From a light en­ter­tainer to heavy-hit­ting med­i­cal ad­vo­cate, Michelle Heaton has per­formed many roles. Speak­ing out about the menopause is her most im­por­tant, writes

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

Michelle Heaton jumps up out of her seat to hug me. “Oh it’s lovely to see you again,” she says in her dis­tinc­tive Ge­ordie ac­cent. I’m shocked. First, I can’t be­lieve she re­mem­bers me — we ran into each other with our re­spec­tive fam­i­lies in Dis­ney­land Paris a few years ago.

Sec­ondly, her warmth has put me on the back foot. I’d had great craic with Heaton’s hus­band Hugh Han­ley, who is from Dublin, while the for­mer Lib­erty X singer seemed more than a bit stand­off-ish. As Heaton and I chat, I re­alise that keep­ing it at ‘‘stand­off-ish’’ must have been a huge chal­lenge for her as she was bat­tling menopausal symp­toms — in the Magic King­dom, with two small chil­dren. Stand­off-ish was a tri­umph of will power.

Heaton is meet­ing me to dis­cuss her un­likely role as an ad­vo­cate for Menopause Aware­ness. I say un­likely be­cause the singer is still in her 30s. Heaton has a fam­ily his­tory of can­cer and specif­i­cally breast can­cer. She fa­mously had a pre-emp­tive dou­ble mas­tec­tomy and hys­terec­tomy when she tested pos­i­tive for BRCA1. She was widely hailed for her brav­ery, but when the hoopla died down she found her­self in the un­usual po­si­tion of be­ing a menopausal woman with a small child and a baby.

Heaton is tiny, even in heels. She has to reach up to kiss me on the cheek and I feel like a lum­ber­ing gi­ant be­side her. To com­pound the awk­ward­ness, I man­age to cop a feel of her boob as we come out of the em­brace. When I apol­o­gise she laughs and tells me she’s got no feel­ing in her boobs any­way — an­other side ef­fect of the dou­ble mas­tec­tomy.

We’re in Lon­don’s Ivy Tower Bridge for brunch and Heaton tells that she’s quite happy to kick back and have a Mi­mosa with­out some­one call­ing for their bot­tom to be wiped. Un­der the make-up, she looks ex­hausted and she says that she’s been suf­fer­ing from in­som­nia which has ex­ac­er­bated her al­ready se­vere menopausal mood swings. Like many women, Heaton was un­pre­pared for the phys­i­cal, men­tal and emo­tional im­pact of menopause. “Mr Sheri­dan (her sur­geon), he did tell me... but the only thing that stuck in my head was putting on weight and that’s the least of my wor­ries now,” she says, half laugh­ing.

The singer and I spend a lot of time em­pathis­ing with each other over night sweats, mood swings and many of the other fright­en­ing and un­com­fort­able things that hap­pen to a woman’s body dur­ing menopause.

As a re­sult of her own ex­pe­ri­ence, Heaton thinks that women need to start speak­ing up and speak­ing out. “We’re not told about it; we don’t talk about it. It took me go­ing though it… be­fore this I was as ig­no­rant as ev­ery­body else.” I agree with Heaton com­pletely and ask her why she thinks this im­por­tant pe­riod in a woman’s life, and one which ul­ti­mately af­fects al­most all women, is such a taboo? “It’s like a shame­ful word or ad­mit­tance,” Heaton replies. “We are taught to feel (shame). Men don’t want to talk about it but will use it to blame us — ‘oh she’s go­ing through menopause, that’s why she’s a bitch’.” Heaton firmly be­lieves that it’s not just women who need to be ed­u­cated about this time of their life, but men too. The en­ter­tainer goes on to say she thinks “the change” has a detri­men­tal ef­fect on mar­riages and re­la­tion­ships. HAPPY FAM­ILY:

“I saw the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of my mum and dad’s mar­riage and now I look back and think surely that had to be part of it,” she says.

Heaton met her hus­band Hugh a decade ago when she lived in Ire­land. Her grin be­comes big­ger as she re­calls meet­ing “my Hughie” in Dublin. These days she feels guilty her hus­band suf­fers fall­out from her menopausal symp­toms, telling me she gets ‘‘su­per rage’’. She goes on to say only the day be­fore, while at home in Lon­don, the ‘‘switch’’ from ‘‘nor­mal’’ to ‘‘su­per rage’’ oc­curred.

“It was be­cause I had noth­ing to wear,” she says, “which is re­ally stupid be­cause I have three wardrobes but in that mo­ment I had noth­ing to wear and I took it out on my hus­band who didn’t know what to do.” She SMASH­ING TABOOS: goes on to say that Han­ley calmly told her “I don’t know what to do with you, I don’t know what to do any more be­cause what­ever I say is wrong.”

“And that was wrong!” she adds, laugh­ing in ret­ro­spect. She does an im­pres­sion of her own high-pitched screech­ing, “What do you mean you don’t know what to say? I want a re­ac­tion! He said, ‘If I give you a re­ac­tion then it’s go­ing to get worse and then the kids will ask is mummy okay daddy?’. And that killed me,” she fin­ishes, look­ing as if she may cry.

Any­one un­used to the menopause might read that para­graph and dis­miss Heaton as a spoiled diva re­act­ing over noth­ing. But that’s the point. The hor­monal surges of ado­les­cence are tiny rip­ples com­pared to the tsunami that mid­dle-aged women have to cope with. Of course, that’s Heaton’s other prob­lem — she’s still a young woman.

Most of her friends are, like her­self, women with young kids, who are a decade or two away from their own menopause. Heaton ad­mits to feel­ing lonely and, as a re­sult of this, feel­ing that she can’t re­ally talk about it “be­cause I don’t want my friends to feel awk­ward”, and says she self-cen­sors con­tin­u­ally as she feels like she’s con­stantly “moan­ing”.

Heaton goes on to say that speak­ing out pub­licly, writ­ing her book, Hot Flush: Mother­hood, the Menopause and Me, and talk­ing to her hus­band has helped. She urges women to smash the taboo and speak out.

Heaton has also be­come spokesper­son for Fe­marelle — a new sup­ple­ment de­signed specif­i­cally as an al­ter­na­tive for women un­able to take HRT. While Fe­marelle is pri­mar­ily a re­place­ment ther­apy for HRT, Heaton is tak­ing it, un­der med­i­cal su­per­vi­sion, along with us­ing a HRT patch. She says that since start­ing the sup­ple­ment she thinks her mood swings have be­come less se­vere and hopes she will stop strug­gling with in­som­nia too.

As I leave, to an­other long hug, I look at this tiny lit­tle woman, slog­ging away, rais­ing her chil­dren, work­ing on her mar­riage de­spite her body be­ing a bat­tle­ground and I think she her­self is “just so amaz­ing”. For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion, visit www.fe­marelle. com

Michelle Heaton is an ad­vo­cate for Menopause Aware­ness

Michelle in Lib­erty X (in cen­tre), with kids AJ and Faith (left) and (be­low) with hus­band Hugh

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