In a UK soap first, Emmerdale airs a series of special episodes about life in lockdown for the village residents, kicking off with Lydia and Sam Dingle. Actress Karen Blick explains what it was like being ‘socially distant’ to film these unique episodes.

Lydia Dingle in Emmerdale lockdown episodes
Lydia Dingle in Emmerdale lockdown episodes

Newlyweds Sam (James Hooton) and Lydia Dingle should be enjoying their honeymoon period but instead they are in lockdown. With Samson stuck on his school trip and having turfed Mandy and Vinny out. Sam seemingly won’t let Lydia leave the house and it’s clear he’s concerned about something. Actress Karen Blick explains more…

How did you feel when you were asked to be part of these special lockdown episodes?
I felt delighted and it is a real privilege as it feels really momentous. It feels like a piece of television history so I am thrilled to be involved. I spoke with the Executive Producer, Jane Hudson, when they first mooted the idea that these episodes would go ahead. As obviously there has to be really strict, stringent health and safety procedures in place. I am thrilled to be a part of it. The script is fantastic, it is really funny and has got the best of Sam and Lydia. All the aspects are there, the heartfelt stuff that the audience really like to see but also the comedy, the quirkiness and a bit of daftness thrown in as well.

Was it hard to learn the script given the amount of dialogue?
This was what I was worried about most of all, but I relaxed as soon as I saw the script. It has not been hard to learn as firstly it’s been so well written so it flows really nicely. Lydia has some fantastic speeches so I’ve just had to sit down and do the work but it’s been enjoyable. It’s been good to use those muscles again after being at home in lockdown. Also, I’ve just had one script to learn, but normally we are juggling around 11 – 12 scripts at any one time. I could just focus on this so I have been able to give it a bit of time and space.

What was the rehearsal process?
We had an online meeting with a doctor advisor first of all and he spoke about the virus and how it spreads and how we can protect ourselves. We got the chance to ask questions if we were worried or concerned about coming back to work. That reassured everyone there were to be stringent procedures in place and of course social distancing, and so filming with that in mind is very different. We only had a very small number of people in the studio. There were far less people in the space so we could observe social distancing. The big hugs when we all say hi have had to go. It’s strange having to stand back.

Tell us about the actual filming process and how it differed from normal?
I found it really valuable rehearsing this episode in advance of the filming day. As I found little things occur to you during the rehearsal process and we picked out and focused on different bits within the script. I feel it has given us great insight into Lydia and Sam and we’ve had the space to explore the dynamics between these two characters. I think in this one episode we get to find out even more about each of them. Sam has been a character for 25 years, but yet within this half hour he still divulges something that we would not have known about him. I loved the opportunity to work out and mark our moves on the scripts – on the rehearsal day we blocked exactly where we would be in each bit of the story.  It’s been great as whilst I’ve been at home learning my lines I’ve also been walking it through so when we came to shoot it I would know exactly where I am meant to be on each line.

Did it feel more collaborative?
It did feel more collaborative as we have been in a smaller team. I think it’s given me more of an understanding of other people’s roles during filming which I think before we took for granted. I’ve realised the complexity of it all. Also, we did actually get the script before lockdown but then they were put on the back burner for when the government guidance was issued and essentially filming stopped due to the lockdown. The script team did ask if we had any specialist skills they could include in the script but other than Lydia’s ballroom dancing I couldn’t think of anything. I did mention James and I can both climb, but there isn’t much call for climbing in lockdown.. Ha ha unless you count the boredom factor i.e. ‘climbing the walls.’

Did you enjoy this process?
Having no makeup artist to make us up is very different. Thankfully Lydia is not awfully glamorous so luckily I’m not having to recreate some fantastic look as obviously that would be hard to do myself. Ahead of the filming, the Head of Make Up, Jess, called me and asked how my hair was looking at the moment and she checked I’d be okay doing my own hair and make up on the day. She also talked me through cutting my own fringe. I have now cut my own fringe! It went well actually and I was more nervous about cutting my fringe than recording the episode. It had to be out of my eyes as you need to show your eyes when acting. I’ve covered my greys and tried to look as much like Lydia did eight or nine weeks ago.

