Scots soap legend Natalie J Robb reveals how new rules meant she had to set up Moira’s ventilator herself.
Having to lie in bed all day at work sounds like the perfect way to ease yourself into the new post-pandemic normal.
But for Scots soap legend Natalie J Robb, it was nerve-wracking.
On tomorrow night’s Emmerdale, Natalie’s character Moira Dingle is left to die after a horrific hit and run. On Monday, we see her fighting for her life in hospital.
Since returning to filming after nearly three months on furlough, Natalie, 45, has been in bed. But the new safety practices on set – which include actors having to do their own hair and make-up – meant she had to set up Moira’s ventilator herself.
She said: “It was tricky, I’m not going to lie. I think some doctors and nurses might be cursing it because I had to put the ventilators in by myself.
“The medical supervisor wasn’t allowed to be there and was set up with a laptop on a trolley, trying to talk me through it.
“It was very difficult, to lie on a bed and attach everything to yourself without seeing what you are doing and to be told what to do. It’s kind of back to front, like a mirror image.
“The ventilator didn’t look as good as I’d have liked, but there was nothing I could have done.
“I did everything I could to be as authentic as possible. That was the tricky part. Putting the tubes in was the tricky stuff.”
Emmerdale was the first UK soap to go back to work – first with their lockdown specials and then bringing back more cast and crew.
But like so much of our daily lives – it’s a different world, with hand sanitisers, colour-coded locations and a crew member with a two-metre stick to check everyone is social distancing.
You get your temperature taken before you are allowed in the studio, and there are fewer people about.
Natalie, who has been working professionally for 30 years, said: “It feels like the soul has been taken out of it.
“Before, there would be loads of banter but you don’t really see many people any more. It is what it is and we just have to adjust to the new way.”
“At least we are still working. I’m just so very grateful for that. Furlough really made me appreciate just how much I enjoy my job.”
Like thousands of others, Natalie found it difficult at first to be furloughed as she is always on the go.
Since she landed the role of Trish McDonald at 15 in Take the High Road in 1990, she has barely stopped working on shows like Sunburn, Dream
Team, Doctors, The Bill, Holby City, EastEnders and, since 2000, as Moira in Emmerdale.
The Bellshill actress said: “My mum says I’m always in a rush. My brain took a bit of adjusting because it’s usually firing on so many cylinders – either when I’m filming or learning lines.
]“We are so used to being so full-on and working almost every day. And when you’re not, you’re prepping for the next lot of scenes.”
Instead, for the first time in a 30-year career, Natalie could take stock.
She spent lockdown in her north Yorkshire home with her dog and new boyfriend Jonny McPherson, who plays Dr Liam Cavanagh in Emmerdale.
Like many of us at the start of lockdown, she had some great ideas of all the things she was going to do, but “didn’t apply myself”.
She said: “I did some decorating and then wished I hadn’t when I started it, but I did finish it.
“I read and took up cycling, which I really enjoyed because I really haven’t been on a road bike since I was a wee girl. But I felt it was a good way of getting about.”
As well as the road bike for longer journeys, she’s got a Bobbin bike with a basket in the front so she can carry her mum’s shopping. Juliette spent many years in Spain but now, at 78, has moved back near her daughter.
Natalie said: “During lockdown I’ve been taking her shopping and food we’ve cooked. She’s quite high-risk because of her age.
“She’s wary at going out because she says she doesn’t want to have gone through lockdown for nothing and then catch it because everything is easing off.
“I think she’s quite right. Everything is a bit confusing.
“I’ll still meet her in the garden and have a cup of tea and stuff like that but I’m not going into the house and putting her at risk.”
But when it’s safe, she’s ready to return to Scotland. She said: “As soon as we can, we plan to come up for a bit of a holiday.”
Natalie is certainly raring to go. She had a year of not drinking but revealed that she’s not teetotal any more because she likes socialising and “loves a nice wine with a meal”.
Being in the thick of the action in Emmerdale is nothing new for Natalie. In 2012, she suffered bruising to her ribs filming a car crash with then screen husband John Barton (James Thornton).
Moira was then left to die in a burning barn in 2017 and nearly died again last year when she was on a boat which exploded.
Natalie laughed: “I’m not complaining. I love it. As long as I keep surviving them that’s all right.”
Tomorrow night, someone is hit by a car driven by furious Jamie Tate (Alexander Lincoln) who is looking for ex-wife Andrea (Anna Nightingale). Viewers will learn on Friday that it’s Moira, then see her in hospital in a bad way on Monday.
Next week, estranged husband Cain (Jeff Hordley) will keep a vigil over Moira, revealing the depths of his love for her when he thinks she’s unconscious.
Natalie hopes Moira and Cain will get back together, and enjoyable plotlines are keeping her happy in the Dales.
She said: “I love it here. Even though it’s different at the moment, I’m getting used to it now.”
Natalie is also thrilled that Take the High Road is being shown from the start on STV Player, with five new episodes uploaded every Sunday.
She said: “I’ll have to watch that. I was 15 and had huge big bushy 80s hair. But it has stood me in good stead. I learned so much.”
That’s why she’s still working at the very top 30 years later.