Emmerdale: Gemma Oaten makes surprise return as Rachel Breckle’s testimony sends Charity to jail

"When I was told that it was going to be Rachel delivering the payback, we all decided to keep it a secret that I was coming back," says the actress

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Emmerdale certainly delivered surprises this evening: the first being the two-year prison sentence handed down to Charity, while the second was a shock reappearance from Rachel Breckle, whose damning testimony at the trial did for the accused.

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“It’s been hard keeping it all a secret,” admits Gemma Oaten, who makes her comeback on the ITV soap almost a year to the day since she made her exit.  “I’ve had to keep it very quiet – I didn’t even tell my granddad, bless him. He’s 97 and in a nursing home and every time I visit, he’s been asking me whether I’m now on the dole!”

In her 12 months away from the Dales, the 30-year-old actress has been keeping busy campaigning for her mum and dad’s eating disorder charity Seed, while also presenting the breakfast show in Leeds for Capital and doing a guest turn in hospital drama Casualty.

But she’d only just moved down to London when Emmerdale got in touch with an opportunity to reprise the role of Rachel.

“Back when I originally left, our producer Kate Oates did say that she’d be picking up that phone again. She was adamant that I’d be back, but you can never be complacent about these things.

“But it felt like I’d only been in London five minutes before my agent called saying that Emmerdale had been back in contact. And coming back for this storyline was massive. Charity has obviously got away with everything for years, ever since I used to watch the show as a little girl.

“So when I was told that it was going to be Rachel delivering the payback, we all decided to keep it a secret that I was coming back. To turn up and for the audience to not be expecting it is a real treat. It’s lovely.”

Viewers who have been following Charity’s machinations know that, back in 2014, she blackmailed Rachel into confessing to the fire at Home Farm that Charity and Declan started in order to get a framed Sam released from prison.

But in the time since Rachel fled, the loyalties in Emmerdale have shifted somewhat. So much so that Sam – Rachel’s former love – was tonight seen testifying on Charity’s behalf at the trial.

“Never in a million would Rachel think that Sam would defend Charity. That’s going to be a massive blow for Rachel,” continues Oaten. “She can’t believe it. But Sam is obviously torn – his cousin is in the dock, but she was the one who got rid of the love of his life. But then Rachel hasn’t been in touch with Sam in all this time. And now there’s Sam’s new girlfriend Tracy in the mix. It’ll be really interesting to see how it all pans out.”

Of course, Rachel has been featuring a lot in recent conversation, particularly since Jai ended up making a payment for their son Archie while she had a stint in rehab. So does Oaten think that fans might have been expecting a return from her at some point?

“Every single day I’ve had people asking me on Twitter: ‘when’s Rachel coming back?’ You should see the amount of tweets. But I’ve been so quiet about it all. So hopefully the reaction tonight will be big. And obviously this storyline is about more than just the return of Rachel. Charity has just been sent down as well!”

And for how long can we expect Rachel to be sticking around following her dramatic courtroom entrance? “Well, let’s just say that if viewers are fans of Rachel then they’re going to be pleased. And if they’re not, then you’re stuck with me for a while longer!”

Emmerdale continues on Thursday with a double bill at 7.00pm and 8.30pm on ITV

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You can watch a 60-second rundown of all next week’s drama on Emmerdale below