The Mail on Sunday
Cocaine, jealousy, betrayal: the dark secrets of my Joe
muscles in the mirror. He wasn’t like that at the start. The fame went to his head. The man I loved disappeared. ‘He was so focused on himself, he became hard work. He was argumentative and snappy and would talk down to me. He only wanted to talk about himself and would lose interest if you tried to change the subject.’ Jo-Emma ran the London Marathon that year but says Joe did not help her train or offer support. He went on a run with her only once and, although he did come to watch her race, he disappeared off to an event after she crossed the finishing line, leaving her to celebrate with her mother. ‘It was a big deal to me,’ she said. ‘I was a bit hurt. After all, I’d been to every one of his fights.’
Joe began to talk about quitting boxing and becoming a celebrity. He admired Vinnie Jones, who became a successful Hollywood actor after giving up football.
Jo-Emma remembers Joe looking at himself in the mirror, saying: ‘I’m going to be a superstar.’
One night, not long before Joe’s final fight at Madison Square Garden in November 2008, Joe had been drinking. ‘He turned to me and said, “You’re my little support girl. After the last fight, I’m doing my own thing. The celeb doesn’t need the support girlfriend any more.”
‘Because he’d had a drink I didn’t take much notice of him. He could be nasty like that, sometimes. But it was a really hurtful thing to say. He was saying, you’ve been amazing but I don’t need you any more.’
It would be easy to suggest Joe was feeling insecure after giving up his career, which left him the longestreigning boxing world champion of modern times.
But Jo-Emma says that far from feeling sad about retiring from sport, Joe was excited.
‘More than anything, he wanted to be more than just a sportsman. After the last fight, he was so happy. Once he decided he wanted to become a superstar, everything changed.’
In December 2008, Joe was asked to give an after-dinner speech at a business event in Rotherham. Jo-Emma went along, but the couple began to argue when Joe decided he wanted to leave.
Jo-Emma was comforted by a woman she had only just met but ended up leaving and taking a taxi to her mother’s house in Hull, while Joe stayed behind.
Two weeks later, Joe’s mobile phone rang when the couple were in bed. ‘I could hear this woman’s voice really clearly. She said, “Do you remember me? Do you remember that night we had together?” Joe mumbled something and put the phone down.
‘I was really suspicious and texted the number, pretending to be Joe. The girl who responded was the same one who had comforted me in Rotherham. She suggested in the text they had kissed.’
Furious, she confronted Joe who claimed that he was ‘too drunk’ to remember. Jo-Emma left to go to her mother’s. But Joe apologised and begged her to come home. ‘ He was very good at saying sorry and I came back.’
Joe retired from boxing in February 2009. And it was then he started to use cocaine on a casual basis.
‘I became aware of him taking cocaine at parties at the weekends,’ says Jo-Emma. ‘There’d be people who did it and people who didn’t, and Joe was just one of the ones who did.
‘He was now the “big man” – the undefeated champion – and I’m sure the cocaine went along with that.
‘Sometimes I’d see him having a line with friends, using a rolled-up note on a table top. Other times I wouldn’t see him, but could tell – the way he acted, really. It worried me and I’d nag him to stop but it would end in a row.’
Mostly, she began to dread the following days, when Joe would be particularly difficult to live with. ‘He’d be really moody, over-the-top argumentative, really hard work.’
But it quickly became what Jo-Emma describes as a ‘horrible spiral’. She says: ‘It became a normal night out for him, drinking and some coke with the boys.
‘Even just going out for a pint on a weekday it would happen. He’d be doing it in the toilets of whatever pub he’d be in.
‘I’d say, why don’t you just try and do a full week or two without doing it, but he couldn’t. He was surrounded by people who thought the sun shone he developed a physical reaction to the drug. ‘Sometimes his face would swell after taking coke and I was worried. I searched on the internet and found that it can be an allergic reaction to cocaine and alcohol.’
Jo-Emma says his character had become ‘very Jekyll and Hyde’. She does not know whether this was specifically caused by his drug use, but she suspects it had an effect.
‘He would tell me after a cocaine session that he didn’t want to do it any more. He always had regrets.
‘Once, when I said to him he was taking too much and should address it, he blamed me. He said it was because of me he had it, which is really unfair.
‘Other times he’d say, “I’m far too good for you – I hope you know how lucky you are, I could have anybody.” But he would regret saying that the next day and would tell me I deserved better.
‘My mum told me I should leave him. But I still loved him, even though I had my doubts.’
In June last year, Joe found out he had a place on Strictly and Jo-Emma worried about what it might do to their relationship.
‘He was excited about what it could do for his career because people would see him in a different light. But I didn’t like the thought. It’s