Emmerdale stars Mark Charnock and Verity Rushworth have said they were delighted to bring Donna Windsor-Dingle back to the show because it was like a reward for viewers.

Verity, who previously played Donna for 12 years, rejoined the ITV soap earlier this year after a five-year break.

Donna has returned as she has terminal cancer, which she is keeping a secret so that she can make sure ex Marlon Dingle (Mark) and their daughter April, who he has only just discovered exists, can bond before her death.

Mark said: “I’d been tipped off about the storyline and I thought it was really exciting. That’s the great thing about soaps, you can bring somebody back who’s been such a strong part of the show and it’s sort of like a reward for the viewers who’ve stuck by us because they can relate to her past.

“You can’t do it in any other form of drama really apart from soap – where you can reach into the past and bring it to now and it lasts a decade, so it’s great.”

Verity agreed: “There’s so much going on with her that for me as an actress it’s so juicy and I feel quite lucky that I’ve had this amazing storyline, I’m just really enjoying it.”

Mark said that he felt Emmerdale, which won Spectacular Scene for The Woolpack’s siege and flood at the British Soap Awards 2014, was going through a golden period. “The scripts that are coming through, it’s brilliantly written and you get the scripts and think, ‘I can’t wait to film this.’ That’s what it’s like at the minute.”

Verity added of returning: “I was a bit nervous about [returning] and then within about two hours, I’d been welcomed with open arms by everybody who I’d worked with previously. Mark’s been brilliant to work with.”

Mark joked: “I’m a nightmare, I’ve been really hard on her. Nasty, quite nasty.”

The actress laughed: “It’s good though, it keeps me grounded. But everyone’s been so lovely, it’s like a real family up there, it’s a really happy place to work, so I feel quite lucky that I had the experience again.”