Robert Jacob Sugden is a fictional character and recurring antagonist-turned-protagonist of the British soap opera Emmerdale.
He first appeared as a central character in 1986 and went on to reprise that role in the rest of the 1980s and throughout the 1990 series before becoming a major antagonist in the 2000s saga; serving as an anti-hero in between 2000-2004, a supporting antagonist in 2005, a minor character of the 2009 series for his father's funeral, the secondary antagonist for the last quarter of 2014, the main antagonist in 2015, and one of the main protagonists from 2016 to 2017 to onwards in 2018-2019.
- He was first portrayed by Richard Smith throughout 1986 to 1989.
- Christopher Smith throughout 1989 to 2001.
- Karl Davies throughout 2001 to 2005 (albeit he reappeared once in 2009 as well).
- He was recently portrayed by Ryan Hawley between 2014 and 2019.
Robert was born on April 22, 1986 to Jack and Pat Sugden. He has three older siblings Jackie, Tommy and Sandie Merrick. When Robert is four months old, his mother is killed in a car crash and his brother, Jackie, is killed in a shooting accident when he is 3 years old. Shortly after this, Sandie leaves the village and Robert loses contact with his maternal family. Robert stays with his father who brings him up alone for the next two years but gets a new mother figure in Sarah Connolly, whom Jack starts dating in 1988 and later marries in May 1994. Robert's half-sister, Victoria is born the same year.
10 years later in 1996, Robert befriends Andy Hopwood, a boy the same age in the care of the local authority whilst his father Billy is in prison for robbery and manslaughter. Robert takes Andy to a local quarry where Andy traps his foot under a rock. Robert runs to get help and Biff Fowler rescues Andy. When Andy's grandmother dies, Jack and Sarah foster him so he moves in with the Sugdens. Robert begins to resent Andy's presence and is unhappy at having to share his home and belongings. Despite this, Robert defends Andy when they are bullied by Donna Windsor and punches her. Donna tries to blame Robert for the bullying but no one believes her so she is suspended from school. After leading Donna astray, Robert and Andy take her joyriding in Leeds, causing a feud between the Sugden and Windsor families.
Robert's life is rocked when he discovers that his father is having an affair with Rachel Hughes in 1997. Robert catches Jack and Rachel kissing. Horrified, Jack ends it but Sarah finds out anyway. Robert's life seems to be back on track. But in 2000, Sarah has an affair with Richie Carter, and leaves Jack for Richie, taking Victoria with her. Robert sides with Sarah over his father but Jack wins custody as Sarah is not his biological mother. Robert stays with Kathy Glover and tells her that he intends to leave home when he is 16 years old. 4 years later on November 16, 2000, Robert returns to the farm to collect some belongings and discovers the barn is on fire. Sarah is inside and subsequently dies, devastating him. Jack is arrested and stands trial for her murder but is acquitted. 8 months later, Robert discovers that Andy started the fire and disgusted by this, he goes to Spain in May 2001 to stay with his grandmother Annie Brearly, and her husband Amos.
11 months later, Robert returns in August 2001. Wanting rid of Andy, Robert starts taunting him about his love life. He tries to cause problems between Andy and his girlfriend Katie Addyman but is unsuccessful. In September 2001, Robert and Andy go on a night out in Leeds with Katie, Donna, Ollie and Marc Reynolds, and Eve Birch. When Andy is refused entry to a nightclub, the teenagers miss their bus home and Andy steals a car to drive home. On their way back, they run over and kill their headmistress Barbara Strickland. Robert suggests they cover their tracks and subsequently burn the car. However, the truth eventually comes out. Marc is jailed and the other teenagers receive community service.
After Andy taunts him over not having a girlfriend, Robert loses his virginity to Nicola Blackstock, a 24-year-old woman, shortly after his sixteenth birthday. Nicola dumps him the following day when she invites him round to her house in order for him to discover her having sex with Syd Woolfe.
