Donna arrived in the village in August 1993 with her family who were originally from London. The Windsors had wanted to move to the countryside and it was not a very pleasant experience for Donna.
On 30th December 1993, the Windsors visited Kim Tate's stables to see the horses and Donna wandered off. She had to be rescued from the blazing stables during the plane crash which then hit the village. Donna and her family escaped unhurt.
In 1994, while being given a ride on tractor by Michael Feldmann, the vehicle toppled over and she was injured. Her mother, Viv, threatened to sue Michael's boss Joe Sugden. During her early years on the show, Donna had few major storylines and was only seen on screen from time to time. In 1995, Woolpack bar manager Terry Woods got into trouble with his boss Alan Turner after Donna got drunk with her half siblings Scott and Kelly. In 1996, Donna was accidentally shot in the head by Scott when her father Vic attempted to take a ball-bearing gun from him. The accident only left her with a scratch. Donna became distraught when the truth came out about her mother's affair with Terry Woods and felt torn between her parents when they separated. She eventually moved into the Woolpack with her mother and Terry but later returned home when Vic and Viv reconciled. In 1997, when Kelly went missing, Donna was upset although she later helped Kelly meet her lover Tom Bainbridge. More trouble was later to come that year when Andy Hopwood led Donna astray and persuaded her to bunk off school and go joyriding in Leeds with Robert Sugden and himself. This made Viv enemies with the Sugdens. Donna was devastated when her father was killed in a robbery at the post office committed by Andy's criminal father Billy Hopwood on Christmas Day. In 1999, Donna was suspended from school for bullying Andy and Robert, now his foster brother. Donna had teamed up with another girl, Chelsea Cunningham, and they bullied Andy together, leading to a confrontation in which Robert punched Donna in the face. Donna tried to blame Robert for the bullying but was unsuccessful. Chelsea was expelled and sent to a special needs school and Donna was warned if she was caught bullying again, she would go to a special needs school too. In 2000, Donna embarked on a relationship with Marc Reynolds, to whom she lost her virginity. Viv caught Donna in bed with Marc and shortly afterwards, Marc split up with Donna after Viv told Marc's mother Angie about them sleeping together. Later, Donna was upset that Marc had embarked on a relationship with Eve Birch. In September 2001, Donna was involved in a hit and run accident in which her school head teacher, Jean Strickland was killed. Donna had been a passenger in a car driven by Marc when he ran Miss Strickland over. Donna had to do community service as punishment for the hit and run and was devastated when Marc was sent to prison for causing death by dangerous driving. However, things had improved on the home front for Donna when her mother married Bob Hope nearly three years after her father's death. While she had reservations about him initially, Bob and Donna soon became very close and she saw him as a father figure. When Viv and Bob split up in 2003, Donna was upset. In a desperate cry for help, she took an overdose and her actions shocked Bob and Viv into sorting out their marital problems. In 2003, Donna started dating Robert Sugden whom she had previously bullied whilst at school. He believed that their relationship was just a casual fling but Donna felt it was more serious until he dumped her for Elaine Marsden. When Elaine and her family left the village, Donna and Robert got back together but he was busy pursuing Katie Addyman, one of Donna's best friends, behind her back. In 2004, Viv discovered Donna had contracted chlamydia, after having sex with Robert, which caused him distress as he had the condition too. By this time, Robert and Katie had secretly embarked on an affair. When in April 2004, just two months after Katie's wedding to Robert's adopted brother Andy, the affair was revealed, Donna felt deeply betrayed and ended her friendship with Katie. However, after Robert later cheated on Katie with Sadie King, Donna forgave her and they became friends again, united in their condemnation of Robert.
In late 2004, having moved on from Robert, Donna became attracted to widower Marlon Dingle but he was not interested in pursuing a relationship and she began dating Danny Daggert instead. The relationship did not last long and ended when Donna started getting close to Marlon again.
