Jill Halfpenny says she’ll never again obey the showbiz rule to never work with children or animals.

The former EastEnders star and Strictly Come Dancing winner recently joined the cast of ITV1’s Wild At Heart and found herself sharing a tent with leopards.

“I’d been warned before I started that acting on the series could be a bit difficult to get used to at first – you can just as easily be performing with an elephant standing next to you or something, but lively young leopards wasn’t what I expected,” she said.

“It was a bit scary but, to my relief, they were very well-behaved and even though traditionally actors are warned never to act with animals and children because they always steal the limelight, I’ve enjoyed this so much I’ll ignore that rule in future.”

Jill plays Fiona Lynch, the estranged wife of vet Ed Lynch (Robert Bathurst), who will first make an appearance in the series on February 26.

She explained: “I think my character helps shake things up a bit. She’s pretty feisty and is trying to get back her relationship with her husband.”

Jill, who has also starred in Byker Grove, Coronation Street and Waterloo Road, said she was ‘always trying to push myself’ as an actress.

“I like doing different things and always try to avoid getting put in a box, where you do roles that people expect you to do,” she added.

“I’m always trying to push myself because I think that’s what makes life interesting, and keeps you on your toes.”