IT’S the gut-wrenching story that gripped Emmerdale fans, the dementia diagnosis and heart-rending death of much-loved Ashley.
Viewers were left tearful by the iconic character’s passing just last month.
Now the remarkable tale has taken the British Soap Awards by storm, with the actors – John Middleton, who played the vicar, and Charlotte Bellamy, who stars as his wife, Laurel – and storyline shortlisted in six categories.
Ahead of the glittering event, Charlotte admitted the storyline’s impact surpassed everything else in her 30-year acting career.
She revealed the ITV soap’s stars were first told two-and-a-half years ago that dementia would claim the popular character’s life.
Charlotte, 44, told The Sunday Post: “It was bittersweet as we knew we’d be losing John at the end of it.
“He’d been such an iconic character for more than 20 years. So as it approached the death there was a real sadness.
“Right through, though, was an excitement in telling this story and making it as real as possible.
“It has really touched people’s hearts, so everyone was determined to do it justice. We’d have been doing a disservice to all those affected by dementia if we didn’t.”
The show worked closely with the Alzheimer’s Society and Methodist Homes, who provide accommodation for those affected by the condition.
Writers were constantly working and checking with experts over every last detail.
Charlotte and John visited homes and spoke to patients, relatives and carers.
“Being in the homes can be extraordinarily emotional, especially seeing people in the latter stages,” said Charlotte.
“But I remember John saying one day that we were meeting these people as they are, and we never knew them as they were.
“It’s the friends and family who remember these people with vibrant energy and a zest for living. To go and see someone disintegrate in front of you must be so horrible.”
It was the experiences of the partners who’d become carers that touched Charlotte the most.
“You’re looking after someone and doing so much for them.
“When Laurel said she had to make the decision and he had to go into a home, it was heart-wrenching.
“Families who have been in that position will know that all too well. That’s the beginning of the end, really.”
Millions followed every development week by week, month by month.
“People said to me that maybe it was their grandma that had dementia and because of that they tuned in and followed what was happening,” said Charlotte.
“And dementia nurses said they didn’t usually watch such stories as it was never done right, but this was.
“The show made sure to reflect the little moments in everyday life, the trouble making a cup of tea or someone putting their socks in the microwave.”
A special episode at the end of last year broke new ground for a TV soap by filming everything from Ashley’s perspective.
Alzheimer charities hailed it for raising awareness as never before.
“The reaction that episode had was phenomenal,” said Charlotte.
Last month’s final scenes showed Ashley recognise Laurel one last time before he died.
Charlotte revealed: “We have a nurse on set who said that knowing who someone is right at the end happens all the time.
“They rally just before they die. Suddenly the cloud lifts and there’s clarity.
“She said that she looks at the monitors at that point because it’s usually the final call. It’s so moving when you hear that.”
Charlotte is up for best actress, best female dramatic performance and best on-screen partnership at the June 3 awards, which ITV will broadcast live for the first time. John is nominated for best actor and best male dramatic performance.
With another nomination for best storyline, Charlotte’s hoping it will be a big night for the show.
“The nominations came as a real surprise,” she added. “It’s been an incredible year.”
To cast a vote click on to www.britishsoapawards.tv