WATCHING the show she starred in for decades, EastEnders legend Barbara Windsor bursts into life when she sees the Queen Vic pub.
Heartbreakingly, it is the BBC1 soap in which she appeared as Peggy Mitchell for 23 years that now helps to bring back the brightest bits of Bar since she was diagnosed with Alzheimers six years ago.
Barbara Windsor’s husband Scott Mitchell has opened up about the star’s ongoing battle with Alzheimer’s
Today, in an exclusive interview, 82-year-old Barbaras husband Scott Mitchell has told how watching EastEnders with his wife helps her to battle the degenerative disease.
Speaking to HOAR on Sunday, he said: We watch every EastEnders episode. Theres always instant recognition when the theme tune comes on.
“Bar comes back then, although the first thing she usually says is, Oh I havent seen this for ages, even though we watch religiously.
Shell point at the Queen Vic and say things like, I used to work behind that bar, but she doesnt always recognise the picture of her character Peggy behind the bar.
The EastEnders icon, known for playing Peggy Mitchell, still watches the soap and remembers her time behind the bar
I usually point it out and say, Look, theres my wife in the pub, and shell say, Where? where? then eventually, Oh yeah. There I am.
There are plenty of people that she recognises instantly Gillian Taylforth, Adam Woodyatt. But its so sad to see her being slowly taken away.
Scott, 56, was speaking to HOAR on Sunday in his first interview since he revealed Barbaras devastating diagnosis to us with her full agreement two years ago.
By then it was already four years since Barbara had been diagnosed with the rare degenerative motor neurone condition myasthenia gravis a form of Alzheimers disease.
Barbara married Scott, her third husband, in April 2000
The Carry On comedy icon joined EastEnders in 1994 as feisty Peggy, with her regular cries of Youre barred! and Get out of my pub! becoming catchphrases.
Peggys death in 2016 was one of the most watched episodes in the shows 35-year history.
Now Scott is set to run the London Marathon in April in aid of the Alzheimers Society charity, to raise awareness of the 850,000 people in the UK who, like Barbara, are suffering from dementia.
He said: Barbaras condition has deteriorated since this time last year and there is a very poignant, strong expression that is used about this illness which is the long goodbye, and I think that is what it is.
Id say there is a frailty about Barbara. Shell forget that shes eaten, so 20 minutes after Ive made her dinner she will say to me, What are we going to eat tonight?
And I then say, No, weve just had dinner and you just had dessert, and shell say, I havent eaten. And my conversation for the next ten minutes could be, Yes, love, we did, repeating to her what we ate.
And she has some phrases she repeats time after time. She has a repetitive thing. Her most common one when we are at home is, When are we going home?
She will ask me, Why are there pictures of me all around this room? She doesnt recognise her location. She doesnt recognise her front room. She thinks shes somewhere else.
Scott says that watching the BBC soap helps to battle the degenerative disease
“When she says, When are we going home? I always say to her, Where is this other place? and shell never be precise about it, but shell say, No, my other house.
She can get frustrated that she doesnt live in Shoreditch, where she grew up.
She can get frustrated with herself that she cant articulate what it is that she wants to say.
Thats the very hard part for the carer of a loved one to watch, when theres nothing you can do to help them find the words and the thoughts they are looking for.
Thats when I feel at my most powerless.
Scott finds it heartbreaking to witness Barbaras memories gradually fading away before him.
He says ‘there’s always instant recognition when the EastEnders theme tune comes on’ and he says that Barbara likes to say she worked behind the bar in the Queen Vic
He said: Alzheimers comes along, rattles the bookshelves, and all of the books fall off, completely wiping away your lifes memories.
And what youre left with clearly are the ones right at the beginning, so Barbara will often say to me, Do you know how to get in touch with my mum? even though she died 30-odd years ago.
“That usually happens when shes most anxious, so I say to her, What was it you wanted to say to your mum?
