Saturday 24 February 2018

John Middleton set for Emmerdale farewell after dementia storyline

By Lucy Mapstone

It’s the end of an era for the soap star.

Emmerdale star John Middleton has described his time on the soap as “one of the most significant things that has ever happened to me”.

The actor’s character Ashley Thomas will die during Friday’s episode after a long battle with stroke-related early onset vascular dementia.

Viewers will see Ashley’s friends and family gather at his bedside to say goodbye and share his last hours, and John said he is still coming to terms with his own farewell to the show.

He told the Press Association: “It’s utterly bizarre. In many ways, after 20 years you become institutionalised, so I will miss this place in ways I don’t yet properly understand.

“Twenty years is half of my career. It’s one of the most significant things that has ever happened to me, it’s up there with getting married and having children.

“It has completely changed my life for the better, there was not a second I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed.”

John said playing out the two-year dementia plotline was “the best story anyone had pitched to me”, adding: “It became totally absorbing and you find yourself propelling towards the end of it.

“What was touching was the sensitivity on the set, people really wanted to get this right. There were a lot of tears shed and it was a very special day.”

John said his biggest concern has always been doing justice to the people who are suffering from the disease in real life.

He continued: “When we were first handed it we thought ‘what a great story’, but when we met people with the condition we thought of the weight and relevance of the story to these people, and the responsibility of telling this story accurately, because it would have been a massive insult to these people if we didn’t, they would quite rightly be furious with us.

“With shows like ours, we have to try twice as hard because we’re popular, so it’s expected we will be populist and we will do things that are sensationalist or will cheapen the story, but our producer Ian has been adamant we will not do that, we will tell the story as truthfully as we can.”

The story of Ashley’s dementia has been a huge hit with viewers and Charlotte Bellamy, who plays Ashley’s wife Laurel, said they have been so affected by the plotline she is often approached by fans.

She said: “It’s always supermarkets, I can never get round.

“It’s so heart-warming when someone comes up and they feel a connection with you, you told a bit of their story, just one element makes them feel not alone.”

The programme broke new ground with the storyline in December, screening an entire episode through Ashley’s eyes to show his confused point of view, but John said he hopes for a new challenge next.

He said: “What I hope to do is something radically different but at the same time I would be very lucky if I got something as challenging, demanding and satisfying as this story we have had over the past two years, its been an absolute privilege to play.”

His final episode will air on April 7 at 7pm on ITV.

Press Association

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