EMMERDALE star Paula Tilbrook, who played Betty Eagleton in the soap for 21 years, has died of natural causes at the age of 89.
Paula Tilbrook joined the soap as the sherry-swigging gossip in 1994 and left in 2015, returning for a brief cameo in the Christmas episode that same year.
Paula became one of the soap’s biggest stars when she joined as the straight-talking northerner.
Together with partner Seth Armstrong, played by Stan Richards, Betty often found herself at the centre of the show’s most dramatic storylines in her role as the village gossip.
She was last mentioned on the soap in February this year when the character rang Laurel Thomas to tell her that her father-in-law, Sandy Thomas had died.
As well as appearing in Emmerdale, Paula acted in Coronation Street in 1977 as Estelle Plimpton and returned the next year as a different character, Olive Taylor-Brown.
She also starred as the dog-loving Mrs Tattersall in Ronnie Barker sitcom Open All Hours and played the long-suffering Flo in Andy Capp in 1988.
A statement from Paula’s children read: “The family of Paula Tilbrook are sad to confirm the peaceful passing of their beloved Paula.
“She died of natural causes a few months ago at home with her loved ones beside her. The family respectfully requests privacy at this difficult time.”
Emmerdale added: “‘We are saddened to hear of the passing of our much loved colleague, Paula Tilbrook.
“Paula was at the heart of Emmerdale for many years and she will be greatly missed by all who worked with her and by the fans of her character, Betty.
“We have lost a great talent and a wonderful friend but she will forever live in the memories of those lucky enough to have known her.”
Paula has a son, Greg, and a daughter, Gaynor, from her marriage to late husband Leslie Hall.
Born in Salford, Lancashire in 1930, Paula also had a long career in theatre and her death, which occurred in December, was revealed in acting bible The Stage this afternoon.
The announcement of her death has left many fans devastated with one writing: “I loved that character – RIP Betty.”
Another said: “That’s a real shame. She was incredible as Betty. incredibly fun, and instantly enriched Emmerdale from the moment she arrived.”
A third wrote: “RIP Betty I met her at the Emmerdale studios in Leeds such a lovely lady I have a signed photo. she will be soorly missed brilliant in emmerdale.”
Classic episodes of Emmerdale featuring Betty are being replayed today, with several viewers saying they had just seen Paula on screen.