Vanessa Woodfield’s life in Emmerdale has been a catalogue of calamity.
She’s been tied up and held hostage by a murderer, had a son from a one-night stand, and been stabbed by an arsonist.
So it’s no surprise that fans of the soap are keen to see Vanessa back.
She has not been in the show since May 2020 because Michelle Hardwick, who has played vet Vanessa from 2012, took time out to have her first child – son Teddy.
But 45-year-old Michelle is back at work and Vanessa will return to the soap tomorrow, making a wonderfully dramatic entrance.
She arrives in the village and pulls up in her car at the exact spot where her ex Charity Dingle, played by Emma Atkins, and Mackenzie Boyd (Lawrence Robb) are declaring their undying love for each other.
Michelle says: “In typical Emmerdale style, she walks right into that – what perfect timing.
“But I can’t think of a better scene for Vanessa to return to. I really thought it was fantastic.
“Although she knows Charity has moved on and Vanessa also has a new girlfriend, seeing her and Mackenzie as soon as she returns to the village is a bit much.
“There will be scenes with Vanessa and Charity where they bump into each other and which will be fun for the viewers to watch.”
Michelle, who had Teddy with wife Kate Brooks, an Emmerdale producer, in October 2020, is adjusting to being back at work.
She says: “It was very strange returning to the soap, as I wasn’t allowed on set when I was pregnant so I ended up having 19 months off.
“My first day back was very nerve-racking. I’d never worked under the restrictions, so it was very different and I had to adjust to things such as doing my own hair and make-up. But after a couple of days it was as if I’d never been away.”
While she was off, Michelle got many comments on social media from fans asking when Vanessa would be returning to the Dales.
She says: “I did get a lot of tweets asking me if I was coming back, but I just had to ignore them. I felt a bit bad, but I didn’t want to say, ‘Yes, I’m coming back on this date’, as nothing had been confirmed.
“It is nice to see that Vanessa has been missed while she’s been away from the village, so I think there will be a few pleased people when they find out she’s back.”
When viewers last saw her, Vanessa had been diagnosed with bowel cancer and had decided to go to Scotland to stay with her mum, who had suffered a bad fall.
She left behind fiancée Charity, who later ended up with Mackenzie before splitting up from Vanessa, who she had been with for three years.
Michelle says she isn’t sure if she would like to see Vanessa reunite with her old flame.
She says: “I think it’s good for characters to mix with different people.
“It keeps your character fresh and exciting.
“But who knows if they will get back together. I don’t know what the future holds. Watch this space.”
Emmerdale is on a high, with ratings of 3 million viewers on Christmas Day, beating BBC rival EastEnders ’ 2.9 million. After the cancer storyline, which involved Vanessa having surgery to remove a tumour, as well as chemo, fans will be glad she has had the all-clear.
And Michelle’s pregnancy may have even saved Vanessa from being killed off. Michelle says: “Because of that, we weren’t able to finish the storyline in the way we may have wanted to. However, we did do the cancer storyline justice.
“I spoke to charities to get it right and they said they had a lot more people testing for bowel cancer after the scenes aired, so it did help raise awareness, which is fantastic.”
Michelle says Vanessa has come through the illness a changed woman. She says: “After what’s happened to her, she has toughened up. She was a bit of a tough cookie anyway, but she no longer suffers fools. She’s become a lot more on the ball with business and has gone back to work at the vets.
“Vanessa has no time for slackers, there’s a lot of finger-wagging and her telling off other characters at work, which has been quite fun to play.”
But Michelle admits she misses playing the “party girl” Vanessa of the early days. She says: “I’d like the Vanessa that we had nine years ago back in the village.
“I know she’s grown up, and she’s got a son now so she’s not as lairy and a party girl like she used to be, but I’d love to see her back having fun, dating and having girlfriends and mainly enjoying herself.”
As much as she enjoys being back at work, Michelle fears it might mean she gets abuse from trolls, who have targeted her in the past for being LGBTQ+, some comments being so bad she called in the police.
She says: “I seem to have had a bit of a break from it. I think once I’m back on screen and back in people’s minds again I might get trolled. For the most part, I try to ignore it. If it’s too much I do call them out.
“But now Teddy is here, I just feel I don’t really have time for all of this. Trolls need to get a life, to be honest.”
Soon after Teddy was born, the country went into the second lockdown, meaning Michelle had to hold her son up to the window so visitors could see him within the rules.
When restrictions allowed, her close friends from the show, including Amy Walsh, 34, who plays Vanessa’s half-sister Tracy Metcalfe, Laura Norton, 38, who plays Kerry Wyatt, and Fiona Wade, who stars as Priya Sharma, 42, came to visit.
Michelle says: “It was really nice to see them. The four of us are such good friends out of work.”
Michelle has also been on hand to give pregnant Amy advice.
Michelle says: “I’ve been chatting to her on the phone as she’s getting close. Laura was pregnant at the same time as me, which was wonderful. We’d also recommend things to each other and we’ve both done the same for Amy as well.”
*Emmerdale, ITV, weeknights, 7pm, plus Thursdays, 8pm