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Any Emmerdale fan worth their salt will remember Donna Windsor’s dramatic exit. Terminally ill with lung cancer and desperate to expose notorious criminal Gary North, Donna handcuffed herself to the thug and jumped from the roof of a multi-storey car park – killing both of them.
It marked the end of a long stint on the soap for actress Verity Rushworth, who took on the role aged 12. She left the ITV hit after 11 years in 2009, but returned for a few months in 2014 – with Donna’s dramatic final scenes airing on Verity’s 29th birthday.
Since her Emmerdale exit, which won her the 2015 Soap Award for Spectacular Scene Of The Year, Verity has had Amelie, four, and Ethan, 22 months, with hubby Dominic Michael Shaw.
She lives in Biggleswade, which she admits sounds like a place from The Lord Of The Rings, but when we catch up after our photoshoot, she’s revelling in a spot of self-care at a spa hotel.
“I realised this year that time like this is so important for people with young children,” the 35-year-old says. “I’ve never embraced this kind of thing before but my mum is helping with the kids, so I’m taking my chance.”
Career-wise, Verity’s done anything but slow down. She’s been busy on the West End stage, starring in shows such as Hairspray, The Sound Of Music and Kinky Boots. Most recently, she was receptionist Lily Walker in Doctors.
Here, Verity talks about finding the balance between fame and family, shares stories from her life on screen and recalls meeting the late Nikki Grahame at her 21st birthday party…
Hi Verity! We hope you enjoyed the shoot…
I was so nervous about it. I’ve never done an “at home” before and I have two monkeys for children, so I didn’t know how easy it would be. I’m thrilled with how everything panned out. The cushions might not always have been straight but the kids were great and I felt really good about myself. That’s all that matters.
Did Amelie enjoy dressing up?
She was obsessed with the clothes! She couldn’t wait for the stylist to arrive.
Your home is gorgeous. Do you enjoy interior decorating?
I love it. I recently started decorating Ethan’s bedroom, as he’ll be moving out of his nursery. It’s a farm theme.
It all looks so perfect. Is that reality or is family life difficult sometimes?
It’s really difficult! I want to send a big high-five to all the parents out there who’ve been homeschooling in lockdown. Some days are great but there are times when you need to have a little cry in the shower, and that’s okay. We should all be allowed to vent and say when it feels hard.
Has being in showbusiness ever made motherhood harder?
There was always mum-guilt when Amelie was little. I was in Kinky Boots and felt so lucky to have that opportunity but I also had a one-year-old baby at home and needed to be a mum. I had to juggle the two, which was exhausting. But it came down to remembering that I didn’t set out to just be a mum – I wanted a career too. I wanted to be a role model and show my daughter that she could do both.
Was homeschooling a challenge?
It was brutal. I went into full military mode to get through it. I think Amelie enjoyed it though. The only problem was Ethan would rip up her work. He likes the sound it makes!
How do you get through the tough days?
You’ve got to when you have kids. Every morning, it’s up at 7am to do breakfast, get them ready for school. You just get on with it.
Is there anyone you lean on for support?
I’m trying to be more open with my friends, which I’m finding really helpful. I’m the queen of rambling voice notes!
You’re very close to your parents, too…
Yeah, I’m an only child and there are no grandparents left on either side. My mum’s mum passed away really young with Alzheimer’s – she was only 65 – so it’s just us three. They’ve recently moved closer to me, which has completely changed my life.
Time to talk telly! You played Donna in Emmerdale for over a decade…
I know! I went in as a 12-year-old and didn’t really know what was going on. The contracts kept coming and all of a sudden, I’d been there for 11 years! I was 23 when I left [the first time], so still young. If we’d had social media back then it would have been horrific.
You did grow up in the limelight though. Is it true Nikki Grahame [who died in April, aged 38, after battling anorexia] turned up at your 21st birthday party?
