Natalie Cassidy feels "so fortunate" she had "strong women" such as Dame Barbara Windsor and Wendy Richard to look up when she was starting out on 'EastEnders'.

Natalie Cassidy

Natalie Cassidy

The 35-year-old actress has portrayed Sonia Fowler on the BBC One show since 1993, and she has paid tribute to the soap matriarchs ahead of going to visit 81-year-old Barbara - who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2014 - today (15.04.19) for the first time since her diagnosis was made public.

She said: "I've seen her a couple of times, but I didn't know then, it [her diagnosis] was still hidden.

"But after this I'm going round for a cup of tea, I can't wait to see her. We've made this a morning to go and see her.

"I don't really know what to expect, I just can't wait to see her.

"But it has been on my mind at the weekend, 'Will it upset me?' Because she is a wonderful woman who helped me.

"We had those matriarchal women at work, Barbara and also Wendy Richard.

"They taught us to be professional, to know our lines. Strong women. I'm so fortunate that I had those women to teach me. It's amazing."

Natalie will join forces with her 'EastEnders' co-stars Jake Wood (Max Branning), and Adam Woodyatt (Ian Beale) to take part in the London Marathon on April 28th.

The group - who also include Barbara's husband Scott Mitchell and 'EastEnders' star Emma Barton (Honey Mitchell) - are part of the running team Barbara's Revolutionaries, who are running the 26.2-mile race on April 28 for Barbara to raise money for Dementia Revolution - and Natalie can't wait for the big day.

Speaking on 'This Morning', she added: "I feel like the training is the hardest part, when you've got to get up in the middle of February and it's pouring with rain and cold and you've got to go out on your own.

"Once you get through the training, I'm excited for the day. Everyone says the atmosphere is amazing."

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