Julie Hesmondhalgh‘s Coronation Street co-stars have led the tributes to her character Hayley Cropper as millions of viewers watched her take her own life.

Julie has played transgender character Hayley for 16 years and when the actress decided to leave the soap, writers wanted to give her a fitting exit. After being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, Hayley decided to commit suicide as she wanted to be in control of her death.

An ITV spokeswoman said the second episode last night, which culminated in Hayley’s death, pulled in a peak audience of 10.6 million viewers.

More than 100,000 tweets were sent about the programme, with around 8,000 messages being tweeted every minute towards the end of the episode, and #goodbyehayley was the number one trending topic on Twitter.

Catherine Tyldesley, who plays Eva Price in the ITV soap, tweeted her support for Julie and David Neilson, who plays Hayley’s husband Roy, and admitted she was incredibly moved by their performance.

She wrote: “Master class in acting from @juliehes and David …just amazing… corrie. I’ve cried to the point of feeling sick. #GoodbyeHayley.”

Jennie McAlpine, who plays Fiz Stape, tweeted a picture from the filming of Hayley and Roy’s wedding.

Sally Dynevor, who plays Sally Webster, said: “One of the great iconic soap moments. Stunning @juliehes #DavidNeilson.”

Coronation Street’s Antony Cotton, who plays Sean Tully, tipped Julie to scoop a gong at the National Television Awards later this week, posting a picture of an award.

Julie, 43, said she was ‘totally overwhelmed’ by all the messages from fans, and said: “Night night Mrs Cropper. Thanks for an incredible 16 years.”