Amanda Mealing has revealed she decided to step back from Casualty after a “quite gruelling” five years in which she used her time off work to take on other projects.
The actress, 53, is taking a break from the BBC medical drama, where she has played Connie Beauchamp since 2014, to focus on her production company and finish a feature film.
Her final episode on Saturday April 3 will see clinical lead Beauchamp embark on a career break and put her personal life ahead of work.
Mealing has been using her holidays to work on other screen projects and admitted the workload “eventually catches up with you”.
She told the PA news agency: “It has been a tough year, a tough year for everyone, and I think being on the show for a long time and a character that is inevitably in every scene, the work schedule is quite gruelling.
“I direct as well and obviously with the schedule the way it is with Casualty I don’t have any time to do other things, so I can only do those when I have annual leave or anything like that.
“I would use that time to go off and direct things and then of course over the course of five years I haven’t had a day off at all. It eventually catches up with you.
“I just thought with the way the stories were going it was a good time to take a break.”
Recent months have seen Beauchamp’s relationship with love interest Jacob, played by Charles Venn, fall apart under the stress of her high-pressure job as clinical lead, and her teenage daughter re-enter her life, prompting her to reevaluate her priorities.
Mealing said she had not told any of her cast-mates she was leaving and secretly returned to the set to clear out her dressing room.
Describing the situation as “really sad”, she added: “I just went back one weekend and packed up my dressing room without anyone knowing. I didn’t want anyone to know and I didn’t warn them.
“Usually the execs come down on set and they do this big speech. I can’t bear those things, I can’t bear them, and having to say goodbye to everyone, so I left as quietly as Connie does.
“Life imitating art or art imitating life? I don’t know which. I just left. I didn’t tell anyone so I had a lot of frantic calls.”
Beauchamp has been a fixture of the Holby City and Casualty universe since 2004, when she debuted in the former series as a cardiothoracic consultant.
Over the years the character has risen through the ranks, become a fan favourite and appeared regularly across both series.
Mealing said the response to her departure had left her emotional.
“What really shocked me was that when I made the announcement people were genuinely upset. Reading some of the tweets made me cry,” she said.
“This character has had such an influence on people’s lives. People saying, ‘I went into nursing because of you’. Just really fundamentally having an effect on people’s lives.
“I was genuinely humbled by it really. I don’t think I would have played a character for so long if she wasn’t so much fun.”
Mealing’s final episode before she takes a break airs on Saturday April 3.