The Calmer Palmer; Patsy Palmer's Early Life Was More Eventful Than Her Most Outlandish Soap Opera Scripts - Which Is Why, She Tells Jon Wilde, She's Finally Ready to Spare Herself the Drama

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Patsy Palmer should be easy enough to spot in a semibusy seaside cafe. After all, on the strength of a six-year stint on EastEnders in the Nineties, her face is among the most instantly recognisable from British television. Yet it takes me a minute or so to pick her out from the midmorning latte-lappers. Not because she's been physically transformed in any way. She doesn't look different so much as completely renewed.

The old Patsy was known to introduce herself to interviewers with lines such as, 'I always feel so unattractive' and, 'I have no idea what happiness is like'. This morning she opens the conversation by beaming, 'You know what? I no longer feel ill at ease with the world and ill at ease with myself. After all these years, I finally feel sane.' You half expect her to follow that up by declaring that she's found salvation in the Lord. But it's not religion that Patsy's found - it's herself. Not least, the confidence to express herself, at the age of 33, as a strong, independent, highly sexual woman - as the photo above attests.

'There have been times in my life when I haven't felt remotely sexy,' she says with a disarming frankness that she sustains throughout the interview.

'In fact, I've felt like that all my life. Until recently, that is. Five years ago, even a few months ago, I wouldn't have been confident posing for photos like these. I would have looked at 17-year-old girls in magazines or Sharon Stone looking so fabulous at 48 and think, "I wish I could have that kind of confidence, but I'm a mother of three and I can't be shown that way."

Then it dawned on me that it was more than OK to feel strong in that way and that I could show my sexy side.' It's impossible to imagine the old Patsy Palmer saying all this. The old Patsy Palmer instinctively embraced the negative, blaming everyone but herself for the way her troubled life had folded in on itself, doing little to challenge the media perception of her as a victim.

'For so many years I went around thinking, "Woe is me,"' she says. 'But the older I get, the more I realise that everyone has had traumas to deal with, everyone has had failed relationships. What I know now is that I'm responsible for everything I've done in my life. I've stopped blaming. I had to realise that blame has been a big part of my journey.' Patsy was born Julie Harris in 1972, the youngest of three, to mother Pat and cab-driving father Albert. He walked out on the family when she was eight.

'I didn't deal with that at the time,' she says. 'I was good at covering it up. I suppose I didn't want to feel the pain of abandonment. It's only in recent years that I've met up with my father again.

He's a gorgeous man and I don't blame him for anything. But it took me a long time to reach that understanding.' Growing up in London's Bethnal Green, she was a painfully insecure child who became an obvious target for schoolyard bullies. Remarkably though, she found the confidence to work as an actress from the age of six and, for three years, appeared in the West End production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. At 11, she enrolled at Anna Scher's famous afterschool theatre classes and won the part of Natasha in Grange Hill.

'I've no idea how I found the confidence to get up and act. It wasn't even that I had a great ambition to be an actress. It's just something that happened to me. I can see now that acting suited me because, when I was acting, I didn't have to be myself. Acting is a great job for people who don't want to face themselves. In a way, it was the first of my many addictions.' Before long, those addictions began to hurriedly accumulate. 'I was drinking alcohol from the age of eight. I'd empty the bottles that my family hadn't finished. It was a bit of fun really. I thought I was being a free spirit. Then I wanted another drink and another drink.

Alcohol was something that made me feel comfortable so I would seek it out. …