The intimidation campaign against Leyla Harding (Roxy Shahidi) in Emmerdale reaches a terrifying climax next week when the wedding planner is cornered by her mystery stalker and she’s forced to defend herself, leading to the eventual unmasking of the culprit.
A series of unexplained events, including the trashing of the Take a Vow office and scathing online reviews of the business, have been clearly constructed to rattle Ms Harding’s cage. The pranks get more sinister when a man approaches her in the village believing she’s posted a saucy profile on a dating app.
Disgusted at his sleazy suggestion of a hook-up, mortified Leyla despatches the dodgy fella and realises someone has fabricated the profile to tarnish her name. Later, a hooded figure jumps out at her in the office and Leyla throws a vase, sending the assailant packing. As she puts the pieces together, the realisation of her tormentor’s identity starts to emerge.
“There’s been a few things happening and she links it together quite quickly,” says Shahidi. “The bad reviews, someone putting her on this website, not being able to access her online diary – they’re very personal and you’d have to have been in the office to get on the computer, or know Leyla well enough to get that particular image for the profile.
“Whoever is behind this must have a lot of animosity towards her. However, she initially has no idea who it is or why it’s happening, and it’s a very unnerving time.”
The most obvious suspect is Leanna Cavanagh, bratty teenage daughter of Leyla’s boyfriend, local GP Liam Cavanagh. Relations between the women were far from perfect in the early days of the doctor’s latest romance as they fought over Liam’s attention, but the stroppy schoolgirl seems to have warmed to her dad’s latest squeeze. Does that discount her entirely?
“After the incident in the office she tells Liam she’s scared someone is going to stab her in her own bed,” continues Shahidi. “Literally using those words, because every part of her world is being invaded. It’s terrifying and very real to have someone in your space like that.
“Leyla doesn’t just cower in the corner though, she throws something at them, but she’s definitely very scared. Being broken into and someone hiding in the dark is the climax of all the scary events.”
Emmerdale has confirmed the penny finally drops for Leyla, but the tormentor’s identity will remain a secret until the episode airs – and Shahidi is giving nothing away as to her alter ego’s reaction.
“How she responds will depend on who it turns out to be and what their motives are,” she says, carefully. “Leyla can be very empathetic, forgiving and understanding, but equally she will stick up for herself and won’t be walked all over.
“So I think once she finds out, she will act accordingly depending on who that person is…”
The attack is the latest scene to present production challenges with regard to maintaining the high drama of a soap within socially-distant working restrictions.
“It was a tricky scene to film,” acknowledges Shahidi. “Take a Vow is a very small set, but having someone in your space in the dark is very scary and I hope we managed to capture how afraid and intimidated she is.
“She doesn’t actually attack the intruder she throws something at them, but that is a more powerful act from a distance so I think we used the fact we had to be quite far apart to our advantage in the scene!”