Former EastEnders star James Alexandrou has admitted that he collapsed after hearing the news that his screen mum Wendy Richard had died.

Alexandrou, who played Martin Fowler in the soap from the age of 11, said, “I think I was in denial about the whole thing.”

He added that he refused to believe the woman he referred to as “Mummy number two” was dying of cancer.

“I thought she was as tough as old boots and indestructible,” he admitted. “I collapsed because I wasn’t expecting it.”

He also revealed that he used to send Wendy, who had no children of her own, a Mother’s Day card every year.

“She brought me up on set and taught me to be a lovely young professional,” he said.

Alexandrou and former co-star Natalie Cassidy, who played his onscreen wife Sonia, were among the first people to visit Wendy’s husband John Burns after her death from cancer on Thursday.

The actress, who was 65, passed away in London’s Harley Street Clinic with Burns by her side. The pair married last autumn after Wendy learned that her cancer had become terminal.

Meanwhile another former co-star, Todd Carty, revealed that his recent Dancing On Ice stunt – in which he went hurtling off the rink into a tunnel – had made the actress laugh in spite of her illness.

“I’m glad I brought her a little joy,” he said.