Lisa Riley on why she’s back as Mandy in Emmerdale after 17 years

"I'm a Dingle for life!" says the returning star

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Emmerdale kicks off 2019 with the welcome return of the legendary Mandy Dingle as Lisa Riley returns to the role that launched her 17 years after she left, setting her on the road to a varied career that has included everything from Strictly Come Dancing, hosting You’ve Been Framed and starring in dramas such as Age Before Beauty and Fat Friends.

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Mandy makes a surprise comeback the week beginning Monday 7 January, interrupting the official wedding of Marlon Dingle and Jessie Grant and ending up becoming the couple’s witness – much to ex-husband Paddy Kirk’s unease, who is unnerved at seeing his old flame again.

The original Dingle diva, who first appeared in 1995 and became one of the most popular characters in the show’s history, is soon ruffling feathers in the village and clashing with Paddy’s partner, and fellow Dingle, Chas – but what has really brought Mandy back home? Who is the father of her 16 year-old son, Vinnie? And does her arrival spell trouble for Paddy and Chas? RadioTimes.com caught up with returning star Riley about digging out the leopard print and revisiting her famous creation…

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What finally tempted you back?
I’ve been asked ‘When are you going back to Emmerdale?’ since the day I left, and in June I was doing a Q&A event for Strictly and someone asked ‘Why won’t you go back?’ to which I had no answer. I’m the type of person that needs an answer, I can’t leave anything open-ended, so I thought why not, I’ve ticked my own boxes career-wise – I’ve done so much which has been great, and 17 years is a long time so I’m interested to see where Mandy has been – she put me on the map and it was seven wonderful years of my life. The reaction so far has been fantastic.

Does it feel like you’ve never been away?
It’s really weird. The whole process is different as they shoot more episodes, and the building layout has changed a lot so I don’t know where I’m going half the time! But they’ve been really kind and eased me in slowly. There’s crew here I’ve worked with on Waterloo Road and Scott and Bailey which is great. Everyone’s welcomed me back.

How did it come about?
I had a secret meeting, but as soon as I got in the cab the driver was like: ‘Oh aye, it’s Lisa Riley!’ As if I can ever come to Leeds in secret! I had time to have a think about whether it was the right thing but I didn’t take me long time once they told me the story. Initially the offer was for a long period but because of other work commitments, I’m only back for a short time so we’ve flipped the original storyline. It won’t be what people expect, which is even better, and leaves things very much open for the future shall we say. I’m not being killed off!

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Do people still associate you with Mandy all these years later?
I get on planes and I’m serenaded with ‘Mandy’ by Barry Manilow as I come down the aisle, it’s fun and proof she was loved. I grew up on Emmerdale and went through my teenage years on screen, then when I left and did You’ve Been Framed I was known as Lisa which was great. Mandy wasn’t exactly put in a suitcase but I was allowed to evolve as a person and doing the presenting meant the public saw me as Lisa Riley, my fun side. But acting is in my blood, one hundred percent, that’s what I prefer.

What’s happened to Mandy since 2001?
She’s still in Southampton, she has a teenage son, Vinnie. She’s been very happy and has a bit of money now, she’s not as down trodden as she was. Leopard print is now so on trend so we didn’t struggle getting her costume! Mandy is a bit more glamorous than the mismatch she was before.

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Was it easy slipping back into character?
Completely. The very first scene I  had was in the Dingle house, it took me back 21 years to when I painted the telephone pink in my lunch break and there are still remnants of pink paint on the phone! My stamp is still here. James Hooten (Sam) is like my little brother so we were reminiscing about stories from years back, it was so special.

Did you look at old footage of Mandy?
Of me thumping people? Yes! On my fourth day I had a stunt arranger, and that was me properly back, nothing’s changed! She’s still tactile and playfully punching Paddy in the arm!

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What is the dynamic with Chas, considering their shared history with Paddy?
Everyone assumes Mandy and Chas will hate each other, but sometimes there is girl power. They’re very similar in that they’re confident but it’s all bravado and inside they’re hurting. I honestly think Mandy and Chas could be sisters, it would be wonderful to explore that. They’ve both been through so much turmoil. When Mandy finds out about baby Grace there are some beautiful scenes. I was desperate to work with Lucy (Pargeter), who I’d never met before. On my first day back I wanted to tell her how brilliant I think she’s been. We’d never met before.

Does Mandy still have feelings for Paddy?
I don’t want to give anything away – that’s going to be a nice surprise. It’s the question that everyone wants to know, even my dad has been asking me! So I’ll let that evolve on screen. And I think you’ll like it. As to how it ended between them 17 years ago, Mandy doesn’t have regrets. And if she did, she’d she’d just make a joke and play the bravado card anyway.

Have you stayed in touch with the cast over the years?
Constantly – Jim Hooten, Mark Charnock (Marlon), Dom Brunt (Paddy) and Steve Halliwell (Zak). I’m a Dingle for life. There are so many Dingles, and the writers can take them down so many avenues. You can give them comedy, or stories that will break your heart. People still talk about Mandy and Paddy’s engagement to this day. I’m proud to have been there at the start of a soap dynasty!

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