John Middleton – who plays Ashley Thomas in Emmerdale – appeared on This Morning today ahead of tonight’s special episode of the soap focusing on Ashley’s dementia.

John Middleton with Eamonn and Ruth on This Morning today.

The episode – which transmits from 7.00pm on ITV – was announced by bosses at the saga in November and aims to give viewers an insight into living with dementia. Its exact content has been kept under wraps by ITV. 

For the special one-off instalment the soap has deviated away from its usual production style with the camerawork and editing taking on a ‘distinctively different feel’ to convey Ashley’s point of view as he wanders the streets, confused after leaving hospital.

Ruth Langsford decided to sit alongside John, seperate to husband and co-host Eamonn, to illustrate and speak of her own experience of the condition, following her father’s death of dementia. Explaining tonight’s episode, John said,

“We are showing the world how Ashley sees the world through the distorted lense, if you like, of his dementia. He thinks he’s fully clothed, but he’s not, he’s in his pyjamas, people are concerned about him but he feels threatened by this and he goes into a shop – he doesn’t know where he is and money doesn’t make any sense anymore…”

Ruth said, “That actually hit home to me that scene – I was lucky enough to see a preview of tonight’s show – but for somebody with a family member with Alzheimers, things rang so true for me… I remember my dad struggling – and he was a bright man – but he was suddenly with [money] would have his hand out and would say ‘take what you want’ because he was looking at blank coins in his head I suppose.”

John replied, “If we do anything with tonight’s story, it’s to encourage people that when they see people confused to maybe help – don’t assume they are just off their head a bit – and that they may well have some form of dementia.”

On how families can relate to Laurel [played by Charlotte Bellamy] suffering also, Ruth confessed,

“When she said I am looking at my husband but it’s not really my husband, it’s really, really hard for families, because I felt that. My dad was there in body, the shell of my dad, but he wasn’t there… and the hardest thing is when your loved one doesn’t remember you. That’s so painful.”

She added, “Although some things were comical, and when he eventually was in a care home, my mum was visiting him with my aunt and uncle and they had This Morning on, and my aunt said ‘oh look, there’s Ruth’ and he looked over and said ‘Oh I can’t stand her!’… and you had to laugh! [looking at John] But I do appreciate how you’ve done the slow burn [of the storyline]…”

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Ashley struggling with his condition in an recent edition of the soap

Ashley Emmerdale

Early days at Emmerdale: Ashley Thomas arrived in the village in 1996

John replied, “That is one of the most gratifying aspects of telling this story and the number of people – I’ve done three memory walks now for the Alzheimer’s Society – and so many people were saying ‘thank you very much for telling this story’… it’s a huge health problem for this country and every country, mainly because we are living older.”

Ruth added, “What really struck home with me watching tonight’s episode is the fear you portrayed… I used to see that.”

On the future of his character Ashley, John confessed,

“I’m very sad to be leaving Emmerdale. I love the place, I love everyone who works there and I’ve got some great friends and colleagues there – some will be friends of mine for the rest of my life.”

At the end of the interview, getting emotional, Ruth said,

“I would like to say thank you from families because it’s not often that dementia gets represented so well and I think as a programme and you particularly John as an actor have done it so brilliantly. So thank you.”

Looking at Ruth, John replied, “That’s the best award I could possibly imagine or ask for, thank you.”

Still fighting back the tears joining Eamonn later, Ruth admitted, “I’m fine. I always get a bit upset talking about my dad, but it’s so important.”

John Middleton made his first appearance as Ashley in 1996. His storylines include an ill-fated marriage to Bernice (Sam Giles) and the birth of their daughter Gabby, a second marriage to Laurel (Charlotte Bellamy), losing his and Laurel’s son Daniel to cot death only to find out as a result of a mix-up that the baby wasn’t biologically theirs and that their real son is living with another couple; being stalked by Sally Spode (Sian Reeves); abusing his father Sandy (Freddie Jones) and more recently his diagnosis with dementia.

Throughout Ashley’s storyline, the rural saga has been working with the Alzheimer’s Society and MHA (Methodist Homes) to accurately depict his plight and tonight’s episode has been produced with the support of both.

Tonight’s episode of Emmerdale features unusual camerawork as a confused Ashley walks the streets.

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Emmerdale airs weekdays at 7pm on ITV, UTV and STV with an additional outing at 8pm on Thursdays. This Morning airs weekdays from 10.30am on ITV.
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