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The arrest shook me up..I realised drugs had stopped me living my life; EXCLUSIVE: PAUL BOWS OUT OF EMMERDALE TO CLEAN UP HIS ACT.

MILLIONS of Emmerdale fans are in mourning today for Butch Dingle, the lovable rogue who bowed out last night after marrying fiancee Emily in a poignant hospital-bed ceremony.

Butch's death following a bus crash was the climax of a brilliant, week-long cliffhanger in the finest soap tradition.

It also marked a milestone for actor Paul Loughran, who quits the show on a tremendous high after six years. But that's the only sort of high he allows himself nowadays after a dark, drink and drugs-fuelled period in his life.

Paul was questioned about possession of cannabis following a police raid. All charges were later dropped but the scare was enough to make him sort out his life - and give him the confidence today to face the future away from Emmerdale.

He says "I've lived life to the extremes, as a lot of my generation have. But I see things differently now and I'm looking forward to a new beginning.

"Maybe it's turning 30 last year. Maybe it's the new millennium. I just feel that this is a different time for me.

"The cannabis thing really shook me up. I suddenly realised that drinking and taking drugs was escapism. That what I was doing was putting my life on pause.

"It made me think: 'Hold on, why are you doing this?' I knew I was breaking the law and I was aware of the risks I was running. So I couldn't feel bitter about my arrest. After all, if you ignore the laws of the land, you must take the consequences."

The normally-publicity shy actor was introduced to Manchester's drug-fuelled acid house scene as a drama student - culminating in his 1996 cannabis incident.

Today he still argues that the odd cannabis joint "doesn't make you a bad person" and insists that people should be realistic about Britain's huge drug culture instead of burying their heads in the sand.

But he adds: "At the same time, I can't condone drug-taking. Maybe I'm growing up a bit because I don't feel I need those things any more. They are certainly not a huge part of my life. And, to be honest, all that drinking and carrying-on does take its toll on you physically.

"Your body takes longer to forgive the punishment you've doled out. Today I still have a drink with friends. And I would never say never. But I don't feel the need to get wrecked night after night any more.

"And I don't recommend drugs and I don't advise kids to do it."

That maturity was never more apparent than in Paul's touching performance last night as Butch lay in his hospital bed, reconciling himself with his family - especially irascible dad Zak - and making sweet, innocent-natured Emily his wife.

The run-up to Butch's dramatic exit began when, after asking Emily (Kate McGregor) to marry him, he set off across the Dales to ask for her dad's blessing.

"Butch was absolutely ecstatic," says Paul. "He couldn't be happier. And then he gets on that bus." The bus, run by Emmerdale's resident bad guy Chris Tate, was carrying a host of the soap's regular characters - Seth Armstrong, Kathy Glover, Sarah Sugden and Joseph Tate.

There was only one seat left and Emily agreed to stay behind. Hardly had the bus pulled away than it was hit and crushed by a haulage van.

In the terrible smash, one man is killed and several injured - among them Butch.

Emily faithfully waited at his bedside believing, at first, that Butch would recover. Then came the shattering realisation that he might not.

In last night's heart-rending finale, Butch and Emily married then, as her husband's eyes flickered and closed, Emily eased herself onto the bed to lay her head on the chest of the man she loved - and was about to lose.

For Paul, his farewell to Emmerdale was just as emotional as Butch's demise.

"If watching the final scenes was bad, it wasn't anything like as traumatic as actually filming it," he says. "That was really difficult. And, believe me, I shed more than a few tears then.

"We shot the wedding scene on my very last day and it took about six hours to film. To start with, everyone thinks Butch is going to be all right.

"But he collapses in hospital and they discover that he has terrible internal injuries - a ripped liver and God knows what.

"Despite that, Emily still wants to marry him. It was a very, very moving scene.

"When we finished, the producer came on set and all the cast were clapping and giving me hugs.

"I was blubbing like a baby boy - I'd done a lot of that in the last couple of weeks.

"Everybody was saying goodbye. I left the set in a daze.

"I was going to meet friends for dinner in a restaurant in Leeds.

"Because we were so late with filming, I went straight there from the studio, forgetting that I was still in make-up. I couldn't understand why everybody in the restaurant was staring at me. I looked like I'd just gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson - ashen-faced with cuts all over the place!

" It didn't really hit me that I'd left the programme until the next day.

"It was like that old saying: 'Today is the first day of the rest of your life...'" Hard as it is for Paul to leave the cast and crew he regards as a second family, he is determined to draw a line under the Emmerdale years and move on to other things.

"During the first couple of years, everything about Emmerdale was new and exciting," he says.

"You go through the fame thing - everybody knowing who you are and what you do - and you learn to deal with that as part of the job. You find a balance between the money and the lifestyle and what it costs you. But then comes the moment when you say to yourself: 'Right then, is this how I want to spend the rest of my life?'

"And, quite frankly, for me Emmerdale isn't the answer. Much as I loved the show, it was time to move on.

""But my overwhelming feelings about Emmerdale are good ones and I'm very close to the people there.

"It was very difficult to separate myself from them and make a decision that was good for me.

"The way that it has happened has given me the chance to have a re-birth, if you like, and go on with the next stage of my life and be me.""

Although he is single, Paul is happy to be on his own.

But one day, he says, he hopes to settle down and have kids.

"I've had my share of relationships, some serious, some not, just like any other young man.

"I think part of growing up is realising that you don't have to be with someone. If it happens one day, then great. But I'm actually enjoying the freedom of being on my own. I don't feel I need anyone else right now."

Several acting projects are currently under discussion, and Paul is especially keen to try his hand as a stand-up comedian.

He is also writing his first novel.

"I am so much calmer now," he says. "I used to go out and drink a lot and fill my life with girls and partying just to disappear from reality for a few hours - to avoid meeting life head-on.

"I was over-anxious and it was a way to escape.

"Now I know that my life can be fuller with other things such as my work and writing. They give me a lot of pleasure.

"I no longer feel the need to go out and get wrecked.

"I've got a lot of things to look forward to and I want to enjoy them. I just want to do the best that I can and now I'm in a position where I can do that.

"It's as simple as that, really."
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Palmer, Martyn; Maung, Carole Aye
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 25, 2000
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