PROUD Ballymoney mum Dee Tasker has spoken of her delight that her twelve-week-old baby son Theo is the UK’s youngest soap star and is helping to send out a positive message about Down’s syndrome, writes Nevin Farrell.
Despite being less than three months old, young Theo, has already made it into millions of homes across Britain and Ireland by getting a part in Emmerdale.
And away from the bright lights and glitz of the acting set in Yorkshire, young Theo and his mum who currently live near Leeds, are visiting Dee’s home town of Ballymoney this week to take some time out from ‘acting’.
41-year-old mum Dee, or Deirdre (nee Havlin), spoke to us at her parents’ home in Gault Park and Dee - well-known in music circles as part of the group ‘Deanta’ - told of her pride at young Theo’s tv appearances.
Theo plays the part of ‘Leo’ in Emmerdale where the storyline goes that he is the son of Marlon Dingle and Rhona Goskirk whose partner is vet Paddy Kirk.
Theo is a Down’s syndrome baby and Dee says she is delighted that the Emmerdale producers decided to introduce the subject to viewers to help educate the public.
“It is great that Theo can help people see that a baby born Down’s syndrome is just the same as any other child who laughs, smiles and is a great wee character.
“The emphasis from me and my husband Gary is not on the syndrome but on Theo as a baby. We want him to be safe, healthy, happy and give him the opportunity to fulfil his potential just as any other parent would.
“As a new mother and father we have the same challenges as any others about getting to know our child; what he likes and what stimulates him and our aspirations for Theo are the same as every loving parent has for their child.
“We are honoured to have a child to take care of and blessed that he is happy and healthy and whatever challenges arise in the future we’ll meet them like any other parents. Theo is so placid, he gets that from his father and he loves music so he maybe gets that from me!” Dee told the Times.
Dee is married to Yorkshireman Gary and lives at Brighouse near Leeds and she works as a teacher.
They live just 20 minutes away from the studio and Dee explained how baby Theo came to be Britain’s youngest star in Emmerdale which is regularly watched by an average of over eight million people.
“The lady at the Child Development Unit said Emmerdale wanted a Down’s Syndrome baby to play the part. Initially we didn’t want to get involved because we didn’t know what the storyline would be.
“But Emmerdale invited both me and my mum Frances along to meet them and because they were going to handle the issue so positively and sensitively we agreed Theo’s appearances. My mum was disappointed she didn’t get to see any of the stars!”
“Emmerdale explained the storyline and we agreed that if they were going to highlight the syndrome I would like to be part of it,” said Dee.
Theo has already taken part in several filming sessions and his debut on tv screens came on Monday of last week when an ‘Emmerdale Party’ was held at Gault Park where Dee and young Theo were joined by family members including Theo’s cousins Michael Mullaghan; Johnathan and Adam Feeney along with the Pattons - Ryan, Lauren and Amy.
Dee said the cast of Emmerdale have really taken to Theo and another Down’s syndrome baby called Harry who is also used in the hit tv soap to play the part of ‘Leo’.
Dee is very friendly with Harry’s mum Katie and both are delighted with the friendliness of the actors.
“The cast have been absolutely wonderful. They are so supportive and really dote on Theo and Harry. They have got to know them so well and they know Theo in particular loves cuddles. The three main actors who work with Theo have been fantastic especially Zoe Henry who plays ‘Leo’s’ mum Rhona.”
When filming is taking place Dee says they may be at the set for about three hours in the morning but that she is able to be with Theo and take him for walks and the like until he is needed when he gets dressed from his own personalised ‘Emmerdale’ wardrobe.
“It is a real enjoyable experience and the cast all take time to nurse him. Zoe and me have chatted and she has asked me questions about Down’s syndrome.
“The cast treat us like royalty and the most important thing is that I can take him about in the pram to get some fresh air whenever I want,” added Dee.
She said she will decide as she goes along whether Theo wil stay with Emmerdale and
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she didn’t know whether he will grow up as a ‘character’ there.
But Dee is pleased that Theo’s appearances are helping to bring the message to the wider public about Down’s syndrome.
“The experience I had is really positive. Down’s syndrome is no longer the taboo and I think people are more and more aware,” she pointed out.
Dee said the reaction of people in Ballymoney to Theo appearing in Emmerdale has been “overwhelming”.
“Everybody has been really supportive and really interested,” she said.
Dee and Gary - who is a marketing executive with Sale Sharks rugby club - have a property in Portrush and they intend to bring the young star ‘home’ to the north coast as often as possible.
Dee says Gary’s two other children - Annis (28) and Lucy (23) - are “over the moon” at Leo’s tv debut.
And as for Dee herself she said it was great to meet the stars of Emmerdale and they were very “down to earth”.
She said she dropped into the ‘Woolpack’ and said she had to pinch herself that she was standing in a fictional pub which is so familiar to millions of tv viewers.
Mark Charnock (42), who plays Marlon Dingle, has spoken about the Down’s syndrome storyline.
He said: “I speak for all three of us in saying we are thrilled. It’s a big responsibility but we were told from the very beginning it was going to be a very positive story, very upbeat.
“It’s more about love. It’s about three people dealing with a very difficult domestic situation and the baby just happens to be Down’s syndrome. It’s all about making it work for the child.
“We’ve been well served with research. I’ve been reading a lot of books about it but the best experience is hands on, meeting people who have been through the experience.”
Dominic Brunt (41), who plays Paddy Kirk, made reference to Dee Tasker.
He said: “We are working with two women who are just amazing mothers. The whole issue with their babies having Down’s Syndrome is secondary. They are just in love with their babies.
“Taking on an issue like this does make me proud. Soap at its best can re-educate people. Hopefully, the storyline will show people it is possible to have a normal life.”
Stories on tv soaps about babies and adults with Down’s syndrome might bring up a lot of questions, the Down’s Syndrome Association says, and if anyone would like to talk to them they can be contacted on 08452300372 or email firstname.lastname@example.org