CLIFF Parisi has a criminal past as a bank robber and served 18 months in prison for his part in the job.
The I’m A Celeb contestant was living in North London when he fell afoul of the law and says he “went off the rails”.
Cliff, 59 – who shot to fame as Minty in EastEnders and now stars as Fred Buckle in Call the Midwife told the Sunday Mirror: “At the age of 19 I got involved with a bank robbery and I was jailed for 18 months.
"This has hung over me like a black cloud. It was a massive mistake that I made and I deeply regret it.
“I am relieved that it is now out and I hope that people will find it in their hearts to forgive me”.
Father-of-four Cliff’s criminal shame from 1979 has never been revealed.
A source who knew Cliff in his teenage days said: “He became friends with this group of people who were doing really dodgy things.
“He was very different to how he is today. When they robbed the bank some were armed. One went to prison for quite a long time.”
Cliff was introduced to acting through a jail rehab programme which saw him perform with young people in the community.
He then changed his surname from Manley to Parisi in order to make a fresh start.
The source continued: “It was the prison service which introduced acting to Cliff and encouraged him to go for it.
"He may not have ever considered it if he hadn’t gone to prison and taken it on as part of his rehab.
“But he is very grateful that he was given a second chance at life. He has always worked very hard and is hugely sorry about what happened when he was a teenager.”
Cliff was raised in Crouch End, North London, after a traumatic start to life which landed him in care.
He was only a few months old when parents Irene and George were kicked out of their home in London’s East End.
They lost their house after their landlady cooked up a scheme to “buy” Cliff and his one-year-old sister in exchange for rent.
Irene and George refused.
The family ended up sleeping in Victoria Park, Hackney, before social services took the kids into care.
They were eventually returned to the couple.
Cliff’s dad George Manley recalled just how tough it was.
He said: “Life was very hard in those days. I had a very poor upbringing and things were tough for most people. All the times were hard, we lived in one room in Crouch End. It was very, very hard.”
Cliff put his criminal past behind him after being released from jail.
He performed stand-up comedy then took up acting, appearing in Chancer and Kavanagh QC.
In 2002 he shot to fame as soft-hearted mechanic Minty in EastEnders.
He left in 2010 and for the best part of a decade has played handyman Fred in Call the Midwife.
Cliff is married to BBC production assistant Tara Wyer and they live in Highgate, North London.
They have a son, three, and Cliff has three grown-up kids from previous relationships.