Having finally got over the death of his wife Tricia, Marlon was ready to date again and found himself falling in love with Donna. After nearly a year together, Marlon proposed. Donna was surprised but overjoyed. They excitedly started planning their wedding, although her happiness was stifled by Donna's mother, Viv, who insisted they have a double wedding with her and Bob who she was remarrying. Meanwhile, Donna struck up a close friendship with Max King, whom she enjoyed flirting with. When Max was killed in a car crash, caused by Donna's ex-boyfriend Robert, Donna was devastated and Marlon tried to help her through her grief. She kept a recording of Max's voice on her phone which she regularly listened to. They continued planning the wedding, even though it was clear Donna was having second thoughts.
On the morning of their big day, Donna confessed she had feelings for Max. After some soul searching, Marlon decided to forgive Donna and they married anyway. They returned from their honeymoon to live at Marlon's with Paddy Kirk and Tonicha Daggert.
Desperate to get their foot on the property ladder, the couple entered a competition to win the new show home on the King's River development. They were successful and delighted but shocked to discover they needed a £10,000 deposit to clinch the prize. Viv, however, offered to help as she and Bob were desperate to have a baby and Viv asked Donna to be a surrogate mother and she would give them the deposit.
Although apprehensive at first, Donna agreed, knowing it was the only way she could get her own home, and eventually convinced Marlon. However, Marlon and Donna's house exploded on the day of the grand opening in July 2006 as a result of a gas leak. Three people were killed in the explosion and the body of murder victim Terence Turner was discovered buried at the site. Now homeless and discovering Viv was pregnant with twins, Donna returned her money, which she got from Tom King as compensation.
In December 2006, Donna and Marlon were left looking after Marlon's cousin Lillith's four children Luke, Matthew, Mark and Jon , following her arrest for armed robbery. This did not work out and Marlon decided the children should live with their uncle because his and Donna's living arrangements were inadequate. Donna was devastated and the children were miserable with their uncle and eventually ran away. Marlon could see they were unhappy but Social Services insisted the children return to their uncle so Marlon, Donna and the children went on the run. They were soon caught and Donna and Marlon were arrested and the children were placed in foster homes whilst Donna and Marlon made a formal application for custody of the children.
Donna and Marlon arrived for their meeting with Social Services and were pleased as their social worker Mrs Jenkins said they had a very positive report. By this time, the couple were staying at The Woolpack. But Marlon let slip that the pub's back room had been damaged by fire. Mrs Jenkins looked into it before breaking the bad news that they would not get custody until they had more suitable accommodation. In early 2007 Donna was called before the Dingle Court after stopping Shadrach from stealing from her mother's shop. Donna defied Zak and Lisa Dingle and revealed she planned to join the police. Marlon backed her up. In 2008, Shane Doyle, Donna's colleague on the force, bullied her for her gender as well as her in-laws and their criminal records. Everyone Donna knew, including Marlon, liked Shane and enjoyed being in his company, leading Donna to doubt her instincts.
During a party at the Woolpack, Donna decided to make a fresh start with Shane. He misunderstood what she wanted, thinking she was attracted to him and kissed her. When he began to force himself on her, Donna kneed him in the groin and fled to Ross Kirk's house. Ross had witnessed the assault. Donna planned to file a complaint but Shane, had guessed that she would do so and before she could, he told Superintendent Charles Vaughan, Donna had made a pass at him and was going through a crisis in her marriage. Vaughan told Donna to wait before making any decisions as it could harm her career. To Donna's anger, Ross did not back her up, meaning it was her word against Shane's.
Marlon was furious when he found out and persuaded his brother Eli to frame Shane as a corrupt policeman. Eli gave Ross drugs to plant in Shane's locker, whilst he would phone the station and report it. When Donna found out about the plan, she was horrified and rushed to the station to get the drugs. Shane caught her trying to break into his locker. She told him about the drugs and he thought she was bluffing until he found them there. Since then, he steered clear of the Dingles, following Donna's warning.
In 2008, Viv was arrested for fraud after being framed by conman Freddie Yorke. Wanting to prove her mother innocent, she convinced Ross to help her track him down. The day before Viv's trial, Donna and Ross watched Freddie's home. Freddie appeared but got away in his car and Donna and Ross gave chase. Donna lost control of the car and crashed. Ross saved her and they were rushed to hospital. She had to have her spine operated on and her spleen removed as it had ruptured on impact. Donna regained concsiousness the following day and her family were thrilled that she could feel and move her legs as the medical staff had expressed concerns that she would not be able to walk again. Due to the damage to her spine, she remained in hospital for several weeks.
