Former Emmerdale actress Leah Bracknell, who has died aged 55, three years after a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer, was a leader in the portrayal of LGBT characters in soap opera. Her character Zoe Tate, who she played from 1989 - 2005, was the first permanent lesbian character in a British soap.
John Whiston, Managing Director of Continuing Drama and Head of ITV in the North, said: "Everyone on Emmerdale is very sad to hear of the death of Leah Bracknell. Leah was a hugely popular member of the Emmerdale cast for over 16 years. During that time she featured in some of the show's most high profile and explosive plots and always delivered a pitch perfect performance. Zoe Tate was one of soap's first lesbian characters and Leah made sure the character was both exciting and credible. Leah herself was a very generous and caring colleague, much loved by cast and crew alike."
Bracknell's character Zoe was one of the Tate family who owned Home Farm, and consequently were the centre of the action in the fictional Yorkshire village. Zoe was a vet in Emmerdale, and after a couple of relationships with men, revealed that she was gay in 1993 - a year before the famous lesbian kiss between Beth Jordache and Margaret Clemence in Channel 4's Brookside. Her subsequent colourful storylines also included shooting her brother Chris's kidnapper (a jury ruled it a lawful killing) and being charged with the attempted murder of her child's father (she was acquitted again).
And in one of the first portrayals of mental illness in a soap, Zoe Tate was diagnosed with schizophrenia; after a psychotic episode, she could not remember sexual encounters, after one of which she found herself pregnant.
Bracknell left Emmerdale in 2005 in an episode voted the Best Exit at the British Soap Awards in May 2006, when Zoe broke a gas pipe and set a timer at Home Farm, watching the farm explode before driving away.
Leah Bracknell was born Alison Rosalind Bracknell on July 12 1964, the daughter of Chinese-Malaysian actress Li-Er Hwang and director David Bracknell, who had met when they were working on the film The World of Suzie Wong in Hong Kong.
Her first screen appearance was in her father's series of children's short comedies The Chiffy Kids in the late 1970s; she went on to study acting at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. When she left Emmerdale, she had TV roles in Judge John Deed, Casualty 1907, Doctors and another ITV Yorkshire-set soap, The Royal Today, and theatre performances in Gaslight and Strangers on a Train.
Bracknell was also a yoga teacher and her cancer diagnosis came as a shock. In October 2016, she wrote on her blog: "Teaching yoga classes and workshops, it was a time of new beginnings: preparing to move house, youngest child fleeing the nest, and excited to be starting rehearsals for a comedy play, being back onstage, going on tour. But, it turns out that the universe had other plans. Life was about to be unexpectedly turned on its head."
Her partner Jez Hughes - whom she married in 2017 - launched a Go Fund Me page to raise money for her to undergo treatment overseas, due to a lack of options available on the NHS, after which more than 2,500 fans joined together to raise £50,000 to help pay for cutting-edge treatment in Germany.
She thanked everyone involved, adding: "I really did not expect or feel deserving of such interest and kindness."
Talking in February on ITV's Loose Women she said she had a positive outlook on life and was not fearful despite being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, saying that she had formed a "relationship" with her cancer to try to understand it.
"I've talked before about how my response was one of absolute anger, it's infuriating - how dare you tell me this - which is why I didn't want someone to guesstimate what someone thought my prognosis would be.
"It's based on statistics that could be out of date, that could be not about my age, not about my specific sort of cancer. I don't want to be a statistic."
Bracknell also told the TV panelists that she was taking a new medication she hoped would give her a longer life expectancy, but in August she revealed her cancer treatment has stopped working and that she was relying on alternative treatments.