Any which way but loose; Emma Atkins plays Emmerdale's tart with a heart, Charity Dingle, but in real life she couldn't be less like her screen persona.
SHE may look and sound like her, but that's where the similarities between actress Emma Atkins and her Emmerdale character, Charity Dingle, stop.
Emma, 26, plays the brassy tart with a heart, who this week is involved in one of the Yorkshire soap's biggest storylines.
In an hour-long special this Thursday, we and her lover-cum-employer Chris Tate will find out which man from the village she's been having a wee extra affair with.
For Emma it's the climax of a fantastic first year on the soap, and a long way from amateur dramatics, and her early roles as a boy, of all things.
"I always played a boy," she says, laughing. "When I was at school, it was more of an academic place than a theatrical one, and we only did plays after school if the English teacher was putting them on.
"I suppose it's quite bizarre now that I play a prostitute."
Emma's role as Charity Dingle is her first. And she still can't believe she's acting for a living.
"I did amateur dramatics in Lancashire when I left school, but for a career I went into interior design. My mum and dad are designers and sort of guided me into that.
"The thing is I had this burning ambition to be an actor. I worked at designing for three years, and saved enough money to be able to study and just went for it.
"My passion was getting stronger all the time and my mum and dad knew that if I didn't do what my heart was set on I would regret it.
"I applied for stage schools, got rejected, but kept applying, and eventually Salford University gave me a place on their performing arts course. I studied hard and last year picked up my degree - and got a first in it as well."
By that point, Emma had already won her part in Emmerdale, although she kept her graduation a quiet affair.
"Oh, no, I never invited the cast," she says. "That would just be so out of character. I am very low key. Not like Charity at all.
"I was delighted to get the degree, though, as the last six months of it were hard work, being at Emmerdale learning lines, filming scenes and then putting on plays and handing in written assignments for my degree course at the same time. But it was worth it.
"Getting this role as Charity Dingle is the best thing so far. I remember my agent coming on the phone and asking me if I would audition for a role as a Dingle in Emmerdale.
"I just thought: 'How can I play a Dingle?' If you know me you would understand that as I am so far removed from my character.
"But the more she told me the more I thought I would enjoy it, and so I went to the audition, so nervous that I can't remember a thing about it, and thought I wouldn't get it.
"Then I was told I was being recalled and went back to do a screen test with Mark Charnock, who plays Marlon Dingle, and then waited an agonising two weeks until my agent finally told me I had the part.
"Like me, she wasn't sure, as we waited a fortnight without hearing anything, but in the end I got it and I am so delighted that I did.
"It's hard work, we film weekdays and it can be very long hours, especially as we now put out five shows a week, but I am loving every minute of it."
Well she might, with her character central to one of the main long-running storylines.
Emma is delighted to be working with Peter Amory who plays wheelchair-bound businessman Chris Tate - an Emmerdale institution.
"This is a very daunting storyline to to be honest," she says. "But it's been wonderful for me. Working with Peter is fantastic. I was quite frightened at first because I had watched him on the show for years, and then here I was working with him. But he made me very welcome and he is very professional.
"He's a very giving actor as well, which is important when you are filming intimate scenes with someone. It's important that you get feedback and he gives a lot.
"The fact that he can sit still in that chair, for sometimes 16 scenes a day and totally not move his legs at all, shows how good an actor he is.
"It's a lot more difficult than people might imagine to do that."
The best bit about Emma's job, as far as she's concerned, is her character.
Despite being nothing like her alter-ego, she refuses to say bad things about Charity. "Oh, I can't slag her off, can I?" she says. "I have to say that her tiny little skirts and skimpy outfits are not my cup of tea, but it's hardly a problem.
"She's a brilliant character to play, she's a character of substance. She's a bitch, yes, but you can tell that there are different sides to her that we have yet to see and I hope I can stay in the show for a long time to come.
"I love playing her this way at the moment - very ballsy, very argumentative and, of course, very flirty.
"It's not bad for a first job. I had only done two adverts before Emmerdale - one of them was never shown and the other was an awful Christmas hamper thing. Dreadful."
EastEnders and Coronation Street may rule soapland, but Emmerdale is trying to creep out of the shadows and put in a challenge.
With regular audiences of around 13million, they aren't doing too badly at all.
And Emma hopes that one day they may be top of the pile.
"That would be lovely, if, just for once, Emmerdale could be at the top," she says.
"We'll just have to wait and see though. We are producing as good a quality of soap as the other two big ones, but I suppose they are just traditionally the biggest."
Emma will get her chance, along with the rest of the Emmerdale cast, to win some recognition and reward at the National Soap Awards in a few weeks' time.
Not that she might remember too much about it if last year is anything to go by.
"There was loads of alcohol," she recalls. "And very little food. There was a vodka and Red Bull table, a lager table, and these teeny little mini cheeseburgers the size that a gnome might eat.
"No way were they going to soak up the drink, so I have to say that I couldn't help but get a bit drunk.
"It was so weird, too, seeing people like Ian Beale, who you've seen on TV since you were about seven."
These days Emma is the one who gets recognised - something she finds completely odd.
"That is really bizarre. It'll never be normal," she says. "People think they know you, and I was like that when I used to see famous people - wanting to go up to them and say 'hello'. But there are those who go that bit further, too, and grab you.
"My mum and I were in an airport in Spain once and this woman came running up top me, grabbed me, told me she loved the show, loved Charity, and I just didn't know what to do, except sort of say 'hi, thanks'. My mum was laughing so much and I was mortified."
Because of this shyness, Emma likes to spend her free time away from the limelight - in her new house. And she has time at the weekends to get back to her boyfriend and her other love - interior design.
"I do have a boyfriend," she admits. "But he's quite new and I don't talk about him much. He doesn't live with me as I've just moved in to a new house all on my own.
"It's brilliant, my house. I love this independence thing. I've been doing it up recently, which I love doing. I painted the kitchen cupboards bright aqua, which I wasn't sure about at first, but it looks wicked.
"I'm just a normal person really. I don't do the celebrity thing. I like going to the cinema, or to art galleries, or for a Chinese or Italian meal.
Emma also likes to keep her house spick and span.
"I really love tidying up," she admits.
And we can't imagine Charity Dingle doing that, can we?
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|Publication:||Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Date:||May 12, 2001|
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