Verity Rushworth did most of her growing up on Emmerdale, having joined the Yorkshire-based soap aged just 12.

So in 2009, after 11 years playing show stalwart Donna Windsor, she decided to move on.

“It’s such an unusual upbringing really,” admits Rushworth, now 28. “I needed to go out and do something different, otherwise I wouldn’t have experienced anything as an adult other than where I’ve grown up.”

Taking centre stage

What began as a sabbatical turned into a five-year absence from the show, during which time the actress carved out a career in musical theatre.

Donna’s been burying her head in the sand and it’s time to come home and sort it out."

But she couldn’t resist returning to the soap when producers called her with a “too good to be true” storyline.

We last saw policewoman Donna transferring to Essex after cheating on husband Marlon Dingle with a fellow cop. Unbeknown to Marlon – and viewers of the ITV soap - Donna was pregnant when she left, and went on to give birth to his daughter, April.

Hard times

“Everything has gone wrong for Donna,” explains Rushworth. “She’s a single mum in Essex, struggling with a daughter who’s starting to ask questions about who Daddy is. She needs to go home and have her family support network, she needs to put it right and she needs to tell Marlon.

“She’s been burying her head in the sand and it’s time to come home and sort it out.”

The actress confesses that her first day back was scary.

“I was absolutely petrified! I was in the car driving into the village and it all came flooding back. It was dark and raining and wet, it was about 6am and I was like, ‘Oh, I remember it well’,” the bubbly, Bradford-born actress reveals.

Familiar faces

“Thank God my first scene was with Mark [Charnock, who plays Marlon]. It was like I’d never been away, we just slipped straight back into it.”

There is high drama, but I don’t think [romance] is on the cards for [Marlon and Donna]."

Understandably, Marlon is shocked to discover he has a little girl.

“He absolutely flies off the handle,” says Rushworth. “I think Donna was scared because they ended so badly and she thought he wouldn’t want to know. She left it a year and thought, ‘I’ve left it too long [to tell him]’.”

Rekindling passions?

Marlon is now in a relationship with loveable Laurel, and Rushworth reckons romance with Donna isn’t going to happen.

“That’s not why she’s gone back,” says the star. “There is high drama, but I don’t think that’s on the cards for them. Donna’s priority is April.”

She adds: “Laurel handles it all amazingly well. The mum in her comes through and there are children involved, so she’s actually the calming influence between Donna and Marlon.”

Donna introduces Marlon to April in Emmerdale

The only member of Donna’s family who knew about April was her mum, Viv (Deena Payne), who died in her sleep as a fire ripped through the village in 2011.

“We do reference her and remember her, and talk about all the fun things that Viv brought to us, so she isn’t forgotten,” Rushworth reflects.

The roar of the crowd

Her first post-Emmerdale role was in the West End production of Hairspray, where she met associate director Dominic Shaw. The pair married last March in the Yorkshire Dales and live in London.

I wanted to learn about theatre and feel what it was like to perform in front of an audience live and feel the adrenaline."

“He gets that I’m away all the time, and he’s away a lot too, so he understands. We always have Sunday together!” says the actress, who’s also starred in The Sound Of Music and Chicago.

“I wanted to learn about theatre and feel what it was like to perform in front of an audience live and feel the adrenaline,” she explains of her move to the stage.

“You do get adrenaline on set, but you know that if it goes wrong it’s all going to be ok, whereas on stage if it goes wrong you’ve got 2,000 people to entertain and you don’t want to hear the seats flipping up as they leave the theatre!”

Full circle

Having just bought a house in London with her husband, Rushworth admits she’d “have to sleep on it” if Emmerdale bosses asked her to return permanently.

But for now, she’s delighted to be back on the set which was once her second home.

“Emmerdale’s amazing. I’m so proud of the show,” she says. “Since I’ve been out, I’ve done some great roles and ticked some really big boxes that I feel really pleased about.

“I’ve accomplished things I wanted to do within the five years and it feels like now is as good a time as any to come back. It’s like coming full circle.”

 

Emmerdale continues on ITV on weeknights. Verity Rushworth returns on Wednesday, March 19