RITA Simons played tough, glamorous and straight-talking Roxy Mitchell on BBC One’s EastEnders for 10 years, until her role ended dramatically last year, when she drowned in a swimming pool with her on-screen sister Ronnie.

Since then, she’s proved there’s life after Albert Square. She’s set to star in feature film The Krays: Dead Man Walking which is released later this year but first she’s starring in a a UK tour of Legally Blonde The Musical which comes to Manchester later this month.

Based on the hit movie starring Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde tells the story Elle Woods, the glamorous homecoming queen who after being dumped decides to enrol at Harvard Law School and prove she’s no airhead.

Rita plays her confidante, hairdresser Paulette Bonafonte, and she admits that the role has helped her adjust to life away from Albert Square.

“It was tough when I first left and I missed it terribly, because I’ve made lifelong friends,” she said. “But I’ve been so lucky. I’m having a ball! I’ve done a film and I’m touring with possibly the best cast I’ve ever met, in Legally Blonde The Musical.

“Every soap actor feels secure in their job and it’s always scary to leave, but I had faith that it would work out and it’s been wonderful to have so many new opportunities to show what I can do.”

Elle Woods is played by former X Factor finalist Lucie Jones who has gone on to star in a number of musicals including Les Miserables, We Will Rock You and Ghost. Former Coronation Street star Bill Ward - Charlie Stubbs in the TV soap - plays Professor Callahan.

As well as becoming one of Eastenders’ most popular characters, Rita gained something special from her 10 years on the show.

“The greatest thing to come out of Eastenders is that Sam (Samantha Womack, who played her sister Ronnie Mitchell) is like my sister. In the 10 years that we worked together, we never had an argument. We FaceTime each other about six times a day and she’s my best friend for the rest of my life. I adore every inch of her.”

Legally Blonde has been playing to packed out houses at some the UK’s biggest theatres and before the show reaches Manchester took time out to talk about her daughter Maiya’s hearing problems and how she deals with her own anxiety.

“When we were told that Maiya, at five months old, was deaf,” she said. “It was shattering and I was in complete denial. Tests revealed she has a genetic deformity of the inner ear.

“She’s profoundly deaf in her right ear and is partially deaf in her left ear, but a cochlear implant four years ago and hearing aids have changed her life. Before that, she used to have tantrums, because she was so frustrated at not being able to hear properly.

“Today, she has an incredible singing voice, impeccable speech, an ear for accents and her talent even won her a place at drama school. She has her own agent and has auditioned for West End shows.

“There’s still a worry about safeguarding the hearing in her left ear. t. It’s also at risk if she has a knock on the head or hears an extremely loud noise, but Theo - (her husband, hairdresser Theo Silverton) - and I resolved years ago not to mollycoddle her.

“We’d rather she grew up having fun, than grew up with issues because she’d been restricted from being a normal child.

“As someone who has to go through every day caring for a child with hearing problems, my advice would be to do all you can to prevent hearing loss, especially at a young age. It can be hard to get the message across to youngsters about the need to protect their ears and be careful about not listening to music at excessive noise levels, but once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.”

Rita is supporting a Cochlear campaign to raise awareness of the risk of permanent hearing loss. For more information visit www.cochlear.com.

She also talked about her battle with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

“It’s difficult sometimes,” she said. “It’s like a terrible knot in your stomach and it’s to do with producing too much adrenaline.

“I go through phases with it; I’m in a good one at the moment where it’s barely there, which is amazing. I aim to channel my nerves and anxiety into my performance, to make it a positive in my life.

“Going to the gym and looking after myself helps. Also, I’ve been meditating religiously for the last five months, and it’s really made a difference.

“I’m genuinely so happy in life. I’m not aiming for world domination - I just want to carry on doing the things which make me happy work-wise, which are acting, singing and dancing, and being with my family.”

Legally Blonde, Palace Theatre, Manchester, Monday, June 25 to Saturday, June 30. Details from 0844 871 3019 or www.atgtickets.com