve come a long way since then, thank God. And I used to be his surrogate girlfriend but sadly, I still think a lot of people are in denial about it. Because we live in London, we think it’s great. We’re very modern but in lots of other parts of the country, people haven’t moved on and there’s still this terrible stigma.”

Before arriving in Coronation Street, Michelle Collins was best known for her role as scheming Cindy Beale in Eastenders. Commenting on her time in the BBC soap, Collins said: “One thing in particular is that Eastenders was very influential in the early days in their portrayal of the gay community and gay people. In those days, I think Eastenders was getting between 15 and 20 million viewers and that was amazing. Perhaps, other soaps or dramas weren’t tackling it as much. I don’t know so much about it now.”

The actress is currently writing a book and leaves Coronation Street next year. Last month it was announced that Charlie Condou, who plays Marcus Dent, is also leaving the ITV soap.

Paying tribute to the gay actor, who also resides in London, Collins said: “I’ll probably seen lots of Charlie anyway and we’re good friends”.