Inside Emmerdale Elizabeth Estensen’s life – kids’ TV, rival soap and iconic wig

Emmerdale fans were heartbroken when it was announced in September that long-time star Elizabeth Estensen would be leaving the show and retiring.

Elizabeth, 72, has played the role of Diane Sugden for more than 20 years after she joined the cast back in 1999.

She described the role previously as "a tart with a heart", and initially struggled with the tight clothing and high heels required for her character's wardrobe.

She won awards for the role though, including one for Spectacular Scene Of The Year at the British Soap Awards for a house collapse that Diane was involved in.

Here's a look at Elizabeth's life.

The Liver Birds

Elizabeth had been acting in the theatre when she got her big break.

After graduating from Manchester Polytechnic, she was performing onstage in the theatre in John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Bert when she was spotted.

Soon after she was cast to replace Polly James in The Liver Birds, and she played the part of Carol Boswell for four years from 1975 to 1979.


After her success in The Liver Birds, Elizabeth was cast in a very different role as the lead of a children's TV show called T-Bag.

T-Bag, also known as Tallulah Bag, was a witchlike character, and starred with her assistant called T-Shirt. The series was a hit and ran from 1985 until 1992 on CITV.

Estensen left the show in 1990, and the character was replaced by her character's sister, Tabatha Bag, played by Georgina Hale.

Coronation Street

While she may be most familiar to many fans as an Emmerdale character, there was once a time when Elizabeth had a role in rival soap Coronation Street.

She played the role of Fiona Middleton's mum, Pam, from 1996 to 1998.

Pam first arrived on the cobbles to support the opening of Fiona's hair salon, and she later comforted her daughter when her wedding was called off.

She later told Fiona to leave the street after discovering Steve McDonald was having an affair.


Elizabeth joined the cast of Emmerdale in 1999 after leaving Corrie, and landed the role of Diane Sugden.

She has played the role for more than 20 years, and had many major storylines including illicit love affairs, a colon cancer battle, being held hostage at the Woolpack, sleeping with her sister Val's husband, and being involved in a helicopter crash which killed Val.

As if that wasn't enough, Diane was also stabbed by Chas Dingle, and found herself involved in a feud with Chrissie White.

The iconic wig

Fans of Diane were stunned when they found out her flawlessly coiffured blonde hair was actually a wig.

Elizabeth appeared on This Morning to be interviewed and revealed her longer, naturally silvery grey hair.

Viewers couldn't believe the difference, although Elizabeth looks stunning both ways, they were so used to seeing Diane in her tight-fitting outfits without a hair out of place in the show.

Jack Sugden

Elizabeth said she initially wasn't sure what soap fans were going to make of Diane's steamy romance with Jack Sugden.

According to the Mirror, Elizabeth was concerned that people would be put off by Diane and Jack being older but still full of passion for one another.

She needn't have worried though, as the star said it was "absolutely fine" in the end, and the fictional couple eventually married in 2004 before Jack sadly died off-screen of a heart attack in 2009, when actor Clive Hornby tragically died in real life.

Meeting the Queen

Elizabeth says one of her proudest moments was meeting the Queen on the set of Emmerdale back in 2002.

It proved to be a memorable occasion, as the village post office was blown up in a stunt just feet away from where they were standing.

While the cast and crew all acted shocked, it was said that Her Majesty remained calm, with Elizabeth saying at the time: "It was a big explosion, but I remember the Queen didn't seem phased at all."

Emmerdale airs weeknights at 7pm, with an extra episode at 8pm on Thursdays, on ITV

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