Ashley Thomas was born on the 14th November 1961 to Sandy and Dorothy Thomas. He had a brother Luke. In the early 1980s, Dorothy fell ill and Sandy helped her die. As a result, Ashley was estranged from Sandy. He trained as a priest and was later ordained.
1996-1999: Early days in Emmerdale
Ashley arrives in Emmerdale in December 1996 after Reverend Burns is transferred to Manchester and immediately gets caught up in the Dingle family’s scams. At Christmas, he conducted the wedding of Biff Fowler and Linda Glover, and over the course of the following year, he officiated over many church proceedings, such as the funerals of Dave and Linda, and Kim and Frank Tate (though Kim had actually faked her death), as well as Albert Dingle and Lisa Clegg’s aborted wedding.
In 1998, after the Woolpack burns down, he arranges with Tricia Stokes, granddaughter of the pub landlord Alan Turner, to turn the village hall into a temporary bar while the Woolpack is renovated. Ashley arranges for a gospel group named Shrine to play at the village hall, but is left shocked when the group turn out to be a bunch of skinheads who can’t actually sing and are intent on causing trouble. Not long after, when an investigation is launched regarding a horse theft committed by Kim and her husband Steve (which also saw Kathy Glover put in hospital after being run over by Steve), Ashley is pulled in for questioning about Kim's movements that night.
1999-2002: Marriage to Bernice Blackstock
In 1999, Ashley develops a crush on Woolpack barmaid Bernice Blackstock, but she is already engaged to Gavin Ferris, however they split up when it was discovered that Gavin has been having an affair with Jason Kirk. Ashley and Bernice get together, but they are faced with opposition by devout churchgoer Edna Birch, and Ashley’s boss Bishop Postlethwaite. The Bishop demands that Ashley leaves the village for a new parish in Leeds, and this puts a strain on Ashley and Bernice’s relationship, as she doesn’t want to move. Ashley rejects the offer, and they remain in the village. Bernice heads to Sorrento for a few weeks, and during her absence, Ashley writes to her father, Rodney, who Bernice has not seen for 26 years. Bernice is furious with Ashley for going behind her back and tells him that their relationship is over. They reconcile after the recent death of Sarah Sugden in a barn fire puts their problems into perspective. They also receive the Bishop’s blessing to marry, and they are wed on Christmas Day.
A few weeks later, Bernice is delighted to discover that she is pregnant but suffers a miscarriage. Amid her grief, Bernice lashes out at Ashley and he takes a temporary job away from the village as he feels unable to help her. Bernice feels abandoned and begins an affair with Woolpack chef Carlos Diaz, who is engaged to her sister Nicola. Bernice falls pregnant again, unsure if the father is Ashley or Carlos. Ashley is devastated when Nicola reveals the affair on her wedding day to Carlos, and he throws Bernice out. On Christmas Day, Bernice heads to the church in order to explain how she feels, but it proves fruitless as Ashley is unwilling to listen. As he turns to head home, Bernice doubles over in pain and is rushed to hospital, where she gives birth a baby girl she names Gabrielle. A subsequent DNA test reveals that Ashley is indeed the father.
Ashley quickly adjusts to fatherhood, but Bernice doesn’t take to it with the greatest of ease, struggling to cope with taking care of baby Gabby and sinks into post-natal depression. Ashley arranges for him and Bernice to see a marriage counsellor in order to solve their continuing problems. At first, it seems like the counselling is going well, but cracks to show again after Bernice goes out clubbing with Diane in Leeds and chats up a stranger. Ashley puts forward the suggestion of having another child with her, but Bernice is unwilling, leaving Ashley worried about whether Bernice’s issues are simply having more children in general or more children with him. The chances of reconciliation seem to be gradually dwindling, and Ashley becomes second fiddle to Bernice. He considers giving up his job, but Bernice convinces him not to. Feeling that they want what’s best for Gabby, Bernice decides to leave and work on a cruise ship – a job originally offered to Nicola by Rodney. Ashley and Bernice say their tearful goodbyes and she leaves the village without Gabby.
2002-2004: Intervening years
Ashley dates Louise Appleton for a while and they enjoy each other's company but are not in love and, after nearly dying in a road accident caused by a horrible storm hitting the village, they part amicably.
