Emmerdale bosses pushed me to the edge of madness; TONICHA JERONIMO ON HER BITTER SPLIT FROM THE HIT SOAP.
When Emmerdale star Tonicha Jeronimo was finally killed off in a car crash, she had no more tears left to shed.
Instead, she breathed a sigh of relief.
Her dream role as vet's assistant Linda Glover had become a nightmare, wrecking her health and bringing the 20-year-old actress to the brink of a nervous breakdown.
Her storylines were so full of doom and gloom that Tonicha would go home after a day's filming and cry tears of frustration.
After 12 months of non-stop screen trauma - which saw her character lose two babies and her brother Dave in a fire and share the agony of husband Biff Fowler as he faced the prospect of a life-threatening disease - Tonicha decided she had finally had enough.
`I was tearing my hair out," she says, as she revealed for the first time why she quit the soap.
When Tonicha joined ITV's hit farming soap as a naive 16-year-old schoolgirl she was full of excitement. It was the kind of break every aspiring actress would sell their soul for.
`When I first started playing Linda, she was full of fun," she says. "Then I began dating Stuart Wade, who plays Biff.
"The bosses saw the chemistry between us and decided it would be good to transfer that to the screen, so they married us off.
"But instead of letting us prove that some teenage marriages can survive, they made us argue all the time.
"I know that it doesn't make for good viewing to have everybody happy but the number of problems Linda and Biff faced was totally unrealistic. Linda lost two babies, was sexually harassed by Biff's boss and refused to sleep with her husband because she was mourning her brother.
"Overnight she had turned from an upbeat teenager into someone who was morose, depressed and dull."
It was a depression Tonicha began to share with her screen character.
"It had a negative effect on me. I was fed up with looking miserable and crying all the time on set and I'd go home and not be able to pull out of it.
"I felt so depressed. I was being pulled down and started losing confidence in my ability.
"I was very unhappy - and that manifested itself in my skin erupting in boils and spots all over my body.
THE more upset I got, the worse it became. I was so self-conscious that I didn't even want to go out.
"I ended up with lumps and blisters everywhere and became very depressed."
Tonicha's skin problems began after a particularly infuriating incident where she was ordered to change the colour of her hair.
"I had had my hair cut into a short bob without asking permission first," says Tonicha. "It was silly of me not to ask first, but I only had a couple of inches taken off. The next week, Malandra Burrows who plays Kathy, had her hair cut in the exact same style.
"Just afterwards, Mervyn (Emmerdale producer Mervyn Watson) told me I'd have to change my hair colour from blonde to brunette.
"When I asked why, he said there were too many blondes in the show. He said I would have to change because Malandra was a long-standing cast member.
"I was furious. Having my hair dyed was the beginning of my skin problems."
By April of last year, Tonicha - who spent her teenage years fighting the eating disorder anorexia - had reached a point where she knew she couldn't take much more.
"I felt like I was going mad," she says. "I really felt I was going to have a nervous breakdown."
Rather than wait until her contract expired in December, Tonicha decided to be honest with producer Mervyn Watson and hand in her notice straight away to give scriptwriters enough time to write her out.
But her honesty backfired when the bosses decided to write her out two months early.
"A few close friends on the set warned me not to tell Mervyn because I'd be written out much earlier than expected," says Tonicha, as she relaxes in the Yorkshire Dales cottage she shares with Stuart Wade.
"When I told Mervyn I didn't want to renew my contract in December, he was amazed. He told me not to make a rush decision and asked me what was wrong. I told him I was fed up and exhausted and wanted a change. I could see from his face that he thought I was making a mistake."
Tonicha asked for four days grace from her contract which expired on December 20 so she could take on her new role as Cinderella in pantomime in Sunderland over Christmas.
"But suddenly I was informed that I would only be required until September 2," she says.
"I'm not sure why they did it. But knowing how penny-pinching they are, it was probably to save themselves six weeks' wages.
"Everyone in the soap is permanently exhausted and morale is low. There is the prospect of the show going out four times a week and yet the cast earns half of what the stars of Coronation Street and EastEnders are getting."
Tonicha believes the decision to kill Linda off on the soap's 25th anniversary last October was her punishment for daring to leave.
"They don't seem to realise that they forced me into it by making Linda so downbeat," she says.
BUT it was the sly way they went about it that hurt the most.
"I heard that I was being killed off in a car crash two months early from other cast members.
"The bosses didn't even have the grace to tell me first. Practically everyone but me knew all about it. It was humiliating.
"I met one of the writers at a party recently and he said, `We didn't want you to die. It was all down to the big bosses.'
"Yet Mervyn told me it was the writers' idea that Linda should be killed. There were so many ways they could have written me out - but they wanted to get rid of me for good to teach me a lesson.
"There was a feeling that I had got too big for my boots. The younger you are, the more they try to control you.
"But they came up against an immovable object when they met me. I think they expected me to be like Linda, downtrodden and insignificant, but they got it wrong.
"There was also resentment and jealousy from some members of the cast and crew that I had walked into a soap role straight from school.
"I think some of them feel that I will learn what it is like in the big wide world now that I have left."
On her last day of filming, Tonicha threw a farewell party at a restaurant near the soap's studios in Leeds.
Many of the cast attended and Mervyn gave a brief farewell speech - but even that packed a final punch.
"He gave the same speech - word for word -- to Jane Cameron, who played the Tates' nanny, at her leaving party two weeks later," says Tonicha with a sigh.
"Only our names were different. It was another way of showing how little we mattered."
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Jan 12, 1998|
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