Shock scenes just broadcast in tonight’s double bill of Emmerdale have seen beleaguered Donna Windsor (Verity Rushworth) die – but from a fatal fall rather than terminal cancer.
Donna – who knew that she had just weeks left to live thanks to a diagnosis of mesothelioma – took a plunge from the top of a building, taking local gangster Gary North (Fergus O’Donnell) with her in the process.
“I was absolutely petrified,” says Verity Rushworth, when asked about performing the stunt. “I’m scared of everything – I’ve never even been on a roller coaster. In the end, I ended up jumping about five feet! But psychologically I was worried that they’d taken the crash mats away. And it did still feel like a really long way to fall.”
This evening’s episodes mark the end of Rushworth’s 16-year association with Emmerdale, with the actress having now done two stints as Donna, the first between 1998 and 2009 and the second from March this year.
“I got very emotional on my final day,” she admits. “Initially, I thought it’d be fun to pop back, see my friends and then leave again. But it was like rejoining a family and saying goodbye was really hard. Mike Parr [Ross], Mark Charnock [Marlon], Charlotte Bellamy [Laurel], Dominic Brunt [Paddy] and Zoe Henry [Rhona] also took me out for a meal in Leeds and presented me with this Marc Jacobs purse. They were so generous. I couldn’t believe I’d swung back for five months and was going away with a Marc Jacobs!”
Since Donna returned to the Dales, viewers have seen her character turn to criminality in a bid to secure her daughter’s future. But Donna’s boyfriend Ross (Michael Parr) could only look on in horror tonight as she made the ultimate sacrifice, believing that Gary would end up harming young April if she didn’t take drastic action:
“There’s no other way out,” Donna told Ross. “Tell Marlon and Bob I’m sorry and I’m sorry to you too for lying.” And with that, Donna took her leap into oblivion, dragging Gary – to whom she was handcuffed – over the edge with her.
As for what happens next, Rushworth is in no doubt as to how she wants the aftermath of her character’s demise to play out on screen. “I want to see them all grieving like they’ve never grieved before,” she says with a laugh. “I want tears from Ross, tears from Marlon – I want them all to be really pining for Donna!”
Now that she’s completed her second (and final) stint on Emmerdale, the 28-year-old has returned to the London home she bought last year, having spent her time while filming on the soap at her mum and dad’s house near the ITV studios in Leeds.
“Next, I’d like to do some post-watershed drama where you can really let rip,” she says. “There are obvious compliance restrictions where Emmerdale is concerned – you can’t swear or show too much violence. So, in some ways, it is easier to portray a character post-watershed. I’d like to do something gritty.”
But for fans of Donna, there is at least a small glimmer of hope, at least if series producer Kate Oates gets her way. “Kate is very much up for a Bobby-in-the-shower moment,” smiles Rushworth, referencing the miraculous resurrection of Patrick Duffy’s character in Dallas. “It could all have been a dream!”