After leaving school, Robert gets a job working as a mechanic at Scott Windsor's garage. After having sex with her in the back of his car, Robert starts dating Scott's sister, Donna. Feeling he is in need of more excitement in his life, he also starts secretly dating Elaine Marsden. However, Donna finds out about Robert's cheating and dumps him. Robert continues his romance with Elaine. But in September 2003, he and Elaine are in a car accident while Robert is driving. Panicking, Robert flees the scene, leaving Elaine unconscious in the car. Robert manages to lie his way out of trouble as Elaine has no memory of how the accident happened. She later realizes the truth when she sees bruising from the seat belt across his chest, which suggests that Robert was driving, not her as Robert told everyone. 3 months later in December 2003, Elaine and her family leave the village. Robert and Donna reconcile that month. Despite this, Robert still wants excitement in his life and begins an affair with Katie, now Andy's fiancé. Robert and Katie are caught by Andy's half-brother Daz Eden in January 2004 when he sees them kissing in the garage. Katie threatens Daz, telling him he will be put into care if he says anything. Daz tells Andy but Katie convinces him that Daz is lying and is too much for them to cope with so he is returned to foster care. Victoria, also catches them together. Robert swears her to secrecy and Katie threatens her so she becomes too scared to talk and uses a puppet to speak through instead.
Feeling guilty, Katie ends the affair the day before her wedding to Andy in February 2004, leaving him devastated. However, they resume the affair after the wedding, despite Robert's reconciliation with Donna. They intend to run away together but Robert insists they tell Andy the truth when he finds Katie's farewell note, leaving him distraught. Donna is also devastated by the revelation and feels betrayed by her boyfriend and best friend. The aftermath of the affair leads to Andy waiting in Robert's caravan with a shotgun, planning to kill them both. However, he accidentally shoots Jack instead, leaving him fighting for his life. Robert initially refuses to forgive Andy but when he realizes that he is responsible for the situation, they reconcile and embrace in the hospital. Jack survives the gunshot wound but disowns Andy and he returns alone to Butler's Farm. Robert also continues his relationship with Katie.
In early 2005, Robert proposes to Katie and she accepts, and the pair plan to marry later that year. However, Robert is seduced by Sadie King, a woman 16 years his senior. Robert and Sadie have an affair and Robert thinks he will get away with it. However, Daz sees Robert kissing Sadie and he tells Andy who confronts Robert in the garage and attacks him. He tries to force Robert to tell Katie about his affair with Sadie, but Robert insists that Andy is lying. Katie eventually learns the truth when she finds erotic text messages on Robert's phone from Sadie. Katie ends the relationship and Andy comforts her, leading to them sleeping together. Robert vows to get revenge on Andy, and helps Jimmy King and Cain Dingle, set fire to the barn at Butler's Farm. Robert sees Jimmy and Cain beat up Andy and stops them. Daz accidentally stabs Jimmy with a pitchfork while trying to protect Andy. Robert and Cain take Jimmy away and Jimmy's brother, Max, patches him up at the vets. However, the truth soon comes out and Jack throws Robert out, disowning him and calls him a traitor.
Robert and Andy's feud is reignited by this, leading Katie to leave the village in June 2005, so Robert starts dating Debbie Dingle, the mother of Andy's daughter, Sarah. Robert and Debbie plan to go to London, along with Max King who was leaving the village after poisoning cows belonging to the Briggs family for his father, Tom. However, on the day that they plan to leave in October 2005, Andy finds out about Robert and Debbie's plan and forces her to tell him where she is going to meet Robert, he goes there and confronts him, and they start fighting. Max is forced to separate them and Robert tells Debbie that he doesn't care about her and was only interested in her because of Sarah and wanted to hurt Andy by taking his daughter away. Debbie leaves and returns to the village, heartbroken. Max decides not to go with Robert and asks Andy to drive him to the railway station. Filled with rage, Robert turns the car round and accelerates, driving straight at Andy's Land Rover. Max panics and grabs hold of the steering wheel. The Land Rover goes off the road and rolls onto its roof. Robert stops and rescues Andy but the Land Rover explodes before he can rescue Max. Max is killed and Jack arrives just after the accident and Robert tells him what happened. Jack calls an ambulance and tells Robert to leave so he won't be arrested. Jack insists that Andy tell the police that he swerved to avoid a flock of sheep. Robert gets into his car and drives away. Robert is last seen at a service station, ordering some food and tells the waitress that he intends on travelling whichever direction his car is pointing.
