Another stroke makes Ashley’s dementia worse – and he finds himself alone on the streets. John Middleton tells Soaplife about some very different Emmerdale scenes…

Following another mini-stroke, Ashley Thomas is in hospital and his dementia worsens this Christmas. His memory is fragmented and, dazed, he wanders out of  hospital. What follows is a special episode to give viewers an idea of what it is like to be stricken with dementia. ‘He’s lost in his own world,’ actor John Middleton tells Soaplife.
How bad is Ashley’s condition now?
“He has moments that make sense, but they disappear. He has these times of absolute lucidity, which is torturous because he can then comprehend what is happening to him.”
Has this story affected your opinion of dementia?
“My awareness of it has grown tremendously. It’s a huge, huge problem. Nobody is sure why early onset Alzheimer’s is on the increase, although some cutting edge research suggests it could be to do with what we’re eating.”
What can you tell us about this special episode?
“It’s very experimental, but what we are trying to do is get into Ashley’s head and see how the world is for him. He is in an advanced state of confusion and keeps jumping in terms of where he thinks he is. It was a challenge to play.”
The story will lead to your departure – how do you feel about that?
“When our producer first came up with the idea, I said, ‘Let’s be brave about this, let’s tell the story and show its nastier aspects, its uglier and more embarrassing aspects’. I think the show is being very brave and, as an actor, this storyline is a gift.”
How have viewers reacted to the story so far?
“Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t come up to me and say, ‘Oh my auntie/uncle/grandmother etc has this condition’. It’s then that you realise the duty and responsibility we have to get the story right. It would be insulting if we didn’t.”
Will Ashley die in 2017?
“I can’t tell you. We are reaching a crisis point for Ashley and that could be it. Part of the intrigue of this story is that you don’t know what is going to happen.”