Casualty star Gabriella Leon: ‘This episode brings Jade’s invisible disability into the visible’

Gabriella Leon reveals what happens when nuse Jade Lovall meets her birth mother in Casualty…

Casualty nurse Jade Lovall first tumbled into Holby’s ED, late for work and hungover back in November 2018. Since then – and after numerous life lessons – the junior nurse has defied the odds to become one of the team’s most valuable and compassionate members, as well as a favourite with Casualty fans.

This week, Jade (played by Gabriella Leon in her first TV role) takes centre stage in a special episode of the BBC1 medical drama, which is told largely from her point of view.

‘Jade’s World’ follows the hearing-impaired nurse as she prepares to meet her birth mother, Susie (Shetland star Sophie Stone), to find out why she was put into foster care at three years old. But Jade soon discovers some shocking truths about Susie, Susie’s mother Theresa (Happy Valley’s Jill Baker), and herself…

Here Casualty star Gabriella, 24, who has had a hearing impairment since birth, tells us why she’s proud to be telling Jade’s story…

How is Jade feeling about meeting Susie at long last in Casualty?

Gabriella Leon: “She’s very nervous. This is probably one of the hardest days of Jade’s life. Jade knows very little about her life before foster care, and wants to know everything that happened. Deaf writers Charlie Swinbourne and Sophie Woolley, along with wonderful deaf director John Maidens, were the core of this episode. Our main goal was complete authenticity and a lovely, deeper understanding of Jade. It’s 100% a big team effort from all the cast and crew, made with a lot of love and heart.”

What happens when Jade and Susie discover for the first time that they’re both deaf?

GL: “There are so many emotions! It’s a pivotal, overwhelming moment, and the last thing Jade expected. There’s confusion, shock and even more unanswered questions. However, this story isn’t just about her condition; it’s about a woman meeting her birth mother for the first time, and the feelings that come with that are universal.”

Jade with her family as Susie is transferred from an ambulance to the ED

Keeping mum. Jade promises Susie she won’t reveal her true identity to Theresa…

And there are more twists when Susie’s mum, Theresa, turns up… What can you reveal?

GL: “All I can say is that Susie and Theresa have a very complicated relationship, and Jade’s day gets much worse! There’s confusion and an accident that happens very fast. Luckily, Jade is there as a nurse to help and assists Susie to Holby ED. I don’t want to give too much away, but the story does a brilliant job in highlighting the generational differences and prejudices surrounding deaf culture and attitudes towards deafness. Sophie Stone and Jill Baker are magnificent. I’m hopeful we will see them return.”

It’s important that Jade’s story in Casualty is told from her point of view…

GL: “It is. This episode brings Jade’s invisible disability into the visible. The way it’s shot allows viewers to be a part of what it’s like living as her, disability and all. We actively hear and see her struggles. Like myself, on top of her condition, Jade suffers with hyperacusis, which is a sensitivity to sound above a certain volume and frequency. It causes pain in her ears. The wooden, swinging ED doors are a definite trigger for this. Metal bins are a no-no! Jade daily has to try to ignore these triggers and continue doing a good job.”

Would you mind telling us more about your hearing impairment?

GL: “I have cookie-bite syndrome – it sounds delicious, but sadly it’s not! It’s a type of neurosensorial deafness that I’ve had since birth. It means I get some high frequencies and some low frequencies but the middle frequency, where human speech lies, is missing in large parts. I am a lip reader, and didn’t actually find out about my invisible disability until I was 18. My adult life has been enriched by discovering my deaf identity and learning about deaf culture, including sign.”

What does playing Jade mean to you?

GL: “It is genuinely so lovely to play someone like me! I like to think Jade is a homage to the real deaf nurses of our NHS; that they are seen, heard and respected. Jade isn’t defined by her deafness, and since her disability is invisible, Casualty is representing a much broader scope of who someone with a disability is. I feel it’s a duty to authentically represent this endearing yet clumsy, deaf nurse!”

Jade’s blossomed since her first appearance. Do you think this latest storyline will set her back?

GL: “Jade realises a lot about herself during these life-changing encounters. This is a story of acceptance and some closure on delicate chapters in her life. While old wounds are opened, Jade sees how strong she is and, for the first time, looks to the future. Jade has heard a lot of ‘No’ and ‘You can’t’ in her life, but rises against those notions. She’s resilient. I’m lucky that I can add understanding to Jade, having experienced most of what she has experienced regarding her disability.”

Marty and Jade hug, as he offers his support

Feeling the Lovall. Best pal Marty supports Jade through a shocking day

Has playing Jade changed your life away from the set at all?

GL: “I’ve been recognised quite a lot – including on a boat trip in Greece last summer! The positive response from deaf/deaf and hearing-impaired viewers is incredible. For some people this is the first time they’ve seen someone like them on screen. I am told frequently that having a character like Jade, who’s come from a difficult, troubled upbringing in the foster-care system with a disability to now being a nurse, has made people feel like they can do anything. It makes me feel amazing. I wish that growing up I’d seen more deaf representation on screen, so it’s really cool I can be that person for others. I now try to be an active voice for changing misconceptions.”

What do you hope that viewers will take from this week’s special episode?

GL: “I’m hoping it’ll start an open conversation between viewers and the wider industry in wanting to see more deaf/deaf and hearing-impaired and disabled storylines on screen. There’s a stigma that to be deaf or hearing-impaired you must sign fluently and have affected speech. I hope Jade is a small example of representing the wider scope of the deaf community. This episode is so special to me. It feels like a triumph. I’d like anyone reading this to remember that difficult and traumatic times in your life shape you into the wonderful person you are. So keep going!”

For more information, please visit bda.org.uk

This episode of Casualty airs on BBC1 on Saturday 11 July 2020 at 8.25pm.

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