After a first seizure last week, Emmerdale’s long-running vicar Ashley Thomas was diagnosed with epilepsy only minutes ago! Epilepsy Action’s Claudia Christie describes the organisation’s involvement in writing the storyline and talks to actor John Middleton about his role
There’s never a quiet week in the land of soaps, but it’s a rare thing to have epilepsy portrayed in not one but two of the biggest soaps on network television.
After Epilepsy Action consulted on Nancy Carter’s epilepsy in last year EastEnders storyline, it’s now the turn of ITV1’s Emmerdale to raise awareness of the condition.
Village vicar Ashley Thomas – who was critically injured in a car accident just last week – has now been diagnosed with epilepsy.
Ashley is played by the actor John Middleton, who says of his dramatic new storyline: “I thought it would be a challenge – I thought it would be good to get [epilepsy] out there as an issue. I was very happy it was me!”
John is no stranger to Epilepsy Action. Only last year, John was the organisation’s guest of honour at its Leeds Christmas Carol Concert.
John continues: “I had previously done something for Epilepsy Action at Christmas in Leeds Minster, so I was very happy to do it.
“I didn’t know that much about [epilepsy] until I did the research into it. I began to I realise there are many sorts of seizure, about 40 different sorts. As I read the script, I realised that what the people who’d written this had in mind was a tonic-clonic seizure – and it was carefully researched. ‘Now that,’ I thought, ‘is challenging… I’ve got to try and get this right.’”
Epilepsy Action’s advice and information team had assisted Emmerdale’s writers in making sure the scenes were medically accurate. Meanwhile – with extensive online research, including Epilepsy Action’s own website – John became much more confident about portraying Ashley’s condition.
He continues: “The more I found out, the more I realised that epilepsy is different for each person. Nevertheless, as an actor it’s one of those things that you‘ve just got to go for – you can’t do this by half measures. I hope I’ve got it right! I did have medical advice on the days that we shot this – they seemed to think it was accurate.”
Having learned more about epilepsy, John feels even more passionately about the work of Epilepsy Action. Particularly the organisation’s current Seize Control campaign helps empower people just like Ashley to seek out routes to better care and treatment.
John says: “The main thing I would like to highlight is the misdiagnosis of epilepsy and the fact that 70 per cent of the people with seizures could be seizure-free, if they had the right medication.
“It’s been worked out that 52 per cent do get the right medication – but unfortunately a good proportion of people don’t. About 108,000 people are not getting the right medication – they could be seizure free but they are not.
“I know that Epilepsy Action is highlighting this because of the Seize Control campaign.”
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