Blaming herself for her daughter's predicament, Viv pleaded guilty to the charges against her and was sentenced to three years in prison, leaving Donna devastated. Whilst in hospital, she decided to resign from the police but Ross persuaded her not to. She eventually returned to work.
Donna tried hard to resist her feelings when Ross told her he loved her. Following a police comedy night, at which Marlon and his cousin Chas were thrown out, Donna and Ross slept together. Shane became suspicious after seeing a colleague who had been looking for Ross. He knocked on Donna's door, claiming to be room service, and his suspicions were confirmed when he heard Ross in Donna's room.
Since then, Marlon and Donna went on holiday. On their return, they announced their intention to have children, much to Ross's disappointment. He convinced her to put their decision on hold whilst they attended a community policing course in London. He also tried convincing her that she made a mistake marrying Marlon at such a young age and having his baby would just make matters worse.
When Donna went to the community policing course, she and Ross continued their affair. When they came back, Donna told Ross that she was going to leave Marlon so they could be together. Shane found out about the affair and when Paddy caught them kissing, he punched Ross and told Donna not to ruin her marriage. They ended their relationship and Ross accepted a transfer and left the village but had to return when Shane's body was found.
On New Year's Day 2009, Donna told Marlon about the affair because she feared he would find out from the investigation into Shane's murder. Angry and heartbroken, Marlon told the police that Shane was blackmailing Ross and Donna and implicated Ross as Shane's killer. Donna and Marlon separated briefly but got back together on the condition that Donna never sees Ross again. Since then, she visited him in prison and he told her of his suspicions that Jasmine Thomas, Debbie Dingle and Eli had been acting suspiciously the night Shane went missing. Donna helped prove Ross's innocence by implicating Eli as a potential suspect for the murder and after he was arrested he implicated Debbie and Jasmine who went on the run and Ross was released from custody.
Since the breakup of their marriage, Donna tried to get close to Marlon again but he could not face her, despite the news that Ross was leaving the village for Newcastle. Marlon returned to the Woolpack and could not help feeling down, when he learned that Donna was present to see Ross off.
When she arrived at the police station, Donna tried to hand in her transfer papers after deciding to move to Essex, but Sergeant Andrew Drake saw how distressed she was and advised her to give Marlon one more chance to take her back. Katie offered her the same advice but Donna refused to buckle. Fearing she was losing her friend, Katie enlisted Bob's help, and he began to make progress in convincing Donna to stay.
Back at the Woolpack, Marlon grew more uncomfortable at mentions of Ross and Donna's tearful goodbye. Chas, who had been present when Ross left, told Marlon that nothing had happened between Ross and Donna when he left. Both wallowing in self-pity, Marlon and Chas drunkenly shared a kiss. Donna arrived to give Marlon one last chance to forgive her but she witnessed the misplaced kiss. Donna announced that she was moving to Essex. Marlon was unrepentant, convinced their marriage was over and after he told Donna that he did not love her as much as he loved Tricia, Donna finally realised she had to move on. Donna left the village in a taxi for the train station.
Donna returns to Emmerdale in March 2014 with her four-year-old daughter April, after breaking up with her partner. Donna stays with Bob and Brenda Walker. She is surprised to learn that Marlon is engaged to Laurel Thomas. Donna asks April if she likes Emmerdale, but she says she would prefer home. The following day, April is nearly run over by Adam Barton while on his quad bike, but she is saved by Marlon. He is then stunned to see Donna back in Emmerdale and when he confronts her, she tells him that April is his daughter. Marlon subsequently gets drunk and tells Donna that he wants nothing to do with April. Marlon eventually realises that he needs to bond with April, and as Donna and April are leaving Emmerdale, Marlon stands in front of her car, causing Donna to hit her head on the windscreen. Bob takes Donna to hospital, and as he waits in the waiting room, Donna reveals to the nurse that she has terminal mesothelioma, but does not want Marlon or any one else to know, as she wants his relationship with April to grow organically and naturally, not over her illness. Rhona Goskirk later believes that Donna still has feelings for Marlon, and tries to warn Laurel, but she refuses to listen to Rhona.
