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Warning: This interview contains discussion of suicide, which some readers may find upsetting.
Coronation Street star Shayne Ward has spoken fully about his exit storyline for the first time, following the announcement that his popular character Aidan Connor will take his own life.
An emotional hour-long episode next Wednesday (May 9) sees Aidan’s father Johnny left devastated when he finds him dead at his flat.
Shayne was first told about the suicide storyline late last year and has now revealed how he felt about exploring the difficult issue on screen.
How did this storyline come about?
“As an actor, I was honoured to be given the responsibility of this storyline. What actor would give up that opportunity? It was a decision that was made between us all and was totally storyline-led. They sat me down and said they were thinking of exploring this issue and I understood the importance of it.
“At the end of the day, I could have said no, that I couldn’t do it. But I thought about it and talked it through and there was a greater pull to want to do the storyline. I will miss playing Aidan and working with the fantastic people on this show, but it is a massively important storyline to tell.”
What research did you do?
“I met with Samaritans and I was able to talk through everything. They were across all of the storylines, as were CALM. It helped answer a lot of questions. I learned lots of things from them and realised that every story is different. This is Aidan’s story, it is not based on anyone else’s story, but it is telling an all too common story.
“They encouraged me to ask anything. Knowing that they were advising on the scripts gave me great confidence to play the story out. I know Aidan, I have played him for three years, so I was able to have some input into the final episodes following my meeting with Samaritans as I wanted to be true to Aidan.”
How did you find playing the scenes?
“It was difficult playing those scenes, because I know how important it is to tell a story like this. It has to ring true for the viewer. There needed to be honesty in it, so I had to really look into everything that Aidan has been through.
“Obviously you do draw upon stories that you have been told, but I had to take everything into account and try in some way to understand everything Aidan has been through and what has brought him to this point.
“I had quite a few emotional scenes and it is important to be able to get out of that mindset and shake it off at the end of the filming day. You can do a scene like the ones I played and you can remain in that dark place and I could have stayed feeling very down.
“But I believed in what I was doing. Hopefully it will be so helpful to people that it will be something that my daughter will be proud of. So for me, it was all about looking to the future with her at the forefront of my mind. She is my happy place.”
How did Aidan reach this tragic point?
“The thing is, everybody is going to be thinking: ‘Were there any tell-tale signs that Aidan was feeling suicidal?’ You can’t pin it down to one particular thing that has happened to him over the years.
“He has cheated, he has lost people their jobs, he had a hard relationship with his dad, he has always wanted to prove himself to his father but hasn’t quite succeeded. He has always been quite troubled. But it isn’t always possible to spot that a person is struggling to cope with life.
“I had to figure out when and why Aidan had reached a point where he felt this was his only option, the path that he was going to take. I feel that it was because of all the problems that he caused, a lot of them not on purpose and some were down to his own actions. He lost his relationship and as a consequence he lost the factory and everyone lost their jobs.
“I have figured out that one thing Aidan can’t do is escape his own mind. He is short-tempered with people, and he has even hit his own dad a few times. But he could never explain why he was angry or annoyed, he just was and he really did feel – wrongly – that everyone would be better off without him.”
How long had Aidan felt this way?
“He had actually planned to do this sooner, but then Carla was sick and needed a kidney. Aidan saw this as a way to finally do something good, to help someone, but by this point he had decided that he was going to take his own life and posted a suicide letter.
“When Aidan found out about Carla, he intercepted the letter the next day from the postman outside his dad’s flat. He stopped his family seeing the suicide note and he didn’t go ahead with his plan at that point.
“There was a moment in the hospital when he was crying his eyes out, but tragically he kept all of that from his family, so there were no tell-tale signs for his family to see. He didn’t talk to anyone about how he was feeling. Everyone around him was so happy that the transplant had been successful. He didn’t want to burden anyone with his thoughts.”
How did things progress from there?
“Aidan wanted to get everyone their jobs back and make the factory a success. To be given the whole empire of Underworld after everything he had done to that business was overwhelming for him. Now it is all on his shoulders, it is incredible, but what if he messes it up again? That is something that has plagued Aidan ever since we first saw him.
“He has always wanted to prove that he is like his dad and that he can carry on the empire, but he just seems to trip up along the way and that is his biggest fear – what if I do it again?”
Next week, Aidan realises that the baby Toyah has brought home is actually his and Eva’s child. Can you tell us about that?
“Toyah has been acting awkward around Aidan in regards to the baby. He can’t work out why and there is a moment when he tells Toyah the baby is beautiful and she gives him a strange look. Aidan thinks it is a bit odd.
“There is also a scene in the pub where someone goes to pass the baby to Aidan and Toyah steps in to stop him. He realises that is twice that she has acted weirdly with the baby around him. When she goes behind the bar, Toyah turns and they lock eyes and he sees it in her eyes. The truth dawns on Aidan that it’s his baby.
“Eva has gone away, no-one has seen or heard from her and she hasn’t returned any of his calls. This baby is now on the scene and he knows from the way Toyah has reacted that there is something going on.”
What happens next?
“Aidan feels the need to find out if he feels a connection to the baby and that is really sad because he holds the baby. You see the sadness in his eyes as he realises that he can’t be there for this baby, he loves the baby and he doesn’t want to let the child down. He, in his mind, has let everyone else down and he thinks he will do the same again. He feels that everyone, including his child, will be better off without him.
“When he holds her, she is the most beautiful thing in the whole world but he just passes her back to Toyah. He thinks he would ruin this child’s life.”
Aidan goes to see Eva afterwards, doesn’t he?
“Yes – Eva doesn’t know why he is there, but he is not there to have it out with her, he just wants to see her. She is confused and when he says that he has seen the baby, she starts to get panicky and apologises. Aidan says she has nothing to apologise for – he knows everything she did is because of how he treated her.
“Eva breaks down and he tells her that he thinks what she is doing with the baby is the right thing. Johnny breaks the moment by ringing, so Aidan says goodbye and tells Eva he loves her.”
What happens in Aidan’s final scenes?
“He is sat in the pub and he is completely numb. He is with his family, who are completely unaware of his terrible state of mind. The last time we will see him is when he is back at the flat alone and he breaks down.”
One of the key messages of this story is that it’s best to talk about our problems. Are you good at talking about your feelings?
“Trying to find the right balance with Aidan, I brought a lot of myself into playing him so I could give true performances, but there is also a lot about him that is very different from me. I am a talker. I believe in talking, it is something I try to instil in friends and family if they are going through hard times – I ask them to talk to me about it, or to each other.
“If you are left alone with your thoughts and demons, it puts you in that dark place and it is hard to get out. That is what this storyline is about. A lot of men think it is a weakness to talk and it isn’t.
“It is a pride thing. Men bottle it up, but we should have pride in talking and admitting how we’re feeling. I have sat there with my own thoughts and it doesn’t work. Talking about them is what has helped me, but sadly Aidan doesn’t. He doesn’t want to burden anyone and he is too proud to speak out.”
Will you watch these episodes?
“Yes, and my family have said they want to watch it. That is the point – if they didn’t want to watch, they would be falling into the bracket of ignoring the issue and staying silent, so I am very pleased that they want to watch it. Hopefully it will spark conversations amongst viewers. They may be difficult conversations, but they are important ones.”
Coronation Street airs this storyline from the week starting Monday, May 7 on ITV. There will be an hour-long episode on Wednesday, May 9, starting at 7.30pm.
Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 or visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
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