Essie Di Lucca’s tragic ending will change Holby City forever

Essie's cancer plot is not just an important storyline, but a defining one for the BBC drama, says Laura Denby.

Holby City: Essie Di Lucca (BBC)

By Laura Denby

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Holby City’s Essie Di Lucca is currently at the centre of one of the show’s most heartbreaking plots – and given how much tragedy and sorrow that hospital has seen, this is quite a statement. After previously battling ovarian cancer, Essie’s illness returned and her condition is now terminal.

Every on-screen demise of any character provokes an emotional reaction with avid viewers; but Essie’s loss will have a long-lasting impact on the show.

Arriving on the wards as Nurse Harrison back in 2014, Essie quickly made her mark as an opinionated, but calm, presence at Holby – a winning combination. Essie can often be found alongside partner Sacha Levy (Bob Barrett) and friend Dominic Copeland (David Ames), but she has never been restricted to one group or department.

Her promotion to the role of transplant coordinator has seen her working in multiple areas of the hospital over the years, leading her to cross paths with various colleagues; including the staff of A&E in sister show Casualty and fellow nurses across other wards.

Her kindness and compassion knows no limits. Of course, she has been a steady support to those she is closest to; but she also offered advice to troubled Guy Self (John Michie) during one of her own worst days. She has a strong bond with Henrik Hanssen (Guy Henry), and Essie’s cancer storyline has brought her closer to Fletch (Alex Walkinshaw) too, as he dealt with his own diagnosis.

A scene between Essie and the formidable Jac Naylor (Rosie Marcel) is rare; but there is the potential for more before Essie’s last goodbye, particularly as  Jac is a close friend of Sacha’s. The brief exchanges they have had so far were memorable and thought-provoking, highlighting the character’s ability to find common ground with just about anyone.

Essie always makes time to go the extra mile for patients, too. There have been many who were comforted knowing they would be looked after by her, even asking for her by name. It may be unspoken but it is obvious she is everyone’s favourite nurse.

It is hard to believe that she has not always been a part of the show. Actress Kaye Wragg has given beautiful performances that have left us weeping at our screens, while delivering equally powerful moments of joy  – including the heartwarming romantic relationship with Sacha.

Holby City Essie Di Lucca
Holby City: Essie Di Lucca fights her cancer (BBC)

There is always warmth and wisdom in a chat with Essie, who can seamlessly fit into any storyline where and when appropriate. It is clear that no matter how well anyone knows her, there is a universal respect for her; putting her right at the heart of the show.

As such, we found ourselves hoping she would find happiness. Her wish to have a child was cruelly taken from her after her first diagnosis, and she decided to pursue adoption.

The opportunity arose when Ric Griffin’s (Hugh Quarshie) vulnerable teenage granddaughter asked her to adopt her unborn baby, but Essie endeared herself to us further by turning her down and offering support to them both instead.

Last year, she took over the care of a little girl, Isla, after a relative of her late husband Raf begged her to look after her. Although she put off informing the authorities, Essie eventually gained approval to be Isla’s official carer and after years of selfless behaviour the outcome felt very much deserved.

Although Essie has never faltered when others are in need, she has been reluctant to lean on them herself. She began to wonder what her purpose was now that her life was coming to an early end – so it was a great choice to bring back Raf (Joe McFadden), who appeared in spirit to give her the answers she needed.

The dedication and attention to detail given to Essie’s thoughts and feelings only proves how iconic and unforgettable she is.

Holby City never airs anyone’s passing without significant focus, and never without the sensitivity it deserves. However, the setting of a hospital allows the story to move on fairly swiftly, as death is more of a regular occurrence.

But if portrayed realistically, moving on will not be so easy this time. At the very least, the much-loved Essie should be mentioned frequently far beyond her final episode.

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Her death should have a profound effect on every character – and will change the show forever.

Holby City airs on Tuesdays at 8pm on BBC Two – find out what else is on with our TV Guide.