Rhona's suspicions of Donna grow and she follow her to a hospital appointment, where she is stunned to see her in the oncology department. During the appointment, Donna is told that her cancer is more aggressive than they anticipated and only has six months to a year left to live. When she comes out, Rhona calmly confronts her, asking whether April is okay. Donna then explains that she has lung cancer and is dying. Rhona tries to persuade Donna to tell Marlon, but Donna tells her that she wants to tell him when the time is right. Donna later flirts with Ross Barton at Cain Dingle and Moira Barton's wedding. Ross and Donna become close and he continually flirts with her, later realising she is a bent cop. Ross helps Donna burgle a house of a prolific local criminal. Later, Ross helps her with another dodgy job, but it goes wrong and he ends up having to hit the homeowner, an old aged pensioner. His wife fears for his death and Donna pretends to know him in order to get information on his health status.
Ross and Donna then enter a sexual relationship with one another, but Donna does not want the rest of the village knowing about them. When April is feeling ill, she reveals to Marlon that Donna takes "magic pills" that make her feel much better. This confuses Marlon, so when he is looking after his son Leo, in Rhona's house, he goes snooping around in Donna's bedroom. He finds a memory box for April, where he finds birthday cards for every year of April's life, photos of Donna and a teddy bear inside. Marlon then realises that Donna is dying, and calmly confronts her. She reveals that she has lung cancer and only has months left to live, which devastates Marlon. When Donna leaves, he emotionally reveals to Laurel that Donna is dying. Laurel feels uncomfortable, however, after Marlon decides to bring their wedding day forward so that Donna can attend before she dies. She confides in Rhona, who urges Laurel to tell Marlon how she feels about the situation. Donna and Ross are later caught kissing and flirting by Debbie.When Ross' younger brother, Finn, is nearly killed by a man named Brad, Ross and Donna realise the person behind Finn's attack is Gary North, the man who's house they burgled. Donna tries to help Ross get rid of Gary by planting illegal drugs in his home, although Gary finds them and disposes them. Gary later threatens Donna, telling her to end her relationship with Ross or he will hurt April. Donna chooses to keep April safe and emotionally tells Ross that their relationship is over, leaving him devastated. However, before long they are back together and have a plan to get Gary North locked up. Ross asks Adam Barton to assist them on the job by keeping watch for the owner of the night club they are raiding to get evidence that will get Gary North send to prison. When the club owner leaves his meeting early and is on his way back Adam comes up with a plan to crash into his car and buy Ross and Donna some time but he is interrupted when Aaron Livsey shows up from France to stop him. When the night club owner returns he locks Donna and Ross in but they manage to escape. When Donna goes to arrest Gary he has back up and threatens to shoot Ross and that he will harm April if she does not let him go. To ensure that Ross and April are safe (and also knowing that she is dying) she considers her options and comes to a decision. She tells Ross that she loves him and then she takes what she sees as the only way out of this situation and pulls Gary over the top of the car park they were standing on taking herself with him and killing both of them. The police are led to believe that Donna was pulled over by Gary and that she was trying to arrest him, but Marlon, Laurel, Moira, Debbie, Cain, James, Adam and Aaron find out what really happened from Ross. Bob finds out that Ross and Donna were together, but is none the wiser about what happened or that she was a bent copper.
- Sophie Jeffrey, the original actress who played Donna, left the show in 1997 to concentrate on her school work. The role was subsequently recast to Verity Rushworth, who made her first appearance as Donna in February 1998.
- In April 2008, it was reported that, along with Jenna-Louise Coleman (Jasmine Thomas), Verity Rushworth had decided to take a break after eleven years. Donna left in January 2009. In January 2014, it was reported that Donna was being reintroduced by producer Kate Oates. The character returned in March that year.
- In an interview with Digital Spy, Verity Rushworth confirmed that she was only appearing for five months and would depart again once the storyline concluded. Donna left in August 2014, five months after her return.