Soap fans have come to associate advertised special episodes with explosions, death, destruction… So, on a notepad, before a Zoom call with the writer of Hollyoaks’ upcoming special ‘What’s Your Normal?’, I had simply scrawled, “no stunt (?)”. No. This is different.
Hollyoaks is dedicating an entire episode to the lives of disabled people – showing their intimate, ordinary and staring-you-right-in-the-face experiences. This episode has been part of a process undertaken by the actors, writers and production team to craft a broader narrative around disability to unravel some truths – and some untruths – away from stunts and sensationalism. It was written by Jonathan Boam, who is neurodivergent, and directed by Bim Ajadi, who is deaf.
When I spoke with actors and production behind-the-scenes of the special, it was clear they wanted it to be an up-close, personal experience. They have skin in the game, as illustrated by Rory Douglas-Speed’s experience of having diabetes.
Douglas-Speed recalls: “I actually flagged up a few years ago [when Joel had a drug addiction]. I thought, ‘OK, it may tie in quite nicely’, because when you have diabetes, obviously you take insulin to live every day. And when he was a heroin addict, he was almost taking something to die every day.”
The idea didn’t get picked up until later; as he tells the story, his excitement is palpable, “I went in for a meeting this time. And I’m told, ‘Oh, we’re making Joel diabetic.’ I was buzzing.”