‘I was the typ­i­cal bloom­ing woman in preg­nancy... ev­ery­thing was amaz­ing. It went wrong af­ter­wards’

As she pre­pares to ap­pear in Cal­en­dar Girls, ac­tor Denise Welch bares all about post-natal de­pres­sion, the drinkand-drug years and feel­ing fab­u­lous at 60, writes Emily Houri­can 5 Jan­uary 2019

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

Denise Welch is re­flect­ing on life as she reaches a mile­stone age: “I feel now that I’ve changed my mind­set. It’s not ‘oh my God, I’m 60’, it’s ‘I’m only 60!’ That’s how I feel. Of course I have days, like ev­ery­body, where it’s hard to think that, but in gen­eral that’s the view­point I take.”

The ac­tor and pre­sen­ter (Corona­tion Street, Water­loo Road, Loose Women), adds: “I feel bet­ter now at 60 than I did at 40 or 50, and if I want to wear an eff­ing bikini, I eff­ing well will.”

This last is apro­pos of so­cial me­dia trolls who try to tell her that the pic­tures she oc­ca­sion­ally posts up are some­how in­ap­pro­pri­ate — “I get a lot of flak for post­ing a bikini shot here and there, but it’s not about go­ing ‘hey, look at me, I’m 60 and wear­ing a bikini!’ It’s about say­ing ‘I’m 60 and no­body’s go­ing to tell me whether I can wear a bikini or not!’”

And the out­burst is par­tic­u­larly ap­po­site now be­cause Denise is ap­pear­ing in Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s pro­duc­tion of Cal­en­dar Girls: The Mu­si­cal, a show that is, of course, about a bunch of mid­dle-aged women tak­ing their clothes off for char­ity.

The play, she says, “feeds to­tally into what I’m about. It shows this bunch of ex­tra­or­di­nary older women who did some­thing 20 years ago, and we’re still cel­e­brat­ing them. It’s about the em­pow­er­ing of the older woman.

“You see, a lot of women of a cer­tain age, they feel they be­come in­vis­i­ble. This show wouldn’t work if we were younger or had nu­bile bod­ies. That’s the whole point of this: That it was a group of or­di­nary women. Older women. And older women should not take their clothes off — that’s al­ways been the thing, hasn’t it? And why the hell not? The proof is in the pud­ding as it were. They set out to raise £500 to buy a sofa for the rel­a­tives’ room in a hos­pi­tal, and 20 years later they’ve raised mil­lions for Blood­wise.”

Denise’s en­joy­ment of the tri­umph of these women of the York­shire Women’s In­sti­tute is very ob­vi­ous. As is her sin­cer­ity when she says she feels bet­ter now than she did 10 or 20 years ago. That’s be­cause 30 years ago, within seven days of hav­ing her first child, Matthew, she be­came “in­cred­i­bly poorly”.

Which seems to be an up­beat north of Eng­land (Denise is from Ty­ne­side) way of say­ing fright­en­ingly de­pressed.

She goes on to de­scribe “un­ex­pected and very se­vere post-natal de­pres­sion, on the verge of puer­peral psy­chosis. I had no his­tory of clin­i­cal de­pres­sion, no psy­chi­atric ill­ness of any sort and then, this. I was the typ­i­cal bloom­ing woman in preg­nancy — ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing was amaz­ing. Ev­ery­thing went wrong af­ter­wards.”

Post-natal de­pres­sion is, she says, al­most the worst. “Get­ting clin­i­cal de­pres­sion is hor­ren­dous any­way, but when you are the sole carer for this baby… it robs you of your abil­ity to love.” Dur­ing that time — the worst of it lasted around six months, she thinks — “I didn’t know who the baby was at first. It was a very odd time for me.”

Thank God for fam­ily. “My saviour was my fam­ily,” Denise says. “My mum used to say to me ev­ery day ‘you will get bet­ter, you will get bet­ter’. My fam­ily were just in­cred­i­ble. I can un­der­stand why things go awry for peo­ple, be­cause if I hadn’t had that, I don’t know where I would be.

“My mum had to take time off work and stay with me, poor Tim (Denise’s then-hus­band, ac­tor Tim Healy) was do­ing two jobs, it was an aw­ful time. At first I could hardly even talk, I was sort of cata­tonic.

“The lac­ta­tion process stopped with a panic at­tack; I had no breast milk at all at seven days. I re­mem­ber, we had this long kitchen in High­gate in Lon­don, where Tim and I lived, and I can re­mem­ber to this day, the thought of go­ing up this kitchen to put the bot­tles in the Mil­ton and start all that ster­il­i­sa­tion stuff, was like some­one had said to me to climb Kil­i­man­jaro.”

