Barbara Windsor is still the wonderful person her friends and fans know and love despite her worsening Alzheimer’s, close pal Paul O’Grady says.
Blind Date host Paul, 62, has known Babs for 30 years and is speaking out about her illness to insist the EastEnders veteran is “still very much with us” and should be treated as normally as possible.
He says her husband of 18 years, Scott, 55, told him she would be delighted if Paul spoke out.
Paul adds: “We’re all here for her but she’s still Barbara Windsor.
“I don’t want people to think she’s completely lost her mind, because it’s not true. It’s not the early stages but she’s still very much the Barbara Windsor I know. She is a toughie and Scott is her rock.”
Carry On legend Barbara, 80, was diagnosed with the degenerative condition four years ago but has started to decline in recent weeks.
Paul says he has known about it “for a while now”, adding: “Scott phoned me up and told me.”
He adds:“I’m going to give her a ring over the weekend. It’s difficult to predict how she will be or how she’ll take it. We used to speak on the phone every Sunday at length about all sorts, about the business.
“She’d want to know the ins and outs. She’s always been very supportive and that’s the true mark of a professional.”
Paul and Babs – who played Albert Square’s Peggy Mitchell for 22 years – grew close after meeting at a showbiz do over 30 years ago.
In 2001 Barbara joined Paul, as Lily Savage, in a memorable Royal Variety Performance singing You’ve Gotta Have A Gimmick with Cilla Black in an illuminated basque.
“Cilla was the one with the lightbulbs and Barbara was the butterfly,” Paul says.
“It was great working with the pair of them. We were fabulous.”
He describes Barbara as a “consummate professional, always first on set, always on time and always word perfect”.
Reflecting on his pal’s long and varied career, which includes a role in Ken Russell’s 1971 film The Boy Friend, Paul says: “Barbara is so talented.
“She’s been on Broadway, she made that fabulous movie with Ken Russell and she’s sensational in it.
“She’s an all-rounder, Barbara, she sings, dances and acts. I know she’s known for EastEnders but she’s had this incredible career. The Carry On films, everything.
She’s a complete pro. She’s always on time, always knows her lines, has great respect for the producers.”
He likens her to her 91-year-old EastEnders co-star June Brown, who plays Dot Branning in the BBC1 soap.
Paul says: “They are always first on the set and they are always word perfect.”
Barbara and Scott revealed her health battle last week.
Paul says: “Scott gave his blessing for me to speak. When Cilla died all these people popped up on the chat shows who she didn’t even know.
“They were saying, ‘She was my greatest friend’, and you’re thinking, “So where were you when she needed you?’ I didn’t want to be jumping on the bandwagon.
“But Scott said if I said something she’d be made up.”
Paul stresses how important it is for people not to treat the star any differently because of her dementia.
Before he found fame he worked in social services offering respite care, including for Alzheimer’s patients.
He says: “You want people to treat you as normal. You don’t want to be spoken of in the past tense, like ‘she was this or she was that’. She is this, and she is that.
“She’s still very much with us. I think people have to remember that with Alzheimer’s, to treat people as normal as possible – and if you lose track and have a wild conversation you just go with it.
“I used to care for people with Alzheimer’s. They would say, ‘Did you hear that air raid last night?’ and I would have to get under the table.”
He says patience is needed when dealing with sufferers. “It’s just a nasty, nasty disease, what it does to people,” he adds. “It really is.”
Last week Barbara’s friends including David Walliams, Christopher Biggins and Ross Kemp rallied around after she and Scott revealed her diagnosis.
Paul says: “Scott’s incredible and he adores her. When they first got married, because of the age difference there was the odd snide remark, but they adore each other, they’re joined at the hip. That’s the sad thing with Alzheimer’s, it’s the people who care for you who suffer really badly.
“Barbara’s brilliant with the public. It’s “hello, darling”, she’s great with everyone. She was worried they might think ‘what’s up with her?’ That she wouldn’t know who they were or would ignore them. That’s why he came out about her Alzheimer’s before somebody else did.”
Neither Paul or Scott have been paid for their interviews. Scott told last week how Barbara cannot be left alone and cannot remember they are married.
He said: “The conversation’s turned to, ‘I think it’s wonderful you come here to look after me’. I say, ‘I’m not here to look after you, I’m here because I love you’.”
As do her millions of adoring fans.
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