Being approached to be part of the cast of your favourite soap is something most people can only dream of – but for Andy Walker, the prospect has turned into reality. The tetraplegic actor appears in Emmerdale this week as Steve Kelly, a man who befriends paralysed Jackson Walsh in an attempt to help the troubled lad come to terms with his condition.
“I was approached by a charity, The Back-Up Trust, who asked me if I wanted to audition for the part of Steve,” says Andy, who was left tetraplegic following a driving accident in Goa in 2006. “I said yes, and they put me forward. I’ve never done any acting before, but thought I’d give it a go!”
Jackson meets Steve following his mum Hazel and boyfriend Aaron’s discovery that he wants to end his life. With the pair urging him to stay positive about the future, Jackson agrees to meet up with other people in the same situation.
“It’s important to convey the positive side of dealing with Jackson’s injury,” explains Andy. The Emmerdale producers have told me how the storyline’s set to play out, and I’ve now got the opportunity to show the viewers a totally different perspective. Sadly, I do come across some people like Jackson – but thankfully more people think like me than reach his level of despair.”
It sounds as if Steve might prove to be a breath of fresh air for Jackson, who really has hit an all-time-low.
“I’m like Steve in real life,” Andy tells Inside Soap. “He’s positive, outgoing and sociable. He challenges the boundaries that his disability brings about, and wants to help people enjoy their life to the full. I haven’t found it difficult to adapt to the role, because I just see myself with a different name and speaking different words.”
We’re hoping that Steve manages to get through to Jackson – but Andy knows all too well that things are never that straightforward.
“Not everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he reckons. “I’ve always been a very positive person, even before my accident. But Jackson has so many issues that he can’t see the wood for the trees. Not everyone can achieve it, but there are lots of ways and means for the majority of people to find their way through.”
While Steve helps Jackson battle his inner turmoil, Andy’s had some help of his own preparing for his stint in the soap.
“I’ve known Kelvin Fletcher [Andy Sugden] for years,” he shares. “He gave me lots of tips, and spent time with me running through my lines until I felt comfortable.
“I never get nervous – but I didn’t sleep for four days before filming my scenes!” continues Andy. “Working with seasoned professionals like Pauline Quirke [Hazel] when you’ve never even been in a school play is terrifying! I didn’t realise how intense it would be, but I had a lot of fun.”
As it happens, Andy’s only recently become aware of Jackson’s story, despite his family being massive fans of the show.
“My mum, grandma and sister are all into Emmerdale,” he reveals. “They didn’t tell me about Jackson’s plot before I got the part, though, as they thought I’d find it upsetting to watch. The first scene I saw was Jackson going into the Woolpack, and then Hazel turning up. I’ve been through the same thing, and it took me right back.”
While Andy’s hoping that his screen appearance will prove an eye-opener for the soap’s many fans, he’s also loving every minute of his new-found fame.
“I’m excited about being recognised as someone from Emmerdale,” he chuckles. “I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth!”
While Andy knows exactly what it’s like to be in Jackson’s situation, Marc Silcock – who plays Jackson – admits that doing the storyline justice has been a true challenge.
“I can try to understand, but I have no idea what it’s like not to be able to walk again,” says the star. “That’s such a terrible situation, and any frustrations I have aren’t a fraction of what someone who’s going through it would feel.
“It was strange, but i’m getting used to it now,” continues Marc. “I get cramps and the odd twitch. It’s uncomfortable [to play], but I have to do what it takes to make sure viewers believe the story.”
InsideSoap Magazine is out now.