The number of people on set was different wasn’t it?
It felt more intimate. But we could sense there was a changed atmosphere. Yet you can sense everyone was desperate to be there and be back to work. We were all so keen to get back filming, but we are mindful this is, of course, a serious situation in terms of health and safety and peoples well being, so that has been observed. There are lots of procedures everyone now has to follow. It is being taken very seriously. It will still be a fun place to work with all the banter and smiling in the corridors, and we are going to make the best of it. We will be back and working, but staying safe.

Did this episode feel more like theatre?
It felt more like creating theatre as we had the reading and rehearsal. Plus the director is shooting it in chronological order which makes a change. We also walked through it and we blocked it on the rehearsal day and marked up our scripts like you would do with a stage play. It was great to be able to iron out little script details before the day of filming.

What did you miss from the building?
I missed the coffee machine. The first thing I do every morning is to go and get a cappuccino, but the machine has been switched off for safety reasons. The canteen is all spaced out. The booths have all gone. It’s going to feel so different. I think hugging people is another thing I will miss. My morning routine used to be coffee, then the chat in the corridors then into the relaxation of the lovely make up room.

Are you interested in how this episode is received?
These episodes are the first of their kind in a way. The characters are very exposed so as an actor you do feel more exposed too. But it’s written really well and James and I really want to do it justice. We both agree it’s a brilliant script and we really want to do our best. The programme deserves it and the viewers deserve it. We want to make sure this works. It is a brilliant thing to be involved in. I think it’s important we are reflecting what has been going on in the real world. I am proud we are doing it.

How have you been spending lockdown?
I’ve been homeschooling. I’ve found it really hard especially with my youngest, as he is six and he doesn’t want to do it. I’ve got friends who are teachers and they’ve told me not to stress about it too much. They’ve said playing games as a family is educational. They’ve told us to just try and get outside. We are lucky we have such beautiful countryside around us. I think having this time in lockdown has brought us closer together as a family.

The pace of life has been different. I’ve had the time to properly listen to my kids and speak to them. In fact I think I feel like I know my kids better from us spending this time together which is great. We have had really highs filled with fantastic laughter and then we have had big crashing lows.  It’s been really hard at times with things like not being able to see their grandma, how long this would all last, and the uncertainty.

My husband has built the kids a climbing wall as he’s an outdoor pursuits instructor. He has built it in the garden – it’s great – I’ve not yet had a go though. They have harnesses, it’s a proper one! The neighbour’s kids are desperate to play on it. They are just waiting until they can all play together. I”ve started knitting again and I’ve been teaching my daughter how to knit. I found that actually lockdown life is really busy. With kids it is such a full day.

How is Lydia finding life in lockdown?
Lydia has some really nice speeches in this episode where she talks about the positivity she has found in being in lockdown such as the community spirit, the fact of looking out for other people, the kindness and the emotion of the clapping at 8pm on a Thursday. I personally cried the first time we did that. It felt like we were all a real community. I could hear it not just in our street but from all around in the distance. It felt like we were all in it together and that felt really moving knowing it was going on up and down the whole country.

Who will Lydia be missing the most?
I think she is missing Mandy and she feels bad about Mandy and Vinny being stuck in the salon. I think she is also worried about Mandy because of the situation with Paul and everything that has gone on as Mandy has opened up to her about it all. Also she is missing Belle even though she’s just in the flat, but she’s missing just being able to chat to her properly. Lydia has been reconnecting with her mum of late, so I think she would have liked the chance to spend time with her, but lockdown has prevented that.

See Lydia in lockdown with husband Sam Dingle on Monday 8 June*

*subject to change