12/12/2011 17:59 GMT | Updated 11/02/2012 05:12 GMT

Getting the Life Balance Right

For me, life is all about getting the balance right, and I'm happy to say that I've managed to achieve that. These days, I'm a happy, healthy, confident woman looking forward to my future with excitement. Yet it's not always been this smooth. I've had my fair share of knocks, but have come through smiling on the other side, learning a few lessons along the way...

I was desperate to make it in show business from the age of 9. I had a very difficult upbringing and the stage always offered me that escapism, a break from reality and the chance to let my personality shine through. Then, as my career progressed, I felt the burden of responsibility and scrutiny coming from all angles. I had to have answers for all the questions at such a young age. The pressure definitely affects you and my health and wellbeing did suffer.

When I got my big break, playing Tiffany in Eastenders, I was only 18. So in many ways I grew up in the public eye and it was hard to get to know myself physically, intellectually and emotionally with my every step being watched. I was still very unaware and naive, and adapting was a strain. I then embarked upon my pop career and all of a sudden I was supposed to go from accessible to inspirational - quite an instant challenge! I was young and hard working so I coped but, in hindsight, there was always going to be impact on my long-term health.

One thing that can affect your wellbeing and peace of mind more than anything is being incorrectly judged, and this was happening to me around this time. In fact, I've always been expected to be more of a cockney than I am and back then I was definitely being judged more on my accent than what I was actually saying.

When I did My Fair Lady the problem with Britain's class system was highlighted, and issues with class and weight were brought to the fore when I did Love Actually. I think I've played a role in showing that such stereotypes are unfair and that you really can't judge a book by its cover!

My time performing in My Fair Lady was also notable for the health problems I suffered from. As I have mentioned, the weight of expectation and demands put upon me as I grew up were always going to affect me somewhere down the line and I ended up in hospital with my immune system shot to pieces. I was devastated to pull out of the show bur what it taught me was the importance of being strong and healthy - and that I really had to look after myself.

One thing you need to maintain in this business is confidence and there are plenty of people out there who will try to burst your bubble. My weight is something the press has highlighted and nasty comments used to knock me back. There was a time when I longed to be ultra-skinny but at some point I realised that ultra-skinny is not who I am. I'm a size 10-12 and proud! I always have been, so why change? As this dawned on me I felt less pressure to be someone else and my confidence grew.

These days I am much happier and more confident in my own skin than I was in my twenties. Through my work as an ambassador for Danone Activia I have learnt how important it is to look after your digestive health and it is this kind of effort that makes all the difference to how I feel. Activia is a really positive brand and helps me to get the message to women that it's ok to be real, and that looking after yourself and your wellbeing is the most important thing.

It's a lesson I've certainly learned the hard way. Now in my thirties I realise that you've got to follow your gut instinct, to use your own voice. I'm certainly more proactive now in helping women celebrate their differences than ever before. I had a great time in my twenties but there were definitely some very challenging moments. But I'd say they were definitely more of a blessing than a curse as they've helped me grow into who I am today, and given me the confidence to be who I want to be.