He played Emmerdale's loveable Ashley Thomas for over two decades before his character's tragic death in 2017 – but actor John Middleton hasn’t been seen much on or off screen since his departure from the soap. However, on Wednesday, the 66-year-old made a rare public appearance to open the Alzheimer’s Society’s Memory Walk at York Knavesmire. Alzheimer's holds a special place in John's heart after it became an important storyline for his character Ashley, who received a shock diagnosis of young-onset vascular dementia in 2015, and his deterioration was shown in a heartbreaking but moving storyline until his death in 2017.
Addressing the crowd before he cut the ribbon to get the walk underway, John said: "Going into that Emmerdale storyline made me realise the issues that people living with dementia face. It’s a huge, huge issue. Having walked into it, I can’t walk away from it, so I’m doing this walk today. 67,000 people are diagnosed with dementia in the Yorkshire and Humber region alone so it’s big for the region, it’s big for the whole country - it’s the biggest health concern that we face. But today we’re united against dementia and we’re going to have a lovely walk."
John's character Ashley was diagnosed with dementia in 2015
He added: "Every penny raised goes to help Alzheimer’s Society with their campaigning, their care for people with dementia and their research. Let’s find a cure, let’s look after these people, and let’s have a great day." In the hour-and-a-half it takes to complete an average Memory Walk, 30 people will develop dementia in the UK. Alzheimer’s Society is committed to spending at least £150 million over the next decade on dementia research to improve care for people today and find a cure for tomorrow.
John and his on-screen partner Charlotte Bellamy, who played Laurel Thomas
Judith King, Head of Region at Alzheimer’s Society, who also walked at the York event, added: "I am absolutely delighted that hundreds of people from across Yorkshire united against dementia at the York Memory Walk, to improve the lives of people living with the condition. I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped make this Memory Walk such a brilliant success."
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