Shona McGarty has sensationally quit EastEnders after 15 years.
The much-loved soap star, 31, has been playing Whitney Dean since she was 16.
And while she admits it’s a ‘difficult’ decision to leave, she’s keen to ‘spread [my] wings’.
The cast shake-up also sees Lorraine Stanley, 47 — who plays Karen Taylor — also being written out of the BBC soap after joining Albert Square seven years ago.
Speaking about her exit, Shona told The Sun on Sunday: ‘I have decided to spread my wings and will be leaving EastEnders.
‘I have loved my years in the show.’
She added that she has many fond memories of her time on the programme: ‘I have been trusted with some incredible storylines and have made amazing friendships — and family — which will endure.’
Her final scenes will be broadcast early next year when her contract is due to run out.
It remains to be seen how Whitney’s exit will unfold, but producers are sure to be working on something special.
A source also told The Sun that Shona is ‘gutted’ to be leaving and will be ‘sorely missed’ by her co-stars after ‘growing up on set with most of them’.
‘But she feels like now is the right time in her life to step away and try something new,’ they added.
‘She is hoping the door will be left open for her character to return one day, but nothing is guaranteed and it is all in the hands of the scriptwriters.
‘They could decide that another soap death would create an explosive exit storyline and get people talking, but that’s always a risk actors have to take when deciding to leave.’
Shona is thought to be looking to ‘expand her career horizon’ with new projects after playing one character for many years.
‘As well as acting, Shona loves singing and has a real musical talent, so that is one of the options available,’ the insider added.
Over the last 15 years, Whitney has had some major storylines and been at the heart of the drama on the Square.
She joined the show in 2008 as the adoptive daughter of Bianca Jackson, played by Patsy Palmer.
Whitney was sexually abused at the age of 12 by Bianca’s fiancé, and proceeded to kill her own stalker, get married once, and engaged three times.
In 2016, one of her major stories came as she suffered a miscarriage and her unborn baby was diagnosed with the life-limiting condition, Edwards syndrome.
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