Hollyoaks will tackle the topic of radicalisation when Ste Hay (Kieron Richardson) is groomed and exploited by a dangerous far right extremist group led by new character Jonny (Ray Quinn).
Grieving Ste wrongly blames Dr Misbah Maalik (Harvey Virdi) for the tragic death of his sister Tegan, and when Misbah’s son Imran (Ijaz Rana) accidentally burns down Ste’s food van business, it fuels his hatred of the family.
Ste’s public feud with the Maaliks brings him to the attention of the mysterious Jonny who befriends him and offers support as his life hits rock bottom. Unbeknown to Ste, Jonny is part of a far right extremist group and has identified the vulnerable villager as open to radicalisation, and over the coming months he will be subjected to a subtle and terrifying indoctrination process.
At first completely unaware of Jonny’s anti-muslim views, viewers will follow vulnerable Ste’s journey as he realises the group’s chilling agenda and fights to extricate himself.
The soap is addressing the controversial topic as the Home Office increases funding into initiatives to counter anti-immigration and anti-Islamic sentiments in major cities, and to examine how far right extremist groups target, groom and operate.
Why is Hollyoaks tackling far right extremism?
Executive producer Bryan Kirkwood said: “From our research we realised Ste was disenfranchised and vulnerable enough to be groomed into extreme views. The more we learnt about how insidious these groups are, the more passionate we became about telling a story about how hate and fear can destroy communities.
“It’s also a modern story about protecting young people online who are susceptible to fake news, the echo chamber of the internet and the algorithms that can lead people, in this case a much-loved character, down a rabbit hole into a terrifying world – and how difficult it can be to then escape from. We hope to engage people in an issue they may not have previously been aware of.”
Speaking about his character Ste’s major new plot, Kieron Richardson added: “Ste is vulnerable and isolated, it’s very believable he would be receptive to people who might not have his best interests at heart.
“I was unaware of what radicalisation was or meant at first, and after a lot of eye-opening research I’m nervous, honoured and excited for this very different soap story to be told by our gutsy, amazing team.
Harvey Virdi, who plays Misbah, said: “Hollyoaks is taking a bold step to highlight racism from far right extremism. We can make people aware of the far right preying on the vulnerable and manipulating them into being radicalised.
“It’s something that needs to be talked about, how these groups actively use social media to target vulnerable, lost people and become a key part of their life and try and influence how they see the world is quite scary. I am glad to be involved in such an important issue.”
When does Ste’s radicalisation storyline start?
Channel 4 and Hollyoaks are working with a range of expert advisors and charities on the storyline, including Exit UK which works with the Home Office to extricate those who have become involved in far right extremist groups, and Jamie Bartlett, author of the book Radicals in which he shadowed movements with extremist views.
“It’s vital to get beyond the caricatures and understand the way extremists operate,” said Bartlett. “Often their appeal is about more than the ideology, playing on local dynamics, exploiting legitimate personal grievances or even just seeming to provide purpose and meaning. We rare see beyond the headlines of how radicalisation plays out in people’s lives, so having the chance to see the story unfold slowly over time will help viewers understand the reality of why and how people end up getting sucked into these groups.”
The slow-burning storyline kicks off next week with the arrival of Jonny, played by X Factor and Dancing On Ice star Ray Quinn.
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