Yes! It was at the Park Plaza in Leeds and by coincidence she was staying in the same hotel, so she just joined the party. I got so much street cred as everyone thought we were friends.
What was she like?
She was really famous because she’d just come out of Big Brother. We all screamed when she walked in. We had the most amazing time. She was really sweet and so friendly. She was getting so much attention though, it was as though Madonna had walked in. Looking back, I think that pressure must’ve been really difficult.
Why did you leave Emmerdale?
I was at the peak of my training and desperate to get into musical theatre. I spoke with my agent and gave Emmerdale my notice – I think they were shocked!
What was it like filming Donna’s final scenes on the roof?
I did my own stunt, so I just wanted to get it right. I was petrified. I remember talking to Michelle Keegan about it because she did exactly the same thing with the same director [Duncan Foster] when Tina McIntyre died in Corrie.
Are you sad that the door wasn’t left open?
It would have been nice but the storyline wouldn’t have been as good and I don’t think I’d have won the Soap Award.
Are you still close to any of the cast members?
Yeah, it’s like a family that never leaves you. I’m really good friends with Mike Parr [Ross Barton], Sammy Winward [Katie Sugden], Mark Charnock [Marlon Dingle] and Charley Webb [Debbie Dingle]. They all come and see me in the theatre and Charley actually gave me advice for the shoot, which was really sweet. She’s got three boys, so she gave me some tips. She just said, “Get your mum down!”
Do you still get fan mail and do viewers recognise you?
Loads of fan mail still comes through, so I really must get some new pictures, as the ones I have are about 15 years old [laughs]! I think since my recent stint in Doctors, viewers have put two and two together and remembered me from Emmerdale.
Tell us more about your recent role in Doctors…
It’s a semi-regular role as a receptionist called Lily Walker. I had such a lovely time filming, so I hope I can go back at some point. It was just a bit bizarre with all the Covid restrictions on set. My character had a relationship with Al Haskey [Ian Midlane] which ended in engagement and Ian and I had to portray that without ever getting within two metres of each other. We had to do lots of eye chemistry!
So does that mean there was a body double?
Yeah, I felt so Hollywood! It was Ian’s girlfriend Caoimhe Farren, who’s also an actress, so she did all of the snogs and cuddles.
You and Ian had great on-screen chemistry though…
I really enjoyed acting with him. I just found out that Doctors nominated us for a Soap Award for Best On-Screen Partnership, so I’m really chuffed about that. It’s just not my year though, because the Soap Awards have been cancelled!
You’ve got to laugh. I also had tickets to see Little Mix but that’s been cancelled as well. Plus, my Eurostar voucher expired in December. Things come in threes, I guess.
Would you ever do Coronation Street or EastEnders if they came knocking?
And what about Strictly?
I’d love to! I’d want Aljaž [Škorjanec] to be my partner. I’m obsessed with him! I also went to see Kelvin [Fletcher, ex-Emmerdale star] perform in 2019 and was so proud. Who knew he had those snakey hips?
You’ve done so much theatre work. Have Amelie and Ethan seen you in anything?
They’ve seen pictures and videos. It’s exciting as they get older though. I’m taking Amelie to see Hairspray on her fifth birthday and she knows that mummy played Penny, which she loves.
And does she want to follow in your footsteps?
Absolutely. I promise I’m not a pushy mum, but she’s pitch-perfect and she’s a natural.
What about Ethan?
He’s obsessed with diggers and construction. I’m devastated. I’m like, “Please put a pair of ballet shoes on!” Don’t get me wrong, if he’s into diggers and wants to be a builder, that’s great – it’s just that standing out in the cold to watch construction sites isn’t my favourite thing!
What does the future have in store?
I’m looking forward to the theatres reopening. I’d love to do more TV and maybe a little bit of writing. I kept a diary every day from 14, so I’ve got loads of anecdotes from Emmerdale that I could turn into a blog. Who knows?
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