2004-2011: Marriage to Laurel Potts
After recovering from the accident, Ashley discovers that Laurel Potts has fallen for him but initially rebuffs her. When he learns Laurel is leaving the village, he declares his feelings for her. They start a relationship and as Laurel prepares to leave for Tanzania, Ashley proposes, but that doesn't stop her. Upon her return a few months later, she accepts his proposal.
In 2007 Ashley and Laurel's baby boy Arthur is born, although due to a mix up at the hospital, they brought home the wrong baby who they named Daniel Thomas, not knowing he was the biological son of Melanie and Greg Doland. Several months later, Laurel finds Daniel dead in his cot. Hilary Potts is suspicious and begins to suspect that Greg and Mel's son, Arthur, is actually Ashley and Laurel's child. After learning that Arthur is their son, Ashley threatens to raise him and Gabby alone if Laurel doesn't attend the custody hearing. When they win, they are both happy but Laurel struggles to bond with him.
2012-2015: The vicar's downfall and salvation
When Ashley physically abused Sandy in 2012, Laurel demanded a divorce after his arrest. He resigns from his job and becomes homeless. Marlon finds him and asks him to live with him and Ashley starts work as a barman at The Woolpack. However, he and Laurel managed to re-build their friendship over the next three years.
Eventually, Bernice returned and Ashley and Laurel decided that if Bernice wanted to see Gabby, there would have to be some rules set. Bernice visits her mum, Diane Sugden, and tells her everything that has gone on. Bernice admits to Diane that she is in love with a man named Steve Harland and she is waiting for him to leave his wife.
In December 2013, 17 years after initially becoming the Vicar of St. Mary's Church, Ashley gets his old job back. However, after discovering that his rival, Harriet, was the first choice but resigned because of him, he gave the job up for her. Harriet is later sacked after officiating an unauthorized same-sex blessing for Ali and Ruby. Ashley regains his position as vicar for Saint Mary's church. Harriet and Ashley begin a relationship soon after.
2015-2017: Dementia and death
However, things got tragically worse for Ashley, when he was knocked down by Victoria Sugden's car in 2015. Following his accident, he suffered multiple seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy. Later on in the year, Ashley started losing his memory over certain things. He was diagnosed with early-onset vascular dementia. As his illness started to show, he told Laurel, Sandy, Harriet Finch and his children of his condition. He remarried Laurel and Laurel began supporting him as his condition deteriorated.
Later on in 2016, Ashley is involved in a car accident due to Emma Barton pushing partner James over the bridge, causing him to die in hospital. Ashley thought that he'd forgotten it was his daughter Dotty's christening, therefore, he was on his way to the church. Forgetting which way to go, Ashley got confused and didn't keep his eye on the road not knowing that James had crashed onto his car (which Ashley was not allowed to drive, due to his dementia). Finn Barton, James and Emma's son, was helping Laurel find him but Laurel gave him the bad news that his father was being rushed to hospital.
When Ashley was hospitalised after collapsing, he escaped from the hospital and wandered down the streets, before being found by Aaron Dingle, who brought him home. When he was returned to Laurel, he forgot who she was. His condition deteriorated over Christmas and into 2017, when he was admitted to a care home, where he completely forgot who his family are.
In March 2017, Ashley was hospitalised after he began coughing up blood and was diagnosed with pneumonia. His family were given the devastating news that he only had days to live. Laurel decided to bring him home to spend his final days with his friends and family. In early April, Ashley regained consciousness and miraculously remembered Laurel, which surprised her. On the day he died, Ashley listened to his favourite song Teenage Kicks by the Undertones for one last time. When Laurel went upstairs to get another pillow, Ashley died peacefully after collecting memories of him and his family. Laurel came back downstairs and tearfully hugged his body as she realised that he has died. Laurel is then joined by Arthur, Gabby, Bernice and Sandy, who are distraught by their loss.
Ashley's funeral was held a week later. Laurel fell asleep when she returned home after the wake and had a miraculous dream. She awoke to find Ashley talking to her on the television. They recall their moments with each other, before he finally said a final goodbye to Laurel.
"Part of me was hoping there'd be a terrible mistake." (Upon learning that he had dementia)
"Laurel..." (Last word to Laurel Thomas before dying)
"Goodnight, Laurel" - (Final line to Laurel Thomas, in her dream)
"Remember when we first met, and sometimes I would have to go away on retreats and such, and I'd say to you 'never forget, I'm only a phone call away', now I'm just a click away on this. I know it's not quite the same, but I figure it's the only way I can keep in touch." (To Laurel Thomas through video)