|Portrayed by||Roxy Shahidi|
|First appearance||11 August 2008|
|Introduced by||Anita Turner (2008)
Kate Oates (2013)
|Occupation||Packer (2008–09, 2014)
Shop Assistant (2009–10, 2014)
Pole Dancer (2014)
Wedding planner (2014-)
Leyla Harding is a fictional character from the ITV soap opera Emmerdale, played by Roxy Shahidi. She made her first on-screen appearance on 11 August 2008 and was introduced by series producer, Anita Turner. The character departed on 5 August 2011. Shahidi returned to Emmerdale for two episodes on 25 December 2013. She returned full time in January 2014.
In July 2008, the Prestwich Advertiser reported that actress Roxy Shahidi had joined the cast of Emmerdale as Leyla Harding. Shahidi signed an initial six-month contract. She said of her casting: "I’ve been filming for two weeks now and it’s great. [...] I’ve done a lot of theatre but not much TV work up to now so it’s great for me to work on such a popular and well established show. It’s a dream come true in fact." Shahidi later said that she was "so excited", commenting: "This is a brilliant opportunity for me as I've done lots of theatre but not much TV. Everyone at Emmerdale has been so warm and welcoming. It's such a well-established show and I can't wait to see what Leyla gets up to." Emmerdale series producer Anita Turner added, "Rokhsaneh is a terrific actress and an exciting new addition to the cast. Leyla's going to have some fun stirring up the factory."
|“||Leyla is slightly ditzy but a fun loving, loyal girl. She's easily led which can get her into trouble, but she's finally achieved her dream of buying the old farm shop, and is settling down with David at Farrers Barn. She's funny but often gets laughed at.||”|
Leyla is described as "streetwise" and "savvy". Shahidi described her as "very down to earth", "very lovable" and "really ballsy". Leyla was initially a new worker at Eric Pollard's (Chris Chittell) factory and it was said that she would immediately get on the right side of him. Leyla is reluctant to talk about her past, which sparks speculation about why she has moved to the village. The Sun described her as a "streetwise minx". Channel Five's soap opera reporting website Holy Soap describe Leyla as a "naive, honest, hard worker who can sometimes be a bit too trusting of people". What's on TV deemed her an "attractive woman". Shahidi told the Daily Mirror that she and Leyla are "quite similar in some ways" saying "We're both pretty ditsy and we have the same sense of fun. Leyla says things without thinking, and I can do that too." She added that their lives and relationships are very different because she and Leyla are "worlds apart".
Relationship with David Metcalfe
Leyla begins a relationship with Eric's son, David Metcalfe (Matthew Wolfenden). In October 2009, Leyla sleeps with her new boss, Nathan Wylde (Lyndon Ogbourne). However, when she admits that she regrets cheating on David, Nathan warns that he will not let her forget what happened and begins a "campaign of manipulation". Of the plot, Ogbourne told the Press Association: "The switch between being such a seemingly nice guy and the malicious way he's controlling Leyla is quite horrific." He added that Nathan would get "worse and worse" and could "easily fit into the cast of American Psycho by the end of it". Leyla then fears that Nathan will tell David the truth. Shahidi said this causes Leyla to be "under a lot of stress". However, Leyla confesses to David. Leyla and David later reconcile. Wolfenden said he believes that Leyla is the "right woman" for David, despite "all of the things she has done to him". He said "David seems to be under the thumb, and Leyla gets away with cheating, stealing and having a secret son. But David has been good enough to put that to one side, so because of that I reckon she must be the right girl for him."
In May 2010, Digital Spy reported that Leyla's sister, Alicia Gallagher (Natalie Anderson), would be introduced. The website said Alicia arrives in the village and makes it clear that she has unfinished business with Leyla. Leyla and Alicia's relationship is "far from perfect". Leyla is forced to deal with Alicia's arrival in an attempt to keep her "murky and scandal-ridden" past buried. Anderson said that Alicia was set to make life quite complicated for Leyla. Emmerdale series producer Gavin Blyth added that Alicia will start stirring things up in Leyla's life the minute she sets foot in the village. Alicia arrives in the village to warn Leyla that she does not want her at their mother's funeral. However, Leyla ignores Alicia and they "have a bit of a screaming match" at the funeral, which leaves Alicia annoyed. Discussing what caused the "bad blood" between Alicia and Leyla in an interview with Digital Spy, Anderson said, "All I can really say is that something has definitely gone on between them! [...] The biggest clue I can give is that Alicia is fiercely protective of her family unit and she doesn't want anything to come between that. So you can read into that what you want!" Anderson said that Alicia does not want to cause trouble, but does not want Leyla around. Anderson added that Alicia would "prefer it if [Leyla] just disappeared". Alicia was introduced along with her husband, Justin (Andrew Langtree), and their son, Jacob (Joe Warren-Plant).
