Thornton was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire. He starred in the BBC One police series Holby Blue and John Barton in the British soap opera Emmerdale.
Thornton married actress Joanna Page in December 2003. They live in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Four years before their marriage, they appeared alongside each other in the BBC adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield; he as Ham Peggotty, she as Dora Spenlow. In 2005, Thornton lost his brother Jonathan to cancer.
On 13th February 2010, Thornton was hit by a car during a trip to London. He was treated for shock and injuries to his legs and knees in hospital. Emmerdale show bosses were forced to rewrite a number of scenes involving Thornton's character. Thornton previously lived in a luxury Sandal (Wakefield) home rented from Loose Women's Jane McDonald.
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