And shell say, I dont know, and I say to her, Are you a bit anxious, Bar? and shell say, Yeah, I am, and thats the point where I can step in and hold her hand and say, Youre OK, youre at home and everything is OK.
Scott finds that other things help Barbara too, such as regular visits from showbiz friends and trips out
She gets quite confused and upset now and says things like, Oh, whats wrong with me? because she always prided herself on having this wonderful memory.
She had the most fantastic recall. She was the person people would phone and say, Barbara, none of us can think of the name of that person who was in that show in 1950, or whatever, and Barbara would always know it.
Today its a different story. Increasingly the star even fails to recognise her own husband.
Scott said: Its a lot more frequent now and there will be times when she might be thinking about something and shell suddenly look at me and say, Do you know where my husband Scott is?
Unfortunately there are bad moments of confusion, when she might forget who Scott is or not understand where she is
Then I look at her and smile and I go, Hes here. Hes here, and Ill show her our wedding photo.
Then shell say, No, I know youre my husband, but I meant… and then shell get stuck about what she meant.
But Scott does find that certain things help Barbara such as regular visits from showbiz friends and trips out from their home in Marylebone, central London.
This week the couple went to see the Mary Poppins musical at the Prince Edward Theatre in London and Scott said: When we walked in, literally the whole theatre stood up and applauded Barbara.
But there are moments of respite – like when the couple visited the theatre and received huge applause
I had to bite my lip because it was a very emotional feeling. She got this wave of love towards her and she embraced it.
“Barbara knows that the audience know her, and the strange thing is that the times when she comes back alive and is more herself than ever are when we enter a theatre.
Suddenly something happens to her and all she wants to do is talk to them, which is what she did at Mary Poppins.
The theatre manager told me in all his years in the West End hed never seen a spontaneous outpouring of love like it.
Now Scott is set to run the London Marathon in aid of the Alzheimers Society charity, to raise awareness of those who are suffering from dementia
By the time we got back and walked through our front door, shed completely forgotten that wed even been to the theatre. Shed had this wonderful experience but it was gone.
Barbara lives in her own moment and then, unfortunately, that moment disappears very quickly. But there are still glimpses of the old Barbara, like when her good friend Christopher Biggins comes round and suddenly she is so sharp.
For five or ten minutes shell come out with things just like the old wisecracking Barbara, and I love that.
I love seeing those glimpses of her, and I love the fact that Barbara and I still have a real laugh.
The couple have also met Boris Johnson to talk about Britain’s social care crisis
It is Scotts love for her which fires him up to run this years London Marathon for the Alzheimers Society.
Last September he met PM Boris Johnson to discuss Britains social care crisis and he said: The charities were working with have called it the Barbara Windsor Effect.
Im not going to ever feel guilty about the route Ive taken with this. The whole point is awareness not only of the people living with the condition but the families, too.
Its to point them in the right direction, to let them know whats available to them, and the truth is, there is very little help available.
Scott says the charities they work with call it the Barbara Windsor Effect but he doesn’t feel guilty about that as ‘the whole point is awareness’
The social care situation here is at breaking point. Its broken, and Boris said he was aware of this. He agreed that something has to be done.
Scott realises that the day will come when he will no longer be able to look after Barbara.
He said: Im in constant touch with the doctors so we do have conversations about the future, and the consensus is that for now shes best off at home with me.
But theres no timeline. I know people whose families have cared for their loved one for 15 years and others that can deteriorate very quickly, but what were dealing with here is the long goodbye.
Scott says he is unsure of their future, but no matter what he knows he is lucky to have shared his life with such an amazing lady
Its a very hard thing to watch the person you adore just being slowly, slowly stripped away. Unfortunately, its not a battle shes going to win.
Whatever happens in the future I know that Im lucky to have shared my life with such an amazing lady and I will always have her with me.
Ive got no choice. Ive got her name tattooed on my arm so Barbara will always be here.
- To sponsor Scott in this years London Marathon on April 26 and raise money for the Alzheimers Society visit justgiving.com/fundraising/Scott-Mitchell33.