She’s back with a big birthday surprise

Donna Windsor [VERITY RUSHWORTH].
Donna Windsor [VERITY RUSHWORTH].

Emmerdale’s Donna Windsor is a survivor. She endured a stable fire, a tractor crash, a gas explosion and a failed marriage before leaving the not-so-sleepy village in 2009.

But the policewoman, who we last saw transferring to Essex after cheating on husband Marlon Dingle, can no longer face her latest struggle alone.

Unbeknown to Marlon – and viewers of the ITV soap – Donna was pregnant when she left, and has since given birth to his daughter, April.

“Everything has gone wrong for Donna,” explains Verity Rushworth, who is reprising the role after a five-year stint in musical theatre.

“She’s a single mum in Essex, struggling with a daughter who’s starting to ask questions about who Daddy is. She needs to go home and have her family support network, she needs to put it right and she needs to tell Marlon.

“She’s been burying her head in the sand and it’s time to come home and sort it out.”

Stage star Rushworth had no hesitations about returning to Emmerdale for five months (“It’s a really juicy, dramatic storyline with lots of twists and turns”) but she admits that her first day back was nerve-racking.

“I was absolutely petrified. “I was in the car, driving into the village and it all came flooding back.

“It was dark and raining and wet, about 6am and I was like, ‘Oh, I remember it well’,” the bubbly, Bradford-born actress says.

“Thank God my first scene was with Mark [Charnock, who plays Marlon]. It was like I’d never been away, we just slipped straight back into it.”

Understandably, Marlon is shocked to discover he has a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

“He absolutely flies off the handle,” says Rushworth, looking glamorous in a monochrome jacket, slim black trousers and killer heels. I think Donna was scared because they ended so badly and she felt he wouldn’t want to know. She left it a year and thought she’d left it too long [to tell him].”

Marlon is now in a relationship with kind-hearted former vicar’s wife Laurel, and any chance of more romance between him and Donna is highly unlikely. “That’s not why she’s gone back.

“There is high drama, but I don’t think that’s on the cards for them,” says Rushworth. “Donna’s priority is April.”

There’s not much chance of a catfight with Laurel, either.

“Laurel handles it all amazingly well.

“The mum in her comes through and there are children involved, so she’s actually the calming influence between Donna and Marlon.”

The only family member who knew the identity of April’s father was Donna’s mum Viv (played by Deena Payne), who died as a fire ripped through the village in 2011.

“It’s really sad about Viv,” says Rushworth.

“We do reference her and remember her, and talk about all the fun things that Viv brought to us, so she isn’t forgotten.”

Having joined Emmerdale aged 12, taking over the role from young actress Sophie Jeffery, Rushworth did much of her growing up on the soap.

“I was so lucky, but it’s an unusual upbringing really,” the 28-year-old from Bradford reflects.