In September 2010, it was revealed that Leyla was the biological mother of Jacob. Shahidi said that she was "really shocked" when she learned about the storyline, but was also excited as she thought it would be "really interesting" to play. She opined that the storyline would bring a new dimension to Leyla. Shahidi was involved in Warren-Plant's casting as Jacob. Shahidi admitted that she was surprised that Leyla had not seen Jacob for so long, but understood as Leyla wanted to get on with her life and escape her past. Shahidi said that Leyla just wants to be Jacob's aunt. Leyla wants to see Jacob and interact with him like a normal aunt and nephew. Shahidi had previously said that Leyla kept the secret as she wanted to get on with her life. Shahidi also said that the easiest way for Leyla to move on in her life was to ignore it.
Leyla takes Jacob to a birthday party, where he goes into anaphylactic shock due to an allergic reaction to some cake. Speaking about the plot, Shahidi commented: "It's Leyla's fault because she hasn't listened to her sister's warnings about not letting Jacob eat anything because of his nut allergy." Shahidi added that if Leyla had listened to Alicia, it could have been avoided. The situation shocks Leyla and makes her realise that Alicia is Jacob's mother and needs to be listened to. Shahidi said that Leyla needs to learn to be "less full-on" and stop "indulging and spoiling" Jacob.
In June 2011, the Daily Star Sunday reported that Shahidi was to leave Emmerdale. Speaking to the newspaper, Shahidi confirmed: "I have had an amazing three years at Emmerdale and it has been a really tough decision to leave." She filmed her final scenes as Leyla later that month. Shahidi admitted to We Love Telly that it took her six months to reach the decision to leave the show. The actress explained that Anderson helped her reach the decision as she has experience of leaving a long-running serial. Shahidi said that viewers would see a "desperate" side to Leyla in the build-up to her departure.
Leyla returned to Emmerdale during the episode broadcast on 25 December 2013. Shahidi revealed that when she received the call from producer Kate Oates about coming back, it came at the "perfect time." She was initially in talks about coming back earlier, but the play she was appearing extended its run. She continued, "I went away from that not knowing whether Leyla was coming back, but then when Kate got in touch with this Christmas Day storyline, it just felt like fate because it was a much better way for Leyla to come back into the show." Shahidi said that she had always hoped Leyla would return at some point and she was excited about Leyla's return storyline. The show's producers decided not to announce Shahidi's return, so viewers would be surprised. When asked how long she would be staying with the show, she quipped that Leyla would have "lots of exciting stuff" in 2014 and she and Anderson had spent time filming on location. The actress added "After that, there's stuff in the pipeline but I haven't read the scripts yet!"
Alicia later finds Leyla working as a pole dancer. To prepare for the storyline, Shahidi took pole dancing lessons and had to wear a PVC catsuit. Shahidi explained that it was important for viewers to warm to Leyla and she did not want to be wearing "a little pair of panties", as it may have been off putting to some. She thought the catsuit was the perfect outfit for Leyla as it made her look ridiculous. She told Susan Hill from the Daily Star that she enjoyed the fact Leyla did not come back to the village straight away following her appearance at Christmas, saying "It means the viewers can see what she's been doing while she's been away." Hill reported that there would be "lots of twists and turns" as Leyla continues to work on her relationships with her sister and son. Shahidi added that she was looking forward to the next chapter in Leyla's life.
Leyla arrives in Emmerdale for a job interview with factory owner Eric Pollard (Chris Chittell). She tells him that she won Machinist of the Year in 2007 and left her last job because of "inappropriate overtime" with a young manager. Eric gives her the job and Leyla soon makes friends with her colleagues and joins the St. Mary's Church Choir, which forms to enter a competition and save the church from closure.
