Gemma and co. set up a charity chilli eating competition at the Bistro to raise funds for Paul – how does he feel at the event?

Paul finds the whole thing really awkward. He doesn’t like feeling pitied or being the centre of attention at something like this. He does understand that everyone’s doing it because they want to help and they love him, but he doesn’t feel right about it. And as nice as it is to see everyone there helping him out, it does remind of what he’s been dealt, and the fact that he might not be there that much longer.

Afterwards, Billy and Bernie clash over their beliefs and Paul reacts badly – why is that?

Billy has suggested a baptism, but Paul’s not feeling that at all. Then there’s Bernie’s side, with her spiritual healing that she likes to go on about. He’s got the pair of them clashing over their beliefs and it all gets a bit much. He feels they are both trying to force their own belief onto him, and Paul doesn’t want any of it. There’s a bit of a heated argument where he snaps and tells them just leave him alone, he can do without this. He then heads off and goes AWOL for the night.

Tell us about Zac who Paul meets at the hotel bar?

Zac is an old flame of Paul’s from a while back. This lad doesn’t know anything about the current things going on with Paul. There’s a big part of Paul that just one wants a normal night, where the conversation isn’t always about the MND and the fact that he’s dying and people are treading on eggshells. So, he ends up reconnecting with this lad and he starts to actually enjoy himself because his mind is not on his  illness. He feels this is what it used to be like with nobody being awkward around him.

But things aren’t so carefree the next morning…

Paul wakes up in a hotel room, really rough as he was drinking so much, and it’s that moment of ‘Oh no, what have I done?’. Then he realises that the charity cash that he was carrying is gone – he’s been mugged off by Zac. It makes him feel a million times worse – this is the £800 that his family and everyone who loves him has grafted to raise. He’s full of self-hatred and guilt.

Does he confess what happened when he gets home?

He just doesn’t want to deal with it. He lies and says that he slept on a mate’s sofa as he had too much to drink – I mean, that bit is true, at least!  But he can barely look Billy in the eye, and Bernie picks up on that. Paul just doesn’t want to think about it, but at some point, he’s going to have to because they’re going to find out that the money’s gone!

Why does he eventually tell Billy?

He just realises how much he’s messed up after everything that Billy’s done for him and is doing for him. He comes clean and he basically says, ‘I messed up and I don’t know why you’re with me as I don’t deserve you’.

Could this be the end of Billy and Paul?

It’s definitely a big moment. He puts it on the line knowing that Billy could very rightly just walk out the door after that. There are certain lines that can’t be crossed, and this could be one of them. It’s a horrible situation.

How was the chilli eating competition to film?

Those scenes where there are a lot of us together are always great. We had a great laugh filming that day. Obviously, Paul’s been in a completely different headspace recently and isn’t really getting involved in things, so when we’re filming, I have to keep a straight face and pretend I’m not really enjoying it – when actually I’m loving it!

This has been a challenging story – can you switch off from it?

I’m quite good at kind of shrugging it off when I get home. If not, I have to think, ‘I’m just acting it, there are people living with it and what they go through is just on a completely other level.’ So, as hard as it can get, you have to remember that.

Billy’s condition is slowly worsening – what help do you get in portraying that?

I have someone I can contact through the MND Association whenever there’s a new symptom or anything that I might not be sure about the best way to portray it. They are more than happy to hear me out and give me tips. And obviously, the storyline team here are working very closely with the MND Association as well. They are an amazing organisation.

Coronation Street airs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8pm on ITV1

By Eastieoaks

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