'I grew up glued to Eastenders - now I'm the new girl on Albert Square'
Former Kesgrave High School pupil Maria Louis - daughter of former Ipswich Witches speedway champion John Louis - has landed a role as Shelley on BBC's Eastenders.
The 28-year-old, who now lives in London, has revealed she was so nervous about watching herself on the soap she loved growing up that she couldn't turn the TV on until she'd made herself a gin and tonic.
Inspired to become a professional actress by her drama teacher at Northgate High School, Heidi Patrick, Maria started acting classes when she was just 12 - performing with the Suffolk Youth Theatre and Gallery Players in her spare time.
Her debut appearance on Eastenders on Tuesday night saw her punched in the face by Shirley, a moment she described to her Instagram followers as "absolute goals".
"I had a last minute phone call about the casting and cancelled three flights back home to see my mum in Poland just to get to the audition," said Maria.
"I actually arrived late and a little flustered so I was a bit shocked when they told me I'd got the part.
"I've been doing some voice over work and some TV appearances but this is my first prime time slot.
"It was surreal to see myself on the show I'd grown up watching, I was so nervous that I had to make myself a gin before I even turned the TV on!"
Maria's appearance in Eastenders is ongoing, but she was tight-lipped on how long a stint she would have on the show.
'Glued to the telly'
Having lived in Suffolk for most of her life, the actress said that although she lives in London she is always coming back to the county to see friends and family.
Her father is former GB international speedway champion John Louis, who is also dad to Ipswich Witches star Chris Louis.
She has always dreamt of being on Eastenders, and growing up, she was "glued to the telly" when the soap aired on weekday evenings.
"I've always been quite creative, I started dancing and acting classes when I was about 12," she added.
"But it was my drama teacher at Northgate High School, Heidi Patrick, who really pushed me in the direction of acting professionally.
"She was very inspiring and I've got a lot to thank her for."
'Maria made an impact from day one'
Miss Patrick, who is now head of drama and dance at Northgate, said she always knew Maria would have a successful performing career.
"There are not many students that instantly stand out as potential stars but Maria made an impact at Northgate from day one," she said.
"She had this fantastic work ethic and determination about her and was the most observant character actress who was really able to peel back the layers to find what motivated the characters she played.
"I always knew she would have a successful performing career."
- Watch Maria as Shelley on Eastenders, BBC One, weeknights except Wednesdays.