Months after starting at the factory, her colleague Lily Butterfield (Anne Charleston) sees Leyla leaving the building late at night and arriving very early. Eventually, Leyla reveals she is sleeping there and that she was at university. Unfortunately her part-time jobs as a cleaner and barmaid meant things got on top of her and she left without finishing her course. Lily asked Leyla to move in with her and Edna Birch (Shirley Stelfox), Lily's sister, who was unhappy with the arrangement so Lily and Leyla joined Pearl Ladderbanks (Meg Johnson), who also works at the factory. When Pearl or Lily ask Leyla about her parents, she avoids answering their questions.
Leyla takes an interest in David Metcalfe (Matthew Wolfenden), inviting him to a concert but he was sidetracked by his ex-girlfriend, Nicola De Souza (Nicola Wheeler), was upset, thinking her father was terminally ill. On learning Rodney was healthy, David tells Leyla he can go to the concert after all. In early February, she goes out for the night with him and meets Skin, who drives them back to Emmerdale. While Skin tries getting close to Leyla, she makes him sleep in his van overnight. The following day, Pearl sees him fleeing after stealing their valuables. David, by chance, knocks him over and Leyla kisses him to thank him. They have a brief relationship but he dumps her upon assuming she believes he still has feelings for Nicola. In April, they restart their relationship. Leyla tells David that her mother is in a care home, and she is trying to earn as much money as possible to fund it. They grow closer during May when they campaign for election to the local council and he wins on 4 June.
Leyla starts work as deputy manager of the new farm shop opened by Natasha Wylde (Amanda Donohoe) in the village. On seeing Maisie's new shoes, Leyla was jealous and stole £250 from the shop for a pair, planning to put it back when she got paid. However, Natasha's son Nathan (Lyndon Ogbourne) found out, and to Leyla's surprise, was much nicer than she expected. After accompanying each other to a concert, they become intoxicated before sleeping together. Attempting to quit her job, Nathan's behaviour turns nasty. He begins to blackmail her until David becomes suspicious. In November, she admits to her one-night stand with Nathan and, disgusted, he left. When he saw Nathan attacking Leyla, he punched him but told Leyla that he hadn't done it for her. David later forgave Leyla and they reunited in December. Leyla now owns the farm shop that she used to work in and has renamed it "Leyla's".
David and Leyla are officially together and moved in together, buying Farrers Barn. Leyla got the news that her mum had died and insisted on attending the funeral alone. She comforted Alicia (Natalie Anderson), her sister, during the service but Alicia insisted Leyla leave, telling her that she couldn't be trusted. Leyla later went to her sister's house and watched her with her husband, Justin, and young son, Jacob (Joe-Warren Plant). She met Justin several times on the quiet, leading David to think she was having an affair with him. She swore she wasn't but wouldn't explain so David left for a council trip, hurt and disappointed, thinking Leyla was lying to him. While away, Alicia turned up with Jacob, and during a heart to heart, Leyla's difficult relationship with her mother and sister was explained. Jacob is, in fact, Leyla's son. She got pregnant accidentally and had planned a termination but was "persuaded" not to as Alicia couldn't get pregnant so she and her husband adopted Leyla's son. It was later revealed that Alicia's husband was in fact the father of Jacob, after a drunken one night stand with Leyla.
When Alicia and Jacob revealed that Alicia and Justin had split up and they were homeless, Leyla insisted they move in with her and David. David was not happy about this but accepted it to make Leyla happy. Alicia soon got a job as barmaid at The Woolpack but annoyed David by constantly assuming that Leyla would be happy to babysit. Eventually David got so fed up of the complications that having Jacob around caused, he demanded Leyla choose: him or Jacob. She promptly left the village, but later got in contact when she sent Jacob a present. After Alicia and David tell Jacob that Leyla is his birth mother, Jacob begins emailing Leyla.
Leyla returns to the village demanding to speak to Alicia and Jacob. She finds David at the B&B and tells him that Jacob has been emailing her, as he knows she is his biological mother. Leyla then learns that David is marrying Alicia. Val Pollard (Charlie Hardwick) locks Leyla in a cupboard, preventing her from ruining the wedding. She is later let out and comes face-to-face with Alicia, who slaps Leyla.
