SACKED soap actress Shila Iqbal sobbed as she said Emmerdale should not have fired her over racist tweets – and fears her career could be over.
The 24-year-old, who played Aiesha Richards in the ITV show, was fired on the spot over messages sent on social media up to six years ago.
But Shila has hit back at producers, saying she should have been suspended instead and given a chance to repent — rather than being made a scapegoat.
In an emotional exclusive interview, Shila said: “It was easy for them to let go of me and I suppose make an example of me.
“Going forward, the bosses could maybe think about talking to that individual properly and really understanding them and not taking immediate action.
“Maybe if I’d gone in with a different attitude and said, ‘Oh no that’s not me’ or I didn’t own up to it or I wasn’t apologetic, but from the get-go I was angry and disappointed in myself.
“I was remorseful, and I think that should have been taken into account with my young age and the fact that I wasn’t a professional actor at that age.”
In two tweets from 2012, when she was 18 — not 19 as previously reported — Shila called her college friends the N-word and “gay”.
Asked if she thinks she should have been suspended over the tweets rather than immediately fired, she said: “I was expecting that and I wanted them to do that. ITV have a moral obligation to protect the public and I get that. And that’s good to do that. But I’m not hurling abuse at anyone, I never was and again it’s not in the present.”
Shila also criticised her former employers for a lack of aftercare after sacking her — a hot topic following the tragic death of Love Island’s Mike Thalassitis last month.
She says she was only offered time with a counsellor by ITV two or three days after her dismissal, and says for others that might have been fatally slow. She said: “I did think to myself ‘could that offer have been two or three days too late in another person’s instance?’ I mean, it could have been. I’m trying to keep positive, that’s the only way, because if I hadn’t have kept positive, who knows?
“We are human at the end of the day and I think the right strategies need to be in place to help people deal with that.”
Shila now fears her career could end up the same way as other soap stars dismissed for social media discretions — such as Coronation Street’s Chris Fountain, who was sacked in 2013 when an extreme rap video was exposed. He did not land another TV role until last year, with a part in ITV’s Girlfriends.
Corrie’s Marc Anwar has also struggled to rebuild his career since being sacked in 2016 after writing a foul-mouthed anti-India tweet — only appearing in short film Daughter, released this year.
Shila said: “It’s upsetting for me. I know my intentions were not in a negative way, there was no malice.
“So for me that’s a big difference, and so should I have the same consequences? I hope not. I hope people can give me a second chance, I hope people can see that that is not the person I am.”
It was stupid to use words like that… I didn’t know any better
Shila, who lives at home with her parents in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, was hauled in front of execs last week when the two tweets were flagged up to them.
After an initial meeting, where she was shown print-outs of the messages, she was allowed to return to filming. But less than an hour later, before the cameras had even begun rolling, she was called back and fired.
Talking as she wept in a hotel, she said: “I felt like I was dreaming when I was having the conversation, but the people around me have kept me strong and I’m quite grateful for that.
“I’ve been through a lot in life and I’ve got through it and I’ve worked hard.
“I had these dreams and these hopes of becoming an actress and I worked hard and I got there and I achieved that. For that to be taken away from me was hard to cope with.”
To make matters worse for Shila, she actually called the initial meeting with bosses herself because she was “fearful” after being inundated by trolls criticising her “sinful” behaviour as a Muslim by appearing on the soap.
It was then that she believes those behind the “hateful” messages flagged up the old tweets to her paymasters.
She said: “For me to be fearful of that and go to them for help and then for that almost to come back at me… I’m getting these abusive messages and then someone’s gone out of their way to find these tweets from six, seven years ago when I was a teenager, probably well aware that I’m going to lose my job.”
The actress, who has also appeared in BBC comedy Citizen Khan, says since being sacked she has suffered panic attacks.
Highly emotional, she added: “I can’t tell you how many panic attacks I’ve had and the constant feeling of anxiety and fear within you. I’m being branded as a homophobe and a racist and that’s very, very far from who I am as a person. That’s difficult to cope with.”
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Shila added: “I acknowledge that the language I used was completely wrong. It was uneducated, naive and stupid of me to use.
“I don’t condone the use of that language and those words, but what I will say is the surroundings and environment we grow up in does have an influence on our vocabulary. And our language, within my group of friends, we used language and words like that freely, and never in a negative way. If anything, in an endearing way, if that makes sense?
“It was the hip-hop and rap culture around us, the music that we listened to heavily influenced us and we didn’t know any different. Obviously now, six, seven years later, I look at that and I think, ‘How could you use language like that how could you not know?’ But I didn’t know any better.”
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