Inside Emmerdale Steve Halliwell’s off-air alcoholism battle and prison stint

Emmerdale fans were thrilled to discover Zak Dingle was making his return to the ITV soap after actor Steve Halliwell took an extended break last year.

The 66-year-old actor has played one of the soap's most iconic character since 1994.

Zak, a loveable pig farmer with a fiery temper at times, was only supposed to be a temporary character, but viewers were so gripped with his storylines he became a permanent part of the programme.

However, fans might not know that actor Steve's past was just as troubled as the lives of Zak and the Dingles family on the soap.

Steve suffered a 50-year battle with alcoholism and depression which left him at rock bottom before he joined Emmerdale.

In a past interview with TV Times magazine, Steve explained how he saw similarities between himself and Zak Dingle, and he believes he was always meant to play the incredible role.

Steve told the publication: "I can see a pattern to me leading to playing Zak. I went on a journey and it seemed to be my destiny to play this man who I understood.

"Everything the Dingles had been through, I had too – trouble with the police, fighting, being evicted. And if there were any aspects of Zak's life I hadn't lived, I knew people who had."

He also opened up about a time he was arrested when sleeping rough in London.

Steve explained to the publication that he was "so hungry and got very thin".

He added that "back then, it was illegal to be homeless" and he "was arrested for sleeping in an empty Government building".

"I was sent to Ashford remand prison for two weeks and then I was put on probation and sent home", he explained.

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Steve also spoke about being arrested after an incident with a gang he used to be involved with.

He said they "were wandering home at 11.30pm when one of the gang" members "threw a brick through an off licence window".

They ran off with some booze from the shop and somebody called the police saying "they had seen a bearded youth running away".

As Steve had a beard then, he was arrested and "took the rap and got sent to a detention centre for three months".

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Landing the part of Zak finally helped Steve turn his life around, as he spoke about his difficult journey in his autobiography If the Cap Fits: My Rocky Road to Emmerdale.

In an interview with The Mirror in 2014, Steve said: "I was born to play Zak Dingle – the cap really does fit."

He continued: "Then there's depression, drinking and having to fight your way out of situations. I've lived all those things – and more.

"I can't blame anyone else. I pressed the self-destruct button."

Steve returned to the Emmerdale set in 2020 after taking six months off work after a heart operation.

He then took an extended break last summer amid the coronavirus pandemic, but made his comeback to the Dales on January 18 2021.

Emmerdale airs weeknights at 7pm on ITV, with an extra episode at 8pm on Thursdays.

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