The process of coming to terms with her sexuality has been fraught for Ackley Bridge‘s Nasreen Paracha.
Amy-Leigh Hickman’s character has had a fling with her biology teacher, and rejected her father’s plans for an arranged marriage in Pakistan; she has come out to her mother, come out to her best friend, and turned away from a sham marriage to a gay teenage boy. On top of all that, she has been blindsided by the discovery of her father Iqbal’s secret other family in Bradford.
But now – finally – she is ready to find a girlfriend.
“You see her just go, screw it – I’m going to do what I want, I’m going to do what’s right for me and make myself happy. She’s completely coming into her own,” Hickman tells RadioTimes.com.
That’s not to say things will be plain sailing. In the dramatic fourth episode of Ackley Bridge’s latest series, Nas goes for a drink with another girl – but it’s not a perfect match, to say the least.
Nasreen’s quest for love takes her to the football field, where her gay dating app has located potential matches. And, with some help from best friend Missy (Poppy Lee Friar), she is soon on her way.
The episode takes us beyond the “coming out” storyline, showing Nas looking for romance like any other girl her age – regardless of sexuality.
“It’s so important to see, because it’s something that people, teenagers when they’re 18, 19, 20, do and so why shouldn’t Nas?” Hickman says. “I really wanted Nas to have a little bit more fun, with everything that she’s been dealing with, and everything that she’s gone through in such a short space of time.
“So I was really glad that she’s just doing what other 17-year-old girls do when they want to find a date, and going out there. She’s like, ‘Right, where am I going to find people who are going to want to date me?'”
She adds: “I really like that about her, and it was Missy’s influence that kind of gave her the kick up the bum that she needed.”
In case there was ever any doubt that telling the story of a gay Pakistani teenage girl in a primetime Channel 4 drama was important, Hickman reveals the emotional encounters she’s had since making her debut as Nas in series one.
“I’ve had loads of tweets from people,” she says. “Asian gay or bi girls have come up to me in the street. One girl said, ‘Oh my mum doesn’t know, I’m going to tell her after university,’ and I said: ‘Well, what will happen then? Why are you going to wait until after university?’
“She was like, ‘Because she will disown me.’ And I was like, ‘What do you mean? There’s no other way?’ And she’s like, ‘No, but seeing the story on screen makes me really happy because of how many girls can relate to it.'”
Not everyone can be so open, even with Hickman. The actress asks: “How many girls that we don’t know about can’t own up to it? Because these girls can’t openly be gay and openly be who they are. So the amount of people who we think it’s probably touching, there’s so many more that actually we don’t know about because they haven’t told anyone.
“And yeah, I’ve had people come up to me and say that – this is the most amazing one – when they watched it they actually came out to their parents.
“So that, for me, is when you know you’re doing something great and it’s all worthwhile.”
Ackley Bridge continues on Tuesdays at 8pm on Channel 4