By a stroke of luck, Denise’s mother was a psy­chi­atric nurse, and “very clever,” Denise says. “She used to put Matthew in my arms ev­ery few hours so at least I was keep­ing up the phys­i­cal bond with him, even though I wasn’t feel­ing any­thing.”

How long did that noth­ing-feel­ing last? “The abil­ity to love, it comes back. That’s some­thing I need to tell peo­ple. It comes back. I started to get some feel­ing back in my life af­ter about six months. But, peo­ple say to me ‘how long did you have post-natal de­pres­sion for?’ and I say ‘30 years’.”

Un­til now, Denise has been com­posed, even up­beat, in her de­scrip­tion of what hap­pened af­ter Matthew was born, but that goes when she starts to de­scribe a song which Matthew, who is lead singer with rock band The 1975, wrote. “The last song on his se­cond al­bum is called She Lays Down and it’s a won­der­ful song about his me­mory of how, when he was older, I ex­plained my de­pres­sion to him. I told him I used to lie down next to him — it gives me a lump in my throat, say­ing this — pray­ing.”

Her voice breaks as she speaks, with tears clearly close by, but she pushes on: “I’m not re­li­gious, but I was pray­ing, plead­ing with some­thing, to help me love my child.”

There is a mo­ment of si­lence, and then she rights her­self. For all her ad­mirable hon­esty, I get the im­pres­sion Denise doesn’t like to show too much vul­ner­a­bil­ity. In­stead, she tries to find a pos­i­tive. Any pos­i­tive.

“Thirty years ago, no­body in the pub­lic eye was talk­ing about men­tal ill­ness,” she says. “I de­cided — I wasn’t very well-known then, but I had done bits and bobs — I de­cided I would. My agent at the time said ‘dar­ling, you can’t talk about this, peo­ple will think you’re mad!’

“But I de­cided, against all pro­fes­sional ad­vice, that I would speak out. At the time when I was first poorly, I would have given any­thing to turn on the TV and see some­one say­ing ‘I was where you are now, but I’ve got two chil­dren and, yes, I still suf­fer from this ill­ness but most of the time life is great’. There was noth­ing and no­body to say that to me. I was like a lone voice in the wilder­ness.” That episode of post-natal de­pres­sion, al­though she came through it, sparked off “my life­time re­la­tion­ship with clin­i­cal de­pres­sion”. And, ini­tially any­way, there wasn’t much pro­fes­sional help. “My GP said ‘well, I had five chil­dren dear, and I just didn’t have time to get de­pressed’.” Denise also later found out that there is an oe­stro­gen com­po­nent to her de­pres­sion — “I said to so many doc­tors, psy­chol­o­gists, psy­chi­a­trists, I think the ori­gin of my de­pres­sion was hor­monal. If some­thing as mon­u­men­tal as a baby comes out of your fou-fou, it’s quite a big thing! But they’d say it’s got noth­ing to do with hor­mones… “And then, af­ter 20 years, a doc­tor found I was so de­fi­cient in oe­stro­gen — he didn’t know how I sur­vived.” Sup­ple­ment­ing with oe­stro­gen “hasn’t made ev­ery­thing go away, but it has made a huge dif­fer­ence. I will re­main on oe­stro­gen

for­ever, I will take an anti-de­pres­sant for­ever, as far as I’m con­cerned. It’s like, to me, if you are di­a­betic, you take in­sulin. That’s how I feel. That’s how I sur­vive.”

How­ever, in the short term, Denise turned to what she de­scribes as “self-med­i­cat­ing. I had a very well-chron­i­cled bat­tle with drink and drugs. I never ex­cuse my be­hav­iour, but there are rea­sons for it, al­though I take full re­spon­si­bil­ity for what hap­pened.

“I be­came like Party Spice, Drunk Spice. I started to drink too much and that led to other things. I started to spi­ral. And that was quite pub­lic — at the time, I was do­ing Corona­tion Street (she played Natalie Barnes from 1997 to 2000), and that was watched by 25 mil­lion peo­ple at the time. My life was quite pub­lic.”

Un­able to take time off — “I think if I had some­thing phys­i­cally wrong with me, I would have had to. But with a men­tal ill­ness, it’s amaz­ing how fright­ened I was to say any­thing” — she bat­tled through, never call­ing in sick.

And, she is quick to point out, “it’s not like I was stag­ger­ing around the house with a vodka bot­tle. I have brought up two amaz­ing chil­dren, so it was al­most like I had a dou­ble life. I was func­tion­ing, I was go­ing to work — al­beit some­times straight from be­ing out. I didn’t ever not go to work. I didn’t ever not per­form. But I was ter­ri­fied of the come­down, so it’s per­pet­ual, and it was just aw­ful.”

