Come Friday, Emmerdale will never be the same again. The village residents and fans up and down the country will finally bid an emotional farewell to Ashley Thomas, who is set to pass away at home, surrounded by his friends and family. But there is plenty more to come before then. At a recent press conference, John Middleton and Charlotte Bellamy, who play Ashley and his wife, Laurel, revealed that the popular vicar will remember his wife’s name as he takes his last breath. Having forgotten who she was of late as a result of his tragic illness, the scene is even more poignant. The episode will also see his loved one sit around his bedside, with his friends Dan Spencer, Jimmy King and Bob Hope dressing up in pirate hats, in ode of the happier times they shared spending time on his son, Arthur’s pirate ship.
Ashley's family have been struggling to come to terms with having to say goodbye to him in heartbreaking scenes
John, who has played Ashley for 20 years on the popular ITV soap, told Press Association that his storyline was: “The best story anyone had pitched to me.” Speaking of the huge responsibility of getting such a sensitive storyline right, he added: “With shows like ours, we have to try twice as hard because we’re popular, so it’s expected we will be populist and we will do things that are sensationalist or will cheapen the story, but our producer Ian has been adamant we will not do that, we will tell the story as truthfully as we can.”
The 63-year-old described his time in the show as: “One of the most significant things that has ever happened to me,” adding: “It’s up there with getting married and having children. It has completely changed my life for the better, there was not a second I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed.”
Ashley took a turn for the worse last week
John Middleton has been hugely praised by fans for his portrayal of dementia sufferer Ashley
In the lead-up to his final episode, fans have been reminiscing about their favourite Ashley scenes, who first arrived in the Dales in 1996. On Twitter, Emmerdale took to asking their followers: “It's been over 20 years since Ashley Thomas appeared on our screens for the first time. What's been your favourite Ashley moment?”. One fan responded with: “When he got locked in the van with Chas Dingle,” while another questioned: “How DO you start with 20 years worth of Ashley Thomas?” A third added: “When he was in charge of the cricket team.” Another viewer praised John for his portrayal of the vicar, tweeting: “He has been the best character in Emmerdale bar none.”
Emmerdale has been hugely praised for the portrayal of dementia and the effects it has on the sufferer and their entire family. The soap even made history by showing a one-off episode entirely from Ashley’s perspective back in December to highlight the struggles and challenges people living with the disease face on a daily basis.