Being an ex-addict is nothing to be ashamed of, Patsy – it means you survived

EASTENDERS favourite Patsy Palmer stormed off a Good Morning Britain chat this week – but should she have been so angry?

The 48-year-old left interviewers Ben Shephard and Susanna Reid gobsmacked when she took objection to the words “Patsy Palmer: Addict to Wellness Guru” at the bottom of the screen.

But is flipping out at the mention of your dark history the right thing to do? As a recovering addict of 20 years, I would say no.

I salute you, beautiful, gifted, Patsy. Don’t sweat the tagline. “Addict” is not an insult. In your case, it is proof of life.

Personally, embracing addiction has made me achieve things I never thought possible.

Poor Patsy should not bury her addictions under the carpet — as acknowledging your past leaves you stronger.

She even addressed her addictions herself in 2007 memoir All Of Me.

She talked about the chaos of young fame, saying she spent her twenties “bingeing life away on cocaine, ecstasy, and enough vodka and Laurent Perrier Champagne to quench a small village’s thirst for several hours”.

She is obviously still sensitive about this time. But I wonder if she over-reacted. Being a recovering addict is nothing to be ashamed of.


And talented Patsy — whose EastEnders character Bianca is one of the soap world’s most memorable ever — could never be small and worthless.

Far from it, she is unforgettable. I say embrace it. It makes you who you are.

As soon as I began to get better 20 years ago, I started to write about it.

I loved writing about it because people were interested and because it helped me change from the person I used to be into someone else — someone reliable, and solid and alive.

When I saw the writing and my name on it, I knew I had survived. It was not easy.

I went insane when I was about 18 — blackouts, screaming fits, weird and lonely journeys into central London for drugs and sexual encounters with men whose names I did not want to know.

And when I was not drunk or drugged I experienced a terrible, all-consuming fear.

What was happening to me, and why? Why did I feel cursed? Why couldn’t I be happy? Why did such terrible things happen to me? Why was I so alone?

The answer is the drink. It is always the drink.

I have learned to stop asking why this happened to me, because there is no point.

I believe now that addiction is genetic — I was born with the predisposition — but triggered by trauma, in my case probably my parents’ divorce when I was ten, which left me feeling abandoned.

Perhaps I thought it was my fault everyone was so unhappy. Children often do.

In the deepest part of me — or maybe the second deepest part of me because I cannot be 20 years sober without some kind of faith — there is mere sludge. That is just the way it is.

And asking why it is there does not stop it existing. I merely have to learn to ignore it.

To a huge extent the eight years of my active drinking — which ended when I was 27 with a three-month cocaine binge that I thought I would not survive — defines me.

I have learned to stop asking why this happened to me, because there is no point.

It is frightening staring into a mirror, high on cocaine, and saying to the reflection, “I wish you were dead”, while your mother is asleep next door.

I often think I should have died of this illness — plenty do, and it’s an awful death, filled with shame and regret — and that I did not is a small miracle. I just have to remember that.

And if I do not remember every day that I am an addict, it will take me again.

I usually wake up angry and frightened. That is the alcoholism. The sludge is always calling me back

If alcoholism wounded me, deeply, it also gives me things. When I am feeling very well, I think it gives me everything.

It is quite something returning from the edge of death at 27. It makes you strong. I do not scare easily, that is for sure.

And I can never say I have not lived. Sometimes I think addicts just have too many emotions.

When we are happy, we are wildly happy — and when we are sad, we are sadder than anyone.

I felt I had lived a thousand lifetimes by 27, and I am sure Patsy feels the same. It is not boring.

It made me braver, too. No one pushes me about, ever — except for me.


I have a very high threshold for shame. I never care if I get my skirt stuck into my knickers or if I fall over in the street. I have done so much worse.

I married my husband, who is the kindest man I have ever met, in 2012 and we have a son together. It is miraculous to me because, when I was using drink and drugs, men so often were not kind.

I did not want them to be. I was not looking for love, but affirmation of what a terrible person I was.

I don’t mind ageing at all, because the older I get, the happier I am as it is closer to the “me” I could never find when I was young and beautiful.

Grange Hill to Los Angeles

Theatre schoolkid Patsy got her big break at 13 in children’s TV show Grange Hill, playing the part of Natasha from 1985 to 1987.

She wrote in her 2007 biography, All Of Me, that she was already struggling with an addiction to drugs and booze before landing the iconic role of Bianca Jackson in EastEnders aged 21.

She starred in the BBC soap, alongside Sid Owen as her onscreen husband Ricky Butcher, for six years until 1999.

During her time away from the show Patsy beat her addictions, following a 12-step programme from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

She returned to EastEnders in 2008 for six years and again in 2019 for a short stint. Behind the scenes, Patsy married second husband Richard Merkell, a former cab driver, in 2000.

They have daughter Emilia, 19, and sons Fenton, 20, and ten-year-old Bertie. Patsy also has actor son Charley Rothwell, 29, from a previous relationship.

In 2014, the family swapped London for Los Angeles, where Patsy launched her wellness business, including Commonwealth Lifestyle Foundation, a charity that empowers women.

She has DJ’ed since 2012 and last year appeared on The Great Stand Up To Cancer Bake Off and as the Butterfly on The Masked Singer.

I cannot wait to be a grumpy old woman because they can get away with anything.

The world to me now feels full of possibility — like a gift I did not know I would be given, and very nearly was not.

To Patsy I say: Be proud! You made it!

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