Emmerdale legend Elizabeth Estensen has announced she is leaving the soap.

After 22 years playing matriarch Diane Sugden, the actress has decided to retire.

The character has been at the heart of Emmerdale for more than two decades, having been married and widowed, and at the helm as landlady of the Woolpack for seventeen years.

Over the years Diane has been ripped off by her conman lover Charlie, and stabbed in the dark by Chas Dingle.

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She has also undergone treatment for cancer twice, been trapped at gunpoint in a siege, and lost in a mirror maze which ultimately killed her sister Val,

More recently, Diane helped Eric Pollard run the village B&B.

But after such an action packed life in the village, Diane will soon be packing her suitcases and heading off to warmer climes leaving her life in Emmerdale behind her.

On her decision to retire from the programme Elisabeth said: "For the past 22 years I have loved playing Diane Sugden - she’s kind, reliable and fiercely loyal.

Diane and Jack Sugden in 2000

"However, I now feel the time has come to say goodbye. Emmerdale will always remain special to me. I’ve been treated with respect and kindness and I’ve had the very best friends and colleagues, both past and present."

She added: "I'll miss everyone dearly."

John Whiston Managing Director of Continuing Drama and Head of ITV in the North: "For 22 years, Liz has shone through the screen and into our living rooms as the natural heart and centre of the Sugden family.

Diane when she sold half of the Woolpack over to Chas Dingle

"It's a role she has made so totally her own, bringing compassion, humour and credibility to her portrayal of Diane.

"Whenever she's on screen, as a viewer, you just let out a contented sigh and say to yourself 'The Queen is on her throne and all is well with the world'.

"And off screen, you don't get to stay in a soap that long unless you are a truly professional actor and really, really lovely person. Liz is both."

Although Liz has filmed her final scenes viewers will still be seeing her on-screen for a number of weeks.

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