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Emmerdale's Nicola Wheeler: 'I was only away seven months, but there were so many changes!'

Emmerdale’s Nicola Wheeler (opens in new tab) tells Soaplife how motherhood has changed her life for the better…

Nicola King hasn’t taken long to get back into the swing of Emmerdale village life since she returned from working in Dubai. But for Nicola Wheeler, who has played the character for almost 15 years, coming back to work after seven months’ maternity leave was a shock.

“Everyone said I would feel different, but I underestimated exactly how different,” says Nicola (opens in new tab). “I used to think my job was easy, but now I’m a mum, learning lines and getting my act together is much harder.”

So, is motherhood living up to your expectations?

“It’s changed my life for the better, but when I was pregnant, I didn’t really take heed of people who told me to make the most of resting while I could. I was on the go the whole time, but once my son was born, I realised that I should have sat on my bum for at least three weeks.”

What have you called your little boy?

“Do you know what, I’m keeping that to myself, so that people don’t nick it! I have friends in the business and when they’ve given their child’s name out, people have messaged them on Twitter and said, ‘What a horrible name.’ I’m keeping it to myself because ‘Barry’ isn’t popular… I’m joking!”

What were your biggest fears about coming back to work?

“Learning my lines and the fact that I was still weaning my son when I came back. I wondered if I’d gone back at the right time, but then there are so many different phases, aren’t there? My partner and I are doing the childcare between us and, so far, the longest I’ve left my baby is 12 hours. The great thing about weaning is he now prefers water to milk, and I know that he loves mango and curry!”

How are you finding it now you’re a working mum?

“For a start, I take my hat off to any working mums who watch soaps – I don’t know where they find the time! I also have such respect for mums who stay at home. I always remember Charlotte Bellamy (opens in new tab) [Laurel Dingle], who has three children, telling me that coming to work was a rest for her. I totally get what she meant now.”

What was it like seeing everyone at Emmerdale again?

Nick Miles (opens in new tab) [Jimmy King] and I kept in touch, but it was lovely to see everyone again. I was only away for seven months, but in that time there were so many changes. Everyone kept joking that I was lucky to be off during the helicopter crash as I could have been one of the chosen!”

Have you managed to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight?

“I’m still a dress size bigger than I was, but I’m not putting any pressure on myself to lose weight. In fact, I’ve recently bought the next size up in jeans. I was determined to squeeze back into the old ones, but you know what, there’s a muffin top and then there’s a whole cake!”

How was the birth?

“I was in labour for 24 hours, but I’m over it now. The worst part was the three weeks after the birth. Nobody tells you those weeks are hell. I felt as if I needed to sit on a rubber ring and I’d be doing it for the rest of my life. I couldn’t walk properly. It was horrible, but my mum told me to be patient and said that I’d do more each day. She was right.”

What was a typical day like for you during your seven months off work?

“The days just went. I’d get up at 8am and think, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’ Then it would suddenly be 9pm. And I’m one of the lucky ones, as I have a lovely baby. We did manage to have a holiday. We went to Majorca for a week because when a child reaches the age of two, you have to start paying for them! We had so much luggage. We literally packed the entire house for the baby and we were lucky if we had a pair of socks each.”

Can you tell us what’s in store for Nicola now she’s back?

“I can’t tell you, but once my son is a bit older, I’ll be saying to them, ‘Give me a story!’ For the time being, however, I’m happy not to be in the thick of things.”

Emmerdale (opens in new tab), ITV.