Nelson Mandela, Zsa Zsa Gabor… Leah Bracknell. Yep, the British soap doyen joins the other two as only the third person atop the Drop 40 to die since it was established in 2010. And while the others were silvertops who’d spent years, if not decades, teetering on the brink of death, our Leah was a mere 55 when she got written out of the script here on Earth.
The daughter of director David Bracknell and actress Li-er Hwang (Leah being an Anglicization of her mother’s name), Bracknell joined genteel Yorkshire soap opera Emmerdale Farm in 1989 as Zoe Tate, the daughter of local millionaire Frank Tate. The character quickly set up shop as a vet in the area, but was written out for over a year when Bracknell fell pregnant in real life.
Upon Bracknell’s return, the show had changed dramatically. It was now called Emmerdale, planes were crashing into the middle of the village and a new writing staff had taken over. Bracknell herself was a key component of this new era: Zoe Tate was now a lesbian and one of the show’s most recognisable characters. Tate was landmark character in British TV: the first recurring lesbian (arriving a year before Anna Friel lezzed up on Brookside) and arguably still the best representation of WLW on any British soap. Tate stayed in the show until 2005, and Bracknell won Best Exit at the 2006 British Soap Awards.
Of course, there had to be a reason for Bracknell to top the Drop 40… she was arguably the most visible cancer sufferer in the UK over the past decade, three years of constant media updates, tabloid stories and appearances on Loose Women. She tried meditating, yoga, cannabis and every alternative remedy in the book… but in the end, cancer turned out to be the worst thing that happened to a Tate since Nicholas Serota.