Alicia sees that Jacob is confused and upset following Leyla's surprise visit and agrees to meet her, allowing Leyla to be part of Jacob's life. After Alicia drops Leyla off at her flat, Leyla sneaks out of the building and is followed by Alicia into a strip club where Leyla is revealed to be working at a pole dancer. An angry Alicia drags Leyla off the stage before they are caught up in a police raid and arrested on suspicion of soliciting. They are released the following day and a homeless Leyla returns to Emmerdale with Alicia, much to David's annoyance. Leyla forms a friendship with Priya Sharma (Fiona Wade) who helps her get a job at the factory. She then moves in with Katie Sugden (Sammy Winward). Leyla tries to help Priya through her pregnancy, as she is suffering from an eating disorder. The father of the baby is Leyla's ex-fiancée, David, who is also Priya's ex-fiancée and Leyla's sister, Alicia's, husband. Leyla is worried the baby may be at risk, but Priya is eager to deny that she has an eating problem. Priya finally confides in her and Leyla accompanies Priya to her baby scan, where they are told the baby is smaller the average, but unharmed. However, Priya is worried. Priya repeatedly tells Leyla not to tell anyone and she is adamant that she can cope alone. However, Leyla tells Jai Sharma (Chris Bisson), who is Priya's brother and he forces her to eat a biscuit, which makes her angry. She is also angry with Leyla for telling him, however Leyla also tells Alicia.
Alicia receives a £70,000 inheritance from the solicitor of the recently deceased Keith Cheesedale, both Alicia and David are unclear about who Mr. Cheesedale was but decide to keep the money. After Mr. Cheesedale's wife storms into The Woolpack and angrily throws drinks over Alicia, and it is revealed that Mr. Cheesedale was in fact Leyla's former boss and lover, the money was mistakenly given to Alicia as Leyla went by the stage name "Alicia Harding" during her pole dancing. Alicia and David refuse to give the money to Leyla. Jacob, tired of the arguments the money is causing, takes the money from the safe and throws it into the river. David and Leyla frantically recover most of the money. Leyla repays Jacob the deposit money, as well as giving Alicia and David enough for a new car. A delighted Leyla then enjoys her windfall.
Leyla later becomes business partners with Megan Macey (Gaynor Faye) and they decide to base their new-found business around wedding planning. They manage to plan Laurel Thomas' (Charlotte Bellamy) wedding to Marlon Dingle (Mark Charnock) and Priya's wedding to Rakesh Kotecha (Pasha Bocarie). When flirting with Megan's boyfriend, Jai, Leyla realises that she has a crush on him, touches him a bit, and they end up having sex. Leyla tries to end her affair with Jai on numerous occasions, but Jai's charms keep luring her back in and they are eventually caught by Rakesh. Leyla swears Rakesh to secrecy, while she continues her affair with Jai. Leyla's friends become suspicious of her, knowing that she is in a secret relationship. Jai and Leyla are nearly caught by Megan when they are kissing in her house, but Leyla manages to hide just in time. After Jai falls through the balcony and onto the stairs in an accident at home, Megan soon discovers Jai and Leyla's affair. She tries to convince Leyla to sell her half of the business to her, but Leyla refuses and agrees to stay away from Jai, and Megan reconciles with him.
Leyla is later supportive of Alicia when she is sexually assaulted by Lachlan White (Thomas Atkinson), and helps Alicia, David and Jacob through their difficult time. She slaps Jai's mother, Georgia Sharma (Trudie Goodwin), when she makes snide remarks about the way Alicia dresses, and that this is what made Lachlan attack her. Alicia then changes her style and appearance, which upsets Leyla and she tries to convince her sister not to change just because of what Lachlan did to her. She is pleased for Alicia and David when they decide to move to Portugal, however, she argues with Alicia when she realises she will not be able to spend any time with Jacob before they leave. Leyla later rekindles her affair with Jai, who is still in a relationship with Megan, and he promises that he will marry Leyla one day after disposing of Megan, which excites her. However, her feelings of Jai are challenged when she witnesses him violently grabbing Rachel Breckle's (Gemma Oaten) wrist and threaten to murder her if she does not give him full custody of their son Archie.
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