After four months in charge of Emmerdale, how's it all going?
"I think it's going really, really well. Every week I'm learning new things, in fact I'm probably learning new things every day. I understand the responsibility of looking after a show like this - it's a massive show that I was a fan of as a child. The team here at Emmerdale and the support I've had has been great. I'm excited every day by the challenges, and I love working here."
What's your vision for the show? Are there any particular changes that you'd like viewers to notice as your episodes continue coming through?
"On screen, I'd like there to be a slightly faster pace and I want Emmerdale to have a modern and contemporary feel, but without losing sight of its roots as I'm proud that this show is set in the village that it is - it's the most stunning and beautiful location. We might not be an urban show, but I think we can be an urbane show - modern, contemporary and with a real cutting edge. I'd also like the show to be full of wit and warmth, as I'd never want to lose the humour. That's not to say that I like to do huge comedy stories, but I think if there's wit and warmth with every character then that's where we'll get that humour - character-based humour that feels real."
Do the episodes airing at the moment fully represent your vision for the show, or will it take a while for your plans to be reflected on screen?
"Well, I was here for two years before taking over as producer as I was working as story editor, so I'm not going to hide behind anything as I've been across all of the material that is on screen at the moment. But obviously the further we go into my tenure, the more it will be my work. I take great pride in what's on screen now and great excitement in what we've got coming up."
"I think it is because that story has had such prominence. But even in that story, there was a massive amount of warmth and moments of wit there. I think that when you've got a story that is so emotional and has had such a long build, people tend to forget the other stuff that has gone on around it. I think people tend to forget the episode that went out the night before Jackson's death, where we had the party at the Dingles' - I think it was one of the funniest episodes that I've seen. All of the kids were there and they were playing games with Lizzie, so even on the evening before a really sad and tragic episode, we had one of the funniest and warmest episodes that I've seen. So I think we can do both. I don't think that tackling hard and powerful subjects means that you have to forego the humour. We've all been in dark places sometimes, but we don't stop laughing and we don't stop living."
We know that all of the Maceys apart from Declan are leaving the show, so will that mean a new family at Home Farm?
"I think what we'll see is that, no matter how explosive and dramatic the departures of his family members are and how powerful that storyline is, Declan is left as the man who seems to have everything. He's got his freedom again, he's got the money, he's got the big house and he's got the big car. So what we'll be exploring is what's next for Declan - we're not rushing into any new families. Home Farm is Declan's and that's where he belongs. There may be people coming along to join him along the way, but those may be more established faces rather than new ones. It will be all change, but it'll be Declan staying at Home Farm."
Declan is a popular character but he seems to have become slightly less so as he's become more ruthless. Will we see him return to his old self?
"For me, Declan hasn't changed. I think Declan is funny, he's witty and he's relaxed - until he's pushed into a corner or until he's challenged! I think he's a man who can compartmentalise and put things into boxes - in the afternoon he might have to deal with a very tricky problem and realise he has to be ruthless, but in the evening he'll see that he's dealt with that and now it's time for fun. I think there'll be an evolution of Declan and we'll start to understand him more. We'll see that he's a man who's capable of being very hard and holding a grudge for a long time, but that doesn't stop him from enjoying life."
"It was absolutely because of the story - that story of Ella and Adam was so explosive. I think sometimes what soaps can do is have great characters and great actors and they'll tell a story with them, but they're so afraid of change and that means stories don't have consequences. For me, with a heavy heart, as soon as we saw this story evolving we realised that in order to play it properly, it had to have consequences. We couldn't do a story that was so big and have everyone happy and acting like it never happened two months later. So it was a story-led decision and I do think we've had a high quality of actors in the story - some of Ella's scenes have been magnificent. She'll be leaving for the foreseeable future, but she's not going to be killed, let's say that!"
With so many characters leaving Emmerdale, can we expect an influx of newcomers?
"There won't necessarily be an influx, but there are changes coming and we'll see some new faces on screen. We've just had Rachel Breckle joining, and some very interesting characters who are linked to her and her background will appear. I think they'll have a very clear effect on screen and they'll be types of characters who we haven't seen for a while - they're really exciting. But we do have a big, solid cast here and I wouldn't ever want to get more in just because people are leaving. It's about the story and when the timing's right."
"It's different for all of them. For Leyla, the story of her departure is going to be so emotional, so powerful and so full of consequences. I've been watching some of the episodes in the edit and they're so, so moving. Equally with Mia and Ella, their departures will not be a whimper - they're going to go out with a bang and in the process, that will change the attitudes and lives of quite a few people for a long, long time. It's all character-dependent and again, the most important thing for me is consequences. There should always be consequences for those who are left behind."
"Absolutely. It's been interesting looking at the mixed reaction, but at this end, the overall response has been really positive and I love them. We really wanted an opening that started to tell a story and started to hint that, yes, it's a small village but there's big drama. And look, I've been working in telly for years now, and I have never, ever known any change of credits or theme tune that hasn't had fans - quite rightly - saying, 'I don't like this change'. It would have been impossible for us to do this and please everyone, but I'm happy with them and I think they do exactly what we wanted them to do - they start to reposition Emmerdale into something that's very strong, very modern and very fresh. I'm happy with them, and we also know that far more people contact to complain than contact to praise!"
Some viewers are keen to see the older characters get more screen time. What are your thoughts?
"I love our older characters and it's always a really fine balancing act. I absolutely adore them, I personally want to see more of them, and I think we will see more of them. We'll make sure that they're properly served as the show goes on. And certainly for one or two of them, as we head into the future, there is a really big story. I absolutely want a more contemporary Emmerdale, but I want a realistic look to the show as well. People have parents, grandparents, older friends and older relatives and they're absolutely at the fore of my thinking."
Do you think Emmerdale is lacking a big villain with Nathan and Kelly gone?
"There are still villains, but maybe at the moment they're lying dormant and not showing their true colours! I think that as we go into late summer and head into the autumn, some of those people in the cast who are capable of bad behaviour will show their true colours with a vengeance!"
Does Emmerdale have a big autumn and winter planned?
"Yes! I can say, hand on heart, that I've worked on a lot of shows and I haven't ever been as excited. We have two, three, four, five big stories that are going to coalesce and create a perfect story storm. They're going to have life-changing effects and it's going to be an exciting time, it really is."
> For chat about Aaron, Debbie, the Dingles, the Bartons and more, read the second part of our interview with Stuart in Soap Scoop.