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This week saw Val, played by Charlie Hardwick, in Emmerdale test HIV positive. We talk to the team behind Emmerdale and ask why they chose to do a HIV storyline. 

Val and Eric at the clinic
Val and Eric at the clinic

Val, played by Charlie Hardwick, has been a regular character in UK soap ‘Emmerdale’ since 2004. This recent storyline is a departure from the more light-hearted, and often comedy, storylines Charlie has played before.

Tuesday night saw Val, and her on-screen husband Eric go to the clinic for a HIV test.  Whilst Eric’s test came back negative Val’s came back positive – giving us our first sero-discordant relationship on a UK soap in quite some time.

Speaking on ITV’s ‘Loose Women’ Charlie Hardwick said:

“Women in their fifties are the fastest growing group of people being infected with HIV”1

Charlie then handed out condoms to the Loose Women hosts telling them: “Keep them in your handbags ladies, we need to be confident about this!” 

Talking to The Mirror, Charlie recalled an encounter with HIV stigma at a football game:

“I had a conversation with one of the fellas I see at football. I am a season-ticket holder at Newcastle so you get to know the people around you.”

“I was going down the steps and I said, ‘How are you doing?’ and he went, ‘Woah, woah… don’t touch us. I might catch it!’

“I gave him a proper talking to.

“I said, ‘You don’t get HIV from touching somebody – you get it from having unprotected sex and that’s not going to happen is it kiddo?’ and he meekly said ‘no’.”

beyondpositive had a chance to speak to Emmerdale’s Series Producer – Kate Oates. We asked her about her decision to run a storyline about HIV, and what they’ve learnt since…

Kate Oates - Emmerdale Series Producer
Kate Oates – Emmerdale Series Producer

Why did you decide to do a HIV story line in Emmerdale?

“We thought it was important for a soap like Emmerdale to tell a story of what living with HIV today is like. A positive status does not have to change a person’s life; and yet the dated stigmas surrounding HIV remain for so many – and we really want to bust through that. Seeing a woman like Val test positive is a reflection of the growing number of older men and women finding themselves exposed to the virus, and we couldn’t think of a more accomplished actress than Charlie Hardwick to tackle the story.”

What do you think you have achieved / will achieve with this story line?

“At this stage of the story, I think we will have achieved an heightened awareness that safe sex applies to everybody, and that HIV doesn’t discriminate, whether it’s age, gender, sexuality or social class. As the story progresses, my main aim is to show that although Val’s status is something that will be with her for the rest of her life (depending with what happens in medical research!) it needn’t change her as a person, how people view her, or what she wants to do with her life. She’ll realise there’s nothing to be scared of. Val’s personality is much scarier than her HIV ever could be! Of course, the best thing we could achieve with this story is to still be running it when they find a cure – that would be amazing!”

Have you learnt anything new about HIV and living with HIV since you and Charlie started this journey?

“One of the reasons I wanted to do this story was because I was shocked me how ill-informed a lot of people are about this subject. For example, very few of our writers had heard about PEP (the treatment Diane takes when she thinks she’s been exposed to HIV) – and they are a group of pretty well-educated and informed people, so that was a surprise! I’ve been shocked to learn the extent of the stigmas that still exist around the issue, as they are usually so very wide of the mark. Although I like to think I’m reasonably well-informed, I am sure I will learn more about this subject as we continue with the research, and also learn through Charlie’s performance.”

How have viewers reacted to the HIV story line?

“It appears the viewers have reacted really well. Some people were surprised we gave the storyline to Val – but I think once people saw Charlie’s performance they understood why. She’s such a fantastic actress and has obviously embraced the story on every level: both on screen, and in the press. It seems viewers have taken the story in the manner we intended: understanding why we have done it, and why we did it with this character. I think on the whole, the viewers are embracing it, which is really encouraging.”

You can find Emmerdale on ITV1 weekdays at 7pm.

Note.1. Whilst the over-50s are the fastest growing group living with HIV this is because of the number of people living with HIV that are now ageing.

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