Dur­ing this time, she and Tim, who was her se­cond hus­band, sep­a­rated and di­vorced, and Denise met Lin­coln Town­ley, her third hus­band.

“He was run­ning Stringfel­lows night­club and we met at six o’clock in the morn­ing in a night­club. We formed, amidst this mad­ness, as he some­times calls it, a very spe­cial bond.” Did she fall in love? “Yeah, I did. Im­me­di­ately. And the only thing that was go­ing to stop the mar­riage that we have now was our life­style. As Lin­coln said, ‘no­body ever got up at an awards cer­e­mony and said I’d like to thank al­co­hol and drugs for get­ting me to where I am to­day’.”

They de­cided, to­gether, to quit. “He stopped drink­ing first and two months later I fol­lowed suit, and that was nearly seven years ago.” What kind of dif­fer­ence has that made? “Our life is won­der­ful and our mar­riage is great, and the rip­ple ef­fect of course is how it im­pacts on your fam­ily and the peo­ple who love you be­cause they’re the peo­ple who suf­fer the most. There were a lot of hang­ers-on in my life, peo­ple who wanted me to be the leader of the party, and same with Lin­coln. And now Lin­coln is a con­tem­po­rary artist of in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion. He didn’t start paint­ing pro­fes­sion­ally un­til he was 40; he’s now 46. It’s been a com­plete turn­around for both of us.”

So Lin­coln is younger? “Yes, by 15 years,” and then she laughs, “well done me!”

She is quick to point out, “giv­ing up al­co­hol does not cure clin­i­cal de­pres­sion, but it stops com­pound­ing it. My episodes are now much shorter-lived and I deal with them bet­ter. But my de­pres­sion is en­doge­nous, so I don’t know when it’s go­ing to come. It’s not re­ac­tive.

“When my mum died — when you would think it might hap­pen — it didn’t, but last year it hap­pened when I was sat on a beach in the Caribbean. Mine usu­ally starts with a slightly metal­lic taste in my mouth, a tin­gling in my palms, and the colour starts to go from my life, and I know — it’s com­ing.” And then what? “There’s noth­ing I can do about it. I think ‘here we go,’ and I just have to hang on.” Then she adds: “I’d like ev­ery­body in the world to have clin­i­cal de­pres­sion for 15 sec­onds, and then for it to go. But just to see what it is, the dif­fer­ence — it’s an ill­ness, not an emo­tion. It’s not sad­ness. You feel sad­ness, whereas de­pres­sion de­presses ev­ery­thing. The clue is in the word. It de­presses ev­ery emo­tion so you lose your abil­ity to feel hap­pi­ness or sad­ness. It’s a noth­ing­ness.”

Her ill­ness “de­ter­mines ev­ery pro­fes­sional de­ci­sion I make. This show for ex­am­ple, my com­mit­ment is nine months, eight shows a week, and I am aware that dur­ing that time, my ill­ness can hap­pen.

“So I have an un­der­study, which is al­ways a good se­cu­rity blan­ket, but I pre­fer to be on stage if I can. I have to think it through: ‘will I have the sup­port? If I go there, will Lin­coln be able to get to me, will I be able to get home?’”

Look­ing back now, Denise says “I have guilt to this day. But my el­dest son, Matthew says: ‘Mum, the fact is, you gave up drink­ing and you’ve given me and Louis wings to fly. If you weren’t in the place you are now, I wouldn’t be able to travel in­ter­na­tion­ally be­cause I would be wor­ried about you…’ So I feel grate­ful that Tim and I raised two great kids, who love me re­gard­less.”

And, she is adamant. “I wouldn’t swap my life for any­one’s. There were re­ally se­ri­ous episodes, but even so I wouldn’t swap my life be­cause I’ve been able to learn and give back and be­come a bet­ter per­son.

“Also, not many peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate feel­ing nor­mal.

“Peo­ple al­ways want to feel happy. I just want to be nor­mal. Nor­mal is good. Con­tent is good. The highs are great but I like hav­ing the abil­ity to wake up and feel nor­mal — that’s my hap­pi­ness.” Cal­en­dar Girls The Mu­si­cal will be at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, from May 14 to May 25. For more de­tails go to www.goh. co.uk. Later this month the show is at the Bord Gais En­ergy The­atre in Dublin from Jan­uary 22 to Fe­bru­ary 2. For more de­tails see bor­dgaisen­er­gythe­atre.com

I never ex­cuse past be­hav­iour. There were rea­sons for it

LOV­ING LIFE: Denise in Dublin and above right with hus­band Lin­coln Town­ley. Be­low, son Matthew on stage with The 1975

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.