NeNe Leakes Is Leaving 'Real Housewives of Atlanta' : 'I Feel Like a Weight Has Been Lifted'

Leakes is exiting the reality show she's starred on since 2008

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty

You’re going to need a glass of wine for this one. After nearly eight drama-filled years on Bravo’s hit Real Housewives of Atlanta, fast-talking fan favorite NeNe Leakes is calling it quits, she tells PEOPLE exclusively.

Leakes, 48 – arguably the network’s biggest star, who’s been with the show since its inception – will not be returning for season 8. She says there comes a time when enough is enough.

“This was definitely a hard decision for me,” Leakes tells PEOPLE. “Me and my husband [Gregg Leakes] have been going back and forth on it for weeks now. But my contract is up and I just think this is the right time. This is my opportunity to spread my wings and do different things.”

The announcement comes with the news that Leakes will soon be focusing on totally new projects.

“I’m actually going to be doing a new primetime television show with a big legend,” Leakes teases of the series she begins filming this week. “All of my fans will get to see me be really happy, witty and funny and tell all of those one liners that I always have said on Housewives.”

It’s a positive new direction that the mother of two is more than happy to take.

“I feel a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders,” says Leakes, who throughout the years was the center of many arguments and altercations on the show.

RELATED VIDEO: NeNe Leakes Quits RHOA: ‘I Feel A Weight Has Been Lifted’

“There were times when I was a target,” she says. “I won’t miss the negativity.”

But will she be missed?

“I think some of the girls will be happy,” Leakes says. “They always felt like I was the star, and they were never able to really shine with me there, so here’s their opportunity to shine.”

But lest they get too comfortable, “I’m not saying I’m gone forever,” Leakes warns. “I’ll probably pop up and play with those girls every now and then.”

Bravo’s Andy Cohen is certainly leaving the door open for Leakes’ return, Tweeting on Monday evening, “We love @NeNeLeakes & she is always welcome back to the house she helped build! She’s a Real Housewife forever!!”

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