As Billy and Paul’s wedding day arrives on next week’s Coronation Street, actor Peter Ash reflects on Paul’s MND storyline so far.
There’s a little bit of light for Billy (Daniel Brocklebank) and Paul (Peter Ash) amongst a devastating few months next week, as the pair exchange vows in a civil ceremony that is set to be the show’s first (successful) gay wedding.
The pair have been engaged since July, two months after Paul was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and recent weeks have seen the illness progress to the point where Paul now needs a wheelchair to get out and about.
“With everything else he’s dealing with at the moment it’s like a beacon of bright light,” Peter told EverySoap and other media during a recent press event. “It’s something so positive to look forward to, despite all the negative news he’s had since the diagnosis. Getting to marry Billy is perfect, it’s what he wants to do with his time left.”
The fact that they will not be able to have a religious ceremony has hit hard for Archdeacon Billy however, despite his putting on a brave face for Paul’s sake.
“Paul knows Billy very well and he can tell when he’s downplaying his upset at not being able to get married in a church,” Peter explains. “Shelly’s death brought out Paul’s faith—at the funeral he had a sort of spiritual moment—so wanting to get married at a church is a bit more of a priority now for Paul.”
“But he mainly wants to do it for Billy, Billy’s devoted his life to the church and he knows that’s where he wants to get married. It’s a bit disappointing, particularly when there’s rules about not being able to have any religious music. Billy’s downplaying it but Paul knows he’s upset.”
As the day of the wedding dawns on Monday, mum Bernie (Jane Hazlegrove) and twin sister Gemma (Dolly-Rose Campbell) help Paul prepare over at No. 5, whilst the wedding guests take their seats inside the Viaduct Bistro.
As per his request, an emotional Bernie and Gemma help Paul walk down the aisle towards Billy, who is brimming with joy.
“We’ve had so many scenes of things being devastating and hopeless,” Peter tells us. “So filming the wedding was a breath of fresh air. It was such a lovely day working with great people, it was great fun.”
The two tearfully exchange heartfelt vows, before the registrar finally announces them to be married.
After the ceremony however, Billy is shocked when he discovers that Paul has been keeping a big secret from him. Will the bombshell have the potential to ruin things, or cement their love further?
Later in the week there’s potential for further heartache when an angry comment from Billy is overheard by Paul. Having received a new wheelchair, Paul, Billy and Summer (Harriet Bibby) realise that it won’t fit through the door to their apartment.
As they draft in Ed Bailey (Trevor Michael Georges) to take a look at the doorway, Billy is nervous as one of his parishioners, Babs, approaches—the news of his marriage now being known. Much to his surprise, Babs hands him a bottle of fizz and congratulates him on the nuptials.
However, when he later encounters another parishioner named Vaughn, Billy is brought back down to earth, as Vaughn tells him that he should be ashamed of himself. Fuming at the bigotry on display, Billy tells him not to worry, since his husband is dying anyway! However, Billy doesn’t realise that Paul has heard every word…
The progression of Paul’s MND has obviously had an effect on the dynamic of his relationship with Billy, and Peter believes that Paul is now becoming more accepting of that.
“Billy is such a good carer and all he wants to do is look after Paul, as you would do if you were with someone who had that,” Peter explains. “But obviously from Paul’s point of view, he’s seen it as Paul being the patient and Billy being the carer. Paul wants things the way they were, for it just to be a normal relationship, and unfortunately that can’t happen.”
“Paul does need Billy’s help with things now,” Peter continues. “At first it’s the pride thing, being willing to accept help can be tough at times. But whilst it can still be frustrating, I think we’re at the point now where Paul is much more accepting of Billy’s help. Paul’s always understood where it comes from, it’s come from a place where he’s wanting to help out as much as he can, but there was definitely a time where he was feeling like too much of a patient.”
The death of good friend and fellow MND sufferer Shelly Rossington (Natalie Amber) has brought an important issue back to the forefront of Paul’s mind however, that of his own death.
The day of the proposal had been emotionally wrought, after Paul had earlier asked Billy if he would be willing to help him end his own life when the time came. Being a man of god, the thought of assisted dying left Billy aghast.
“It not only goes against his own personal moral stance, but also his role as an Archdeacon is very much about celebrating the life they’ve got left rather than terminating it,” Dan Brocklebank explained to us at the time. “He wants them to have more time together, not less. So he’s absolutely horrified that Paul is even considering it. Billy is very fixated on the fact that Paul isn’t christened and now he wants to end his life so he is worried that he may not go to heaven and they won’t see each other in the afterlife.”
Although Paul had promised Billy that he would forget about it and move on, Shelly dying alone in her flat has seen Paul confide in Todd (Gareth Pierce) that he still sees assisted dying as his only eventual option.
“He will have the guilt of hiding something from Billy,” Peter explains as he talks about the start of their married life. “But he knows how Billy would react to that. Obviously they have talked about it when it was brought up earlier, and was quashed when they decided to get married”
“Shelly dying brings it all back for Paul, who’s determined to end things on his own terms knowing that she was alone at the end. Paul really wants to do that, before he can’t speak anymore.”
In the meantime, the show has promised that we’ll be exploring more of Paul’s bucket list in the future, with the first entry having raised a few eyebrows amongst the audience a couple of weeks ago.
“The skinny-dipping at the lake was fun, we were out for the whole day filming up at Knowsley,” Peter reveals. “It was a beautiful day, the water was great, but got a bit cold towards the end!”
“I’m glad they didn’t zoom in on that,” he laughs. “We were basically wearing flesh-coloured short pants, whilst the crew were in their wetsuits and everything. The response [from the audience] was amazing.”
When the question of what else Peter would like to see Paul do is brought up, skydiving is mentioned, which he certainly wouldn’t rule out!
“That’d be fun, though I don’t know how we’d shoot that one,” he ponders. “I’d love for them to go away somewhere nice… the Caribbean or something, a week away… I don’t think Paul has actually been abroad. I remember a line once where he said the furthest he’d been is Wales. So it’d be nice to get a bit further.”
Paul’s story still has a way to go, and both Peter and the show have been determined to accurately portray the physical progression of the disease.
“It’s been a challenge,” Peter admits. “It’s another layer to think about I guess as you’re acting, to be aware of those parts of your body that aren’t going to be working. All of us from the beginning have said we really want to get this as right as possible. There are real people living with this so we don’t want to misrepresent it, we want to show it with honesty and truthfulness.”
“The MND association have been amazing, just a phone call away if I need to ask them about any new symptoms that come up in the story, and of course they’re constantly in touch with the storyliners and dealing with every aspect of Paul’s story.”
And the reaction so far from the Corrie viewers?
“They’ve been above and beyond anything I’d imagined, it’s been so lovely,” Peter tells us. “We get messages from people who are living with it, and people with family members who have MND, who are saying bits of the story really resonate with them. Honestly, if through this storyline we can raise some awareness, and a bit of money for the cause, then that’s a job well done as far as I’m concerned.“