Emmerdale’s vicar Ashley Thomas is devastated when a doctor tells him he has early onset vascular dementia, John Middleton tells Soaplife…

Ashley’s been worried about his memory lapses, hasn’t he??

“He’s really concerned. He suspects they’re not down to his epilepsy or the head trauma he suffered. His great fear is that it’s some form of dementia because, deep down, he feels that something is very wrong. His memory is worsening and he has been hiding it. He uses a notebook as a crutch and now he’s having to depend on it for everyday things.”

Then Bob finds his notebook…

“And Ashley ends up telling him what’s going on and actually it’s a relief to share it with somebody. Bob [Tony Audenshaw] then goes with Ashley to the hospital and is with him when he gets the diagnosis. Ashley wants to his illness a secret. He’s terrified. He thinks his life is over and feels it’s desperately unfair.”

What is vascular dementia?

“It’s stroke related and one of the forms of dementia that is least helped by drugs. It can be a rocky road as you can experience a steep decline all of a sudden – it doesn’t have a smooth progress like Alzheimer’s. In terms of telling a story, it’s the most dramatic form of the disease.”

Does this mean you’re leaving Emmerdale?

“Yes. It’s the best story I’ve been given in my life, but I knew that it would mean I would have to leave the show. It’s such a challenge. Every year, I think, ‘Should I go?’ It’s a bit like being a footballer… you should only leave your team when you’ve had a good season. Hopefully, this will be the best season of my life.”

Could Ashley decide to choose when he dies?

“That is a mighty issue because he is a man of God and suicide is a sin in the eyes of the church. However, Ashley’s father helped his mother to die. It’s a furious issue between him and Sandy [Freddie Jones], but I have seen scripts where there’s a change in Ashley’s attitude.”

There’s a change in his attitude to Harriet, too.

“He tries to dump Harriet [Katherine Dow Blyton] to ensure he won’t be a burden on her. She will have to watch Ashley disappear and he can’t abide the indignity of her having to care for him physically.”

Will he turn to Laurel (Charlotte Bellamy)?

“He’s more likely to tell her than Harriet.”

How long have you got left in the show?

“I’m contracted until the end of next year, beyond that I don’t know.”

Emmerdale, ITV.