Emmerdale vet Vanessa Woodfield faces a long battle against bowel cancer, and as she starts chemotherapy next week actress Michelle Hardwick admits she knows if her alter ego will survive the illness – but wants viewers to see how the emotional plot plays out on screen.
“I was told the outcome straight away as soon as our producer Jane Hudson talked me through the storyline,” she reveals. “I’ve always known which way it’s going to go for Vanessa, and my lips are sealed!”
As she embarks on her treatment, Vanessa finds herself at odds with fiancée Charity Dingle (Emma Atkins) who is struggling with the diagnosis, and the couple end up clashing when they should be united.
“Charity is doing her best but the bottom line is she is scared of Vanessa dying,” continues Hardwick. “Vanessa is struggling to come to terms with her own mortality which results in conflict between them. This is beyond Charity’s control, she can’t fix this and Vanessa ends up feeling quite smothered.”
Relations between the pair are fractured further when ‘Ness feels so cooped up she insists on celebrating best mate Rhona Goskirk’s birthday with a drink or three, leaving Charity unimpressed when her girlfriend’s attempt at letting off steam sees her stumbling home more than a little squiffy…
“She just wants to get out of the house and have a bit of normality,” explains Hardwick. “Vanessa always has a drink with Rhona on her birthday so she drags her to their old student union bar and this lad chats her up. Then he asks what’s in her bum bag which has all her medication in it, and it brings Vanessa back to reality – she ends up getting more drunk and throws a drink over this guy!
“Then she creeps home sheepish and guilty, and Charity is not happy. Vanessa just needed an escape, it’s a one-off blowout. You can’t blame her.”
Whatever Vanessa’s eventual fate, this is a long-term story set to severely test ‘Vanity’ as a couple, and Hardwick admits it has been a daunting challenge in terms of bringing the disease to the fore.
“Audience feedback has been overwhelming, we have been praised from not shying away from describing symptoms and talking about poo and blood – saying those words to your loved one and your doctor isn’t something you normally see on TV. Working with Bowel Cancer UK has been massively helpful.
“It’s been tough but I want to do it justice for the people going through it in real life, that’s all I’m bothered about.”