Emotional scenes to be shown in next week’s Emmerdale will see Val Pollard talk to the Woolpack regulars about being HIV positive.
“Val believes that she stands a fighting chance of being treated with a bit of dignity if she allays people’s fears,” says actress Charlie Hardwick. “She gets this opportunity to tell the pub about the status of the HIV and also talk about the stigmas, myths, misconceptions and bigotry. Knowledge is power.”
At the time that Val was diagnosed with HIV in January, Emmerdale producer Kate Oates explained that she wanted to challenge preconceptions surrounding the condition. Speaking to ITV’s This Morning, Oates said of the plotline:
“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.”
For Charlie Hardwick, educating the audience is certainly an important part of the story. “We get a chance, as a programme, to allay any fears that our viewers may have, which I think is vital. Val gives a list saying, ‘no, you can’t get it from kissing or touching’. And she’s speaking both to the people in the Woolpack and to the audience at home. It’s a brilliant opportunity to put some truth out there.”
And what reaction does Val get from her friends and neighbours? “Well, the speech goes really well. People are moved by it and they admire Val’s courage and candour. I’ve found that this storyline mirrors what happens to people with HIV, albeit in a little microcosm and in a truncated space of time. The experience of a lot of people starts off with terror, then you get informed and then hopefully empowered.”