"I can't believe it myself. Where's the time gone?" she says, remembering the day on 16 November 1993 when, aged 21, she made her debut as Bianca Jackson, the fiery redhead of Albert Square. "It seems like yesterday."
She tells HELLO! in the interview in this week's issue that there are now changes ahead for Bianca, "including a love life and, hopefully, a new wardrobe! I'm sick of those puffa jackets and Bianca also needs a bit of passion in her life."
Does she ever tire of playing her? "Never. You change as you get older and so the character evolves, so it's like you are playing someone new all the time. She's part of me and I have made her who she is. I love Bianca."
She admits she didn't think she had a chance of getting the part of Bianca, who was supposed to be 16. "Back then, I was a single mum of 21. So when I got the job, I couldn’t believe it. I was living in a small flat in Bethnal Green at the time and I remember buying a bottle of champagne and asking the builders who were painting the outside walls to celebrate with me. We were all singing the EastEnders theme tune."
Her 1997 on-screen marriage to Ricky Butcher, played by best friend Sid Owen, drew one of the biggest soap audiences ever with more than 22 million tuning in.
Of recent viewing figures, she says, "Any show which has been on three or four times a week for over 25 years will have its ups and downs. Characters come in and out and, like real life, sometimes it doesn't gel. But fans still love the show."
See the full exclusive story in HELLO! magazine, out now.