4 years later, Robert returns on February 10, 2009, the day of his father's funeral, with his grandmother. Robert visits Butler's Farm, and meets Natasha Wylde, who is on her horse and thinks Robert is an intruder. He explains that his father's funeral is taking place and watches from a distance, and Andy sees him. Andy tries to persuade Robert to stay and run the farm, but Robert tells Andy that he doesn't belong there any more, before driving off. Robert returns to the cemetery after nightfall, and lays a rose upon it, before leaving. After they go to the grave to say a final farewell to Jack, Andy sees the rose and tells Victoria that if Robert could have been at the funeral, he would have come.
5 years later, Robert returns to Emmerdale on October 23, 2014 with his fiancée Chrissie White and her family (father Lawrence and son Lachlan). The Whites plan to buy Home Farm. Robert runs into Andy and Katie while visiting the Farm. The two brothers clash immediately. Lawrence White also isn't to keen on his future son-in-law, so he tries to get Katie and Andy's help to get rid of Robert altogether. He even fakes a heart attack during the Sugdens memorial for their mother. Robert tries to make himself look good by staging a raid at home farm, enlisting the help of Ross Barton and Aaron Livesy. The plan is for Aaron and Ross to raid the farm and for Robert to play the hero by overpowering them. It all goes wrong when Chrissie comes home early. Aaron and Ross manage to escape, but Lawrence ends up having a real heart attack. Chrissie notices that her mothers ring was stolen during the raid. So Robert confronts Aaron about, who manages to get the ring back from Ross.
Soon after that, Robert finds out that Aaron is gay. After failing to reconnect with him after the raid, he claims to have broken down and calls for Aarons help. Just when Aaron's about to leave, after he found out that there's nothing wrong the car, Robert makes a move on Aaron and the pair kiss, but Robert pulls away before things can go any further. He returns home to Chrissie to make up with her, but goes to see Aaron later that night. They meet at the garage and Robert apologizes for pulling away. They continue their affair.
Robert continues to feel resentment towards Andy and is jealous of him and Katie as they are due to remarry. At Andy's stag night on Christmas Eve, Robert goads him in the pub and they get into a confrontation in the village churchyard by Jack's grave. Robert makes a cruel remark about his father, saying that he is glad Jack is dead and that with him gone he will stay in the village as long as he wants. He also taunts Andy about his and Katie's affair. Andy punches Robert and a fight breaks out. Victoria and her friend Finn Barton separate them and Andy warns Robert to stay away from the wedding; but Robert is unfazed and tells Andy he will go where he wants and storms off. Robert tries to make amends, but forgets that he had ordered crude insults to be engraved in their wedding bands. Katie is furious, and while Andy and Robert mend fences soon after, she refuses to do the same, swearing she will get payback. She becomes sure he's having an affair, alienating herself from Andy as a result. Just as she's close to giving up, she gets a tip from Aaron, who wants to out Robert to force him to make a choice. On Robert's wedding day to Chrissie, Katie photographs Aaron and Robert kissing at Wylie's Farm after being. Robert tells her to delete the photo. Robert and Katie argue. Katie threatens Robert with telling Chrissie, but Robert pushes Katie to the floor twice; the second time, the floor caves in and Katie is killed.
15 weeks later on February 5, 2015, Robert and Chrissie marry, and a few hours later, Andy finds Katie's body. Robert tries to help Andy, even stopping him from committing suicide, but also makes sure Aaron keeps quiet about their involvement in her death, telling Aaron that he and Katie had just been talking and she wouldn't have died if not for Aaron telling her to go to the farm. He and Aaron become estranged, but when he learns Aaron has returned to self-harm, he tells him a partial truth to put some of the blame for Katie on himself. Aaron beats him up, but they soon resume their affair, only splitting up again when Aaron realizes he will always be second best in Robert's life.
