Emmerdale star Charlie Hardwick made an indelible mark on the Dales when she starred as Val Pollard from 2004 until 2015.
As the loud-mouthed wife to Eric Pollard, Val tackled a huge number of storylines over the years – including being diagnosed with HIV and eventually being killed off in a grisly helicopter crash death.
Val was trapped in the house of mirrors with her sister Diane Sugden when a shard of glass fell from the ceiling and stabbed her, while she sacrificed herself to save Diane.
But as Charlie celebrates her 61st birthday, Daily Star takes a look at what the star has been up to since her soap exit – from a potential return to her own health struggles.
‘Hurt’ by soap exit
Charlie has spoken out in the past about how she was "really hurt" by the Emmerdale bosses’ decision to kill her off in such a "savage" manner.
She opened up to The Mirror in 2015 about the super soap week stunt which saw Val die to save her sister.
"I loved Emmerdale," she admitted. "It was my choice to leave.
"I have to say I was absolutely shocked when I found out they were going to kill Val.
"I think when you spend most of your life addressed and behaving like somebody else, then you find out that they're going to savagely annihilate her – I was really hurt."
She added: "That’ll teach us for saying time for me to go!"
Charlie admitted she "struggled" with the decision of whether or not to leave Emmerdale behind, as she addressed her "gruelling" work schedule which saw her get up every morning at 5:45am to make the journey to Leeds.
And then the interior set scenes were only shot with artificial light.
She told ChronicleLive: "It started with a little voice in my ear going, ‘I want to go home, I want to go home’".
And of her morning schedule, Charlie explained: "Those endless long days after being in the dark! The studio has to be blacked out, otherwise the daylight would ruin the shots.
"I know it’s not as gruelling as working down a pit – but it was a need to see daylight."
Charlie remains good friends with her co-stars – especially her on-screen hubby Chris Chittell.
The pair even appeared on-stage together in 2014 for Newcastle Cathedral’s Christmas concert for Teenage Cancer Trust, singing a duet of a "winter classic".
She said in 2019: "I’m still in touch with my widowed husband Chris Chittell.
"We’re good friends. I’m near my friends so I can hang out with them."
And Elizabeth Estensen, who plays Val’s sister Diane, has spoken about how much fun she had working closely with Charlie after announcing she too would exit the show.
"The mirror maze in Val’s exit storyline was so clever," she told Digital Spy.
"Sadly it was the last time Charlie and I filmed together. […] Sadly Val remains dead but gosh it was fun days I had working with Charlie!"
Charlie’s character Val might have undergone a battle with HIV in Emmerdale, but the actress herself has also been suffering health problems.
In 2018, she told Express.co.uk that she had been diagnosed with Coeliac disease.
She explained: "That was a big shock. I got very poorly in the summer and they didn’t know what was wrong with me and neither did I.
"I thought it was just an allergy to bread and bizarrely it is an auto-immune disease," she admitted, adding: "I had absolutely no idea and I’ve been very unsympathetic in the past and I’ve learned my lesson now. Gluten to a coeliac is deadly poison."
Coeliac disease is a condition in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues when a person eats gluten, causing damage to the gut and meaning the body is unable to take in nutrients.
The actress is now an ambassador for the Coeliac Society, having undergone treatment for the condition.
2015 might have been when Val was officially killed off in the Dales, but Charlie returned for two episodes in 2017 – and has admitted she thought about "keeping the door open" for her Emmerdale return.
Val appeared to her grieving husband Eric – played by Chris Chittell – as a ghost, after making a final DVD detailing her funeral plans and singing a haunting rendition of My Way.
At Christmas 2017, she also made a dream appearance to Robert Sugden.
And actress Charlie has admitted she was "horrified" and "absolutely devastated" to hear that Val would be killed off.
She told Soap From The Box podcast: "I was really, really horrified.
"Not because I wanted to come back, not because I though, ‘Oh, keep the door open!’, but because I didn’t want Val to die.
"I just assumed she would go off after Amy, who was the biggest love of her life. And the idea that Pollard was going to be on his own, it was terrible."
In 2018, Charlie admitted she would "be there in a shot" if the door did open for her Emmerdale return.
She told HELLO! that year that she enjoyed her ghostly cameos so much that: "If you pitch the story, I would be there in a shot."
Charlie added: "I kind of thought at the end of Emmerdale that my dance was done, but no, that little bit came back when I was on Emmerdale last Christmas."
Ackley Bridge stint
Since leaving Emmerdale, Charlie has appeared in a number of projects on the stage and small screen.
Perhaps her most famous role since leaving Val behind was as Sue Carp in Channel 4 comedy Ackley Bridge, a role she maintained from 2019 until 2021.
She has also appeared in shows like The Accidental Medium, Different For Girls and Byker Grove.
But Charlie is no stranger to the stage, as she also starred in Newcastle’s Theatre Royal pantomime Dick Whittington back in 2015.
Cancelled leaving party
Charlie was so devastated by Val’s death that she cancelled her own leaving do to grieve her character.
She told Soap From The Box podcast: "If any actor had said to me, 'Oh, they’ve told me my character is going to die and I was absolutely devastated,' I’d say, 'Get a grip, man!'
"Then I found out I was going to die and I was absolutely devastated! I even cancelled my leaving party!"
But thankfully Charlie changed her mind, admitting: "I did pull myself round, which I had to do.
"I thought, ‘I’ve got to get over myself and I’ve got to make the most of this exit’. And we relished it!"
Emmerdale airs weekdays on ITV at 7pm
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