Behind the scenes at Hollyoaks: Nancy's MS diagnosis

Photo shows Kirsty Grice and three friends standing on the Hollyoaks set.
Back at the start of 2016, we got an unexpected call. Lime Pictures, the team behind Channel 4 soap opera Hollyoaks, were going to be featuring MS on the show. Could we help the writers understand MS?

Our Press and PR Officer, Jess, explains what happened next. “One of the main characters, Nancy Osborne, who’s in her late 20s and has two young children, was going to be diagnosed with MS.

“We were happy to help because we felt it was a great opportunity to raise awareness of MS. Hundreds of thousands of people watch Hollyoaks every week and many of them are at the age when most people first start experiencing symptoms.

“We’ve been providing lots of information – from what it’s like living with fluctuating and invisible symptoms to the emotional impact MS can have on family, relationships and work life.”

Reflecting life with MS on screen

It was important to us that the teen soap reflect what it’s really like to live with MS and how it can affect family and friends. So we arranged for people who are affected by MS in different ways to visit the set and share their experiences with the writers and the actress who plays Nancy, Jessica Fox.

Kirsty , who’s 32 and lives with her four-year-old daughter Lottie, was diagnosed with MS when she was 26. She went to the set with close friends, sisters Vicki and Kat, whose parents have MS.

Kirsty told the Hollyoaks team about how it felt to be diagnosed with relapsing MS. “I wondered how anyone would ever want to be with me when I didn’t even know how I was going to end up. I became really depressed. But with the support of friends and family, I’m now focusing on living in the moment and spending as much time as I can with my little girl, who brings me so much joy.”

Vicki says: “We were really honest about our personal experiences and how we felt when our parents were diagnosed. Nancy has two young children so it was important to us that the writers understood how they could be affected.”

Sharing personal experiences of MS

All three women found sharing their stories an emotional experience. “I got quite choked up at one point, and had to try my very hardest not to get upset. But at the same time, it feels good to know something good has come out of my bad experiences. It’s been a big achievement for me,” says Kirsty.

“Our parents have different types of MS so we discussed how differently they were affected and the impact this had on our family. I felt quite emotional discussing it but hoped that our honesty would help the storyline,” says Kat.

> Read about telling your family and friends

Shaping Nancy's MS storyline

The day finished with a tour of the set. “It was also great to see where the show is filmed and visit iconic sets like The Dog in the Pond and Esther's Magic Bean!” says Kirsty.

Nancy’s diagnosis was revealed in January, and her storyline will evolve over the next few months. “We hope it resonates with those watching who may be affected by MS. Hollyoaks is, of course, a soap opera and some aspects of Nancy’s journey may be more dramatic or move along more quickly than in real life, but we know our information and support has already helped shape the storyline to better reflect the reality of living with MS,” says Jess.

> Read more about living with MS