After Chrissie refuses to pay Ross for a job he bungled, he tells her about the raid. A furious Chrissie throws Robert out of the house and begins divorce proceedings. Aaron, knowing he won't be able to resist Robert if he continues to be at the pub instead of Home Farm, tries to convince her to take him back. She nearly does, but then overhears him boasting about the plan to Aaron. She then locks Robert in a small building on the estate and threatens to set it on fire as he begs her to stop. Robert works with Lachlan to make it seem as if Robert has saved Lachlan from suicide. Chrissie decides to give Robert another chance.
5 months later in July 2015, Aaron is sick of Paddy Kirk and Chas Dingle interfering in his life, so he restarts his affair with Robert. Paddy writes a note to warn Chrissie that Robert is a cheater, making her suspicious. A drunken Robert sees Paddy has fallen in a grain pit at Butler's Farm and turns the auger on, watching as the pit fills and Paddy is knocked unconscious after an attempt to escape sends him crashing to the bottom. Robert moves to save him, but goes to hide when Andy appears. Paddy accuses Robert of trying to kill him, but Robert keeps him quiet by threatening to kill Paddy's stepson, Leo Goskirk. He and Aaron continue their relationship, but after Aaron threatens to cut Paddy out of his life after more interference, Paddy tells him about what Robert's done, and suggests he also murdered Katie. A furious Aaron plans to tape Robert during a lodge getaway, then go to the police with details about Katie's death. However, he can't control his anger, and begins fighting Robert, who knocks him out and soon discovers the recording device. He holds Aaron at gunpoint, with Aaron daring Robert to kill him. As he pulls the trigger, Paddy bursts into the room, and a distracted Robert accidentally shoots him. Paddy keeps him calm as Robert stitches him up, and agrees he and Aaron will stay quiet if Robert leaves them alone. Aaron, however, is too angry to let Robert off the hook, and tells Chrissie about the affair. Chrissie is devastated, and a few weeks later, after learning of his scheme with Lachlan, she sets his car on fire at the scrapyard, unaware of nearby gas or of a helicopter flying overhead. The ensuing carnage kills three people, including Ruby Haswell and Val Pollard. Robert, still wanting to stay in the business and family, tries to convince Chrissie to cover up her crime, but she confesses and demands that he leave her alone. He then sets Lawrence up to be accused of assault by Connor Jensen, who was applying for a job. Robert then convinces Connor to drop the charges, winning Lawrence's loyalty. Robert is soon revealed to have arranged the entire deal with Connor, who is a male escort.
2 months later in September 2015, Andy, who has cut all ties to Robert after realizing Katie had been right about an affair, becomes suspicious after finding Aaron's mobile number on Katie's last phone bill. Aaron lies that Katie was going to leave him, but Robert ultimately reveals everything to Andy, begging him to understand and swearing he'd never meant to kill Katie. When Robert refuses to let him go to the police and ignores his demands to leave, Andy beats him up. Aaron, with Chas as a backup to keep her son out of prison, join Robert in insisting to Diane and Victoria that Andy is wrong and Katie really was going to leave him. When Andy goes to the police, Robert convinces them that Andy is mentally unstable. Robert goes to talk to Aaron, but when Aaron expresses disgust that he isn't in jail, Robert tears into him for being weak and suicidal. Chrissie and Lawrence are sickened to learn about Katie, and when Lawrence tells him he's going to have him removed from the company, Robert humiliates him by revealing the truth to him about Connor. Chas orders Robert to leave town, but he swears he's not going anywhere, as his family needs him. Seconds later, he's shot near the heart by a mystery assailant.
Robert barely makes it through surgery, and spends the next month in a coma as various suspects are arrested and released. When Aaron is caught on video hiding the murder weapon, he's arrested, and due to his being on remand, kept in prison. Robert wakes up soon after, frightened that the shooter is still out there, as he does not believe Aaron pulled the trigger. After being released from hospital and needing to recover, he moves in with Victoria, one of the few people to stick by him.