Charlie Hardwick has been talking about the emotive scene in next week’s episodes that sees her character Val Pollard diagnosed HIV positive.
“Battling ignorance and teaching our dear population at large is what it’s all about for me,” said the actress. “I want people to realise that being HIV positive isn’t the death sentence it once seemed. With the treatments available now people can lead completely happy, healthy lives.
“But even more importantly, don’t have unprotected sex. Whatever your age. Even if you’re too old to get pregnant, you’re not too old to catch something. If you’re going to have sex, you’ve got to get some latex involved.”
Over the past month, viewers have seen Val struggling to come to terms with the possibility that she may have the infection following the arrival of ex-boyfriend Ian, who disclosed that he has HIV.
In an episode to be shown on Tuesday 18 February, both Val and husband Eric Pollard (Chris Chittell) will be tested at a nearby clinic. But while Pollard soon finds that he's in the clear, Val is told that she is in fact HIV positive.
Later in the week, an emotional Val will also discover that Pollard had a recent one-night stand with Diane (Elizabeth Estensen), news that leads her to throw her husband out of the house.
Speaking to Total TV Guide, Hardwick revealed that she was left reeling after Emmerdale bosses told her of their plans for the character:
“I was staggered, mainly because of Val’s role in the show as a kind of fiendish comedy character. But I knew that it wasn’t going to be treated as a sensationalist or throwaway plot, but with the upmost dignity and respect.”
On the topic of this latest storyline, Emmerdale's series producer Kate Oates said recently to ITV's This Morning: "It's about HIV in a straight, middle-aged white married woman, which is not a story that I think soap has tackled yet. Obviously for a lot of soap fans, the last time they came across HIV in a big soap was EastEnders's Mark Fowler, which was a fantastic story and very much of its time.
"Things have changed so dramatically and I suppose I just wanted to tell a story that informed people properly, and made people realise that actually their preconceptions of what HIV is today really probably aren't right. What's interesting is that Val shares the stigmas that I want to bust through. She's a woman of a certain generation."