My Son Charley Is So Excited He's Going to Have a Little Brother or Sister Very Soon; since Quitting EastEnders, Patsy Palmer Has Found True Love, Is Expecting Her Second Baby and Is the Happiest She's Ever Been. by Karen Hockney

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Patsy Palmer is wearing grey sweat pants, a charcoal jumper, trainers and a wide, wide grin. Her trademark long red hair is shining and her make-up-free face glows with health. There's just the merest trace of an expectant bulge beneath her jumper, which she lovingly pats with pride every so often while she's talking.

With a new man in her life and her second child due in mid August, things are looking good for 27-year-old Patsy. After six years of playing EastEnders' fiery Bianca Butcher, she waved goodbye to the role last summer to concentrate on being a mum to her eight-year-old son Charley.

But while she considered other job offers, fate took a hand, and Patsy and her boyfriend Richard Merkell were delighted to discover earlier this year that she was pregnant. With the birth now just three months away, Patsy is bubbling with joy at the prospect of being a mum again.

"I really can't wait for the baby to be born," she confides, barely able to conceal her excitement. "Richard, Charley and me are so excited about it all. Charley is so pleased that he is going to have a little brother or sister soon. I'm glad he feels like that because I wouldn't want him to feel left out. He is really looking forward to it.

"I was sick every day when I was pregnant with Charley. I had a terrible time. I was in and out of hospital on drips, and during the labour I was on gas and air for 12 hours. It was awful. I never thought I'd have another baby after that but it's amazing how you forget. I feel like it's the first time all over again. This time, I was sick for the first three months but I'm all right now."

There's no doubt that this time around, motherhood will be a very different experience for Patsy, who had her son Charley when she was just 19. Now, with 35-year-old Richard by her side, this real-life East Ender's dream of being part of a happy family is finally a reality.

"Richard can't wait. He'll be at the birth cheering me on," she says with a beaming smile. "It's so nice to have somebody. This is all I've ever wanted really, to have somebody who is so interested and who wants the same things as me.

"He's going to be such a good dad and it's so nice to have that expectation, isn't it? Because you never know how things will turn out, whatever your relationship is like. He is so brilliant about what I do. It doesn't affect him at all. A lot of people feel that they can't handle all the attention I get. Richard doesn't want any of that but he enjoys going to places and doing things with me. We get on really well, he's lovely."

They met more than ten years ago through Patsy's elder brother Harry, when the boys were training to become cab drivers, and became friends.

"I've known him since I was a kid but I never thought in a million years that we would be in a relationship," she says. "It probably could have happened a long time ago because there were a couple of situations where things could have taken off but I'm glad it didn't because it might not have worked out then."

They became a couple 18 months ago and although they talked of their desire to have children, the new baby wasn't planned. "We thought if it happens, it happens," says Patsy.

This fatalistic approach to life has stood Patsy in good stead when times have been rough. Her marriage to film-maker Nick Love ended after just five months but she remains philosophical about the break-up.

"I think people are very lucky when they have relationships from when they are young and they stay together," she says. "In this day and age, it's fantastic. I'd love to be like that. But things haven't worked out too badly for me. I'm happy now and that's the important thing."

With her personal life in order, Patsy's career is also flourishing and she has just completed her first project since leaving EastEnders, the BBC1 drama McCready And Daughter, which will be shown next month and may lead to a series this autumn. …