Emmerdale has tonight aired the surprise comeback of much-loved character Vanessa Woodfield (Michelle Hardwick), as a desperate Rhona (Zoe Henry) reached out to her for help.
Vanessa has been taking a sabbatical in Canada with son Johnny (Jack Jennings) for the past 14 months, working for a marmot conservation project on Vancouver Island.
The episode saw Rhona holed up in a remote cottage after taking baby Ivy from the village, terrified at the thought of ex-husband Gus (Alan McKenna) moving to France with her.
Marlon (Mark Charnock) and Mary (Louise Jameson) frantically searched the village and attempted to get hold of Rhona, knowing that Gus was due to return to pick up Ivy after allowing them to take care of her overnight in order to say a proper goodbye.
When Gus turned up at Smithy Cottage, Mary and Marlon knew the game was up, and Mary immediately ripped into Gus before he’d even learned what had happened.
“You’ve only got yourself to blame,” Mary told him defiantly. “You could have given her weeks to prepare but oh no, you had to rip the plaster off and now this is what’s happened!”
It was left for Marlon to admit to a bemused Gus that they had no idea where Rhona was, and that she had disappeared with Ivy.
Gus was fuming when he learned that this had been going on since yesterday, and immediately threatened to call the police, until Mary reminded him that he and late wife Lucy had committed fraud by stealing Rhona’s frozen embryos to conceive Ivy in the first place.
Gus replied that he was prepared to admit that, but at the end of the day Ivy is still legally is, with biological mother Rhona having no rights.
Gus agreed to not immediately call in the authorities, but warned them to get Rhona back now before storming out.
Meanwhile, at the cottage, Rhona was unnerved by an unexpected knock at the door.
“Oi, it’s me!” a familiar voice called out after several further knocks.
“Of course it’s you…” a relieved Rhona replied, as she pulled back the curtain to reveal Vanessa and Johnny standing outside the door.
“Thankyou,” Rhona exclaimed. “I knew you’d come!”
As the two joked with each other, Vanessa told Rhona that they’d just flown around the world for her and to cut to the chase.
But she was stunned when she entered the cottage to find Ivy lying there in a cot.
“Rhona, what the hell have you done?” Vanessa exclaimed.
Back in the village, Marlon and Mary panicked as they saw Gus outside reaching for his phone… is he about to land Rhona in a whole deal of trouble?
Vanessa’s return marks the end of actor Michelle Hardwick’s maternity leave, after she and her wife, Emmerdale producer Kate Brooks, welcomed their second child, a girl named Betty, in November.
“Vanessa just got a phone call from Rhona saying she really needed help,” Michelle tells us. “But Vanessa didn’t really ask any questions because it felt like there wasn’t any time. So she’s literally just packed a quick bag for her, a quick bag for Johnny, and jumped on a flight, travelled halfway across the world and then landed on her doorstep.”
“Vanessa knows about Ivy, because obviously they’ve spoken and she had no idea that Rhona had actually run off with the baby and essentially kidnapped the child.”
“It’s a massive shock to Vanessa,” Michelle continues. “First of all she’s thinking, ‘What the heck are you doing,’ and then she’s like ‘Hang on a minute, I’m here now. I’m like an accomplice to this. So am I going to get done as well, what’s going to happen to Johnny?‘”
“She’s got all that racing through her head but at the same time she wants to help her best friend.”
Whilst Vanessa will go on to try and convince Rhona to do the right thing and return to the village, at the same time she can see where she’s coming from.
“It breaks Vanessa’s heart, Vanessa’s a mother, she can totally understand it,” Michelle explains. “But Vanessa is equally saying ‘But you have Leo at home, there’s April there, they need you as much as as much as little Ivy does. So you’ve got to think of the bigger picture.‘”
With Rhona’s plight, and Vanessa knowing that half-sister Tracy (Amy Walsh) is also going through a tough time at the moment, she decides that it’s time to return to the village for good.
“She thinks ‘Well I’ve been away over a year, I’m coming home soon anyway’, so she cuts it a bit shorter than she would have done. Rhona needs her, Tracy needs her, and this is where she needs to be. Vanessa goes back to Canada to tie everything up and get their stuff, and comes back for good.”
So what can we expect for Vanessa following her return?
“Where we left it, relationship wise, was on a very positive note with Suzy,” Michelle reminds us. “Even though they weren’t together when she left, they had a little kiss and it was all very lovely. But Vanessa’s totally unaware of maybe a potential relationship between Suzy and Mary…”
“Vanessa sees Mary as a mother figure, and being totally oblivious to this, I think she’s going to try and get her relationship back on track with Susie. Whether Susie wants to or not… we’ll have to wait and see!“