Emmerdale star John Middleton to leave Ashley Thomas role

"I'm actually finding the prospect of leaving very exciting," says the actor, who has been a mainstay on the ITV soap since 1996

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Actor John Middleton, who plays vicar Ashley Thomas on Emmerdale, has confirmed that he is to exit ITV soap.

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The 62-year-old is currently involved in a storyline that has seen Ashley fear that he may have early onset dementia.

Although the timeframe of the plot has not yet been decided, Middleton will leave when the emotionally charged story reaches its conclusion.

Speaking about what lies ahead, Middleton said:  “I’ve known about it for a year. I had a meeting with [producer] Kate Oates and she asked me if I was happy to do the storyline.

“Kate suggested that I might like time to think about it, but I recognised it as the best story I’ve been given in my life and fully embraced it.

“Inevitably, it will take me out of the show. Every year I do think, ‘Should I go?’ It’s a bit like a footballer: you should only leave the team when you’ve had a good season. If I’m up to it, this will provide me with the best season I’ve had in my life.”

Middleton has been playing the role of Ashley since 1996 and has been involved in a number of high profile story arcs, most notably the cot death of screen son Daniel and the domestic abuse of father Sandy.

His current Emmerdale contract will take him up to the end of 2016, with terms beyond that point still to be discussed. 

On the topic of life after Emmerdale, Middleton added: “I’m actually finding the prospect of leaving very exciting. It’s another roll of the dice. I couldn’t ask for a better storyline to leave the show on.” 

You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of Emmerdale below.

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And visit our dedicated Emmerdale page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers.