Belfast Telegraph

Leah Bracknell: Pioneering Emmerdale star who refused to be cancer ‘statistic’

The actress played Zoe Tate in Emmerdale for 16 years from 1989 to 2005.

Actress Leah Bracknell who played Zoe Tate in the ITV soap Emmerdale (PA)
Actress Leah Bracknell who played Zoe Tate in the ITV soap Emmerdale (PA)

By PA reporters

Former Emmerdale actress Leah Bracknell has died at the age of 55, three years after she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

Bracknell became synonymous with Zoe Tate, the soap character she played for almost 16 years from December 1989.

Born Alison Rosalind Bracknell on July 12 1964, the multi-talented mother-of-two was also known for her work teaching at the British School of Yoga and for creating her own line of jewellery.

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Zoe Tate (Leah Bracknell) rushes to Franks’s (Norman Bowler) hospital bedside after he gets beaten up in prison in a past episode of Emmerdale

Her father, television director David, first brought her acting career to the screen in The Chiffy Kids series in 1976, before she took her future into her own hands.

Only two years after studying at Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and aged 25, she was cast in ITV’s Emmerdale, where she made her mark playing British soap’s first lesbian character.

She left the series in 2005 in an episode voted the Best Exit at the British Soap Awards in May 2006.

But that certainly didn’t spell the end of her acting career, appearing in Judge John Deed, Casualty 1907, Doctors and another ITV1 soap, The Royal Today.

She also turned her attention to theatre, starring in both Gaslight and Strangers On A Train.

In October 2016, aged 52, Bracknell revealed she had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Her battle with cancer came to light when her partner launched a Go Fund Me page to raise money for her to undergo treatment overseas, due to a lack of options available on the NHS.

More than 2,500 fans joined together to raise £50,000 to help pay for cutting-edge treatment for her in Germany.

She thanked everyone involved, adding: “I really did not expect or feel deserving of such interest and kindness.”

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Actress Leah Bracknell who plays Zoe Tate in the ITV soap Emmerdale arriving at the Bafta Television Awards at Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, central London (PA)

Talking in February on ITV’s Loose Women she said she had a positive outlook on life and was not fearful despite being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

She said she had formed a “relationship” with her cancer to try to understand it.

She revealed she had been diagnosed after rapid weight gain around her abdomen and breathlessness prompted her to seek medical help.

She told Loose Women: “I’ve talked before about how my response was one of absolute anger, it’s infuriating – how dare you tell me this – which is why I didn’t want someone to guesstimate what someone thought my prognosis would be.

“It’s based on statistics that could be out of date, that could be not about my age, not about my specific sort of cancer. I don’t want to be a statistic.”

Bracknell also revealed to the TV panellists that she was taking a new medication she hoped would give her a longer life expectancy.

In August she revealed her cancer treatment has stopped working.

Writing on the appeal page on donations website Gofundme.com, her partner Jez Hughes said it appeared the drug she was using started to fail several months ago, but Bracknell’s aim is still “long-term remission”.

He also thanked everyone for their help, writing: “These treatments and private consultations aren’t cheap, so we are so very grateful for the opportunity to keep Leah strong and well in this way as we really believe it is working.”

Bracknell appeared on ITV’s Lorraine in December, where she revealed she had been the recipient of pity from some people.

She said: “I think I just decided, it’s still my life, but other people were writing me off quicker and even people close to me, they’d come and – I don’t mean to be unkind – but people were embarrassed, or didn’t know what to say.

“They come in and they’re feeling very sorry and very pitiful, and actually it’s the worst – the one thing that nobody wants is pity.

“I can’t think that anybody, anywhere wants to be pitied. It’s like all of your power has been taken away, and I’m very much about how can we hold on to our power in order to deal with hospitals, doctors, people who have qualifications – it’s intimidating.

“How do we retain that so we still have authority over ourselves?”

She added: “It’s obviously part of one’s life, whether it’s cancer or another disease or chronic condition, but the point is, it’s life. It’s living.

“Even when it’s a diagnosis like I had and they literally said there are no options, I am still alive.

“And I’m not going to embrace anything else, full stop. I’m alive until the point I am not. And that to me is the key, not to surrender to something else.”

She said she does not wake up with a feeling of dread in the morning and that she has pushed aside her worries about the “minutiae of life”.

Bracknell, who announced she would be hosting a talk to help other people going through a similar experience, said she appreciates the “simple, little things” in life to help her.

She explained how she likes to hold onto an “attitude of gratitude” with her at all times, even if she has to “fake it”.

PA

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