HomeLifestyleMichelle Heatons addiction hell made her skin change colour and hair fall out
Michelle Heatons addiction hell made her skin change colour and hair fall out
On the surface, Michelle Heaton appeared to have it all – a happy marriage, two beautiful children and a successful career.
But behind the scenes, things were falling apart.
The Liberty X singer was secretly struggling with a three-year alcohol and drug addiction that left her constantly vomiting, losing her hair and weighing just 7st 13lb at her lowest.
Her skin was also changing colour, and by April this year things had got so bad that she was later told by a doctor if she hadn’t gone to the Priory rehabilitation clinic on the day she did, she would no longer be here.
Not only did her drink and drug addictions push her health to the brink, but her marriage suffered, too. And as we sit down with Michelle, 42, and her husband Hugh Hanley, to hear Hugh’s perspective for the first time, it’s clear there were moments when he didn’t think their relationship would survive.
“I begged him to leave,” says Michelle through tears. “It wasn’t like I wanted to commit suicide but I knew I was going to die and Hugh and the kids would have to go through that.”
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But Hugh, who is teetotal, adds, “I knew if I walked away she wouldn’t have made it.”
Michelle previously praised Hugh for “being her rock” when she had a preventative double mastectomy in 2012, followed by a hysterectomy three years later, after discovering she had the faulty BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Her paternal grandmother and great grandmother had both cancers in their thirties. The hysterectomy led to her going through an early menopause.
Here, in an incredibly raw and honest interview, Michelle and Hugh reveal how they told their children – Faith, nine, and AJ, seven – about Michelle’s addiction, managed her sobriety and why their marriage is now stronger than ever…
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Hi guys. You left the Priory in May, Michelle. How are you doing now?
Michelle: When this comes out I will be 90 days clean and sober. If you’d told me 80 days ago I’d be here talking about my sobriety without having had a relapse, I wouldn’t have believed you. I couldn’t see any way out.
Did you know the full extent of Michelle’s addiction, Hugh?
Hugh: I was aware of quite a lot when it came to the drinking, but the drugs I didn’t know much about. Three years ago was the first time I realised how much it had taken control of her. I tried to get her to stop numerous times, but to no avail. For me, the hardest part was watching her getting ripped apart in front of me. No matter what I would say or do, or what the kids would do, she was in self-destruct mode.
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Did Faith and AJ know what was going on?
Michelle: They’re too young to know everything, but they saw me being sick. I wasn’t present and having fun with them. Faith is old enough to read newspapers and Google us, and unfortunately everything is out there for them to read.
Hugh: Faith is aware alcohol made Mummy sick. They were both aware Mummy was shouting and out of sorts. AJ has really come out of himself now that Michelle is back and interacting with them.
Michelle: When they’re older we will explain it to them in our own words, but all they know is that Mummy is nicer, healthier and happier now.
Were there times when you felt like a single dad, Hugh?
Hugh: Yes. Michelle was still a great mum, but she was always preoccupied or found a reason not to be involved in family activities.
Michelle: I would create arguments. Or I would find something to scream about so I could retire upstairs. That’s where the vodka was hidden. Hugh didn’t know about the extent of the vodka. I would drink wine with the family at dinner and then have my vodka upstairs. I would never do that in front of Hugh or the kids. It would be at least a bottle of wine or two a day and then, if I was having a brave day, I would drink the bottle of vodka. I would manipulate my way out of the school run and ask someone else to get the kids.
I’d be thinking, “What time do I need to not be in the car so I can have a drink?” The cocaine wasn’t a daily thing – Covid and money wouldn’t allow it – but if it was there I couldn’t stop. It also allowed me to drink more. It definitely wasn’t until after early menopause that that started.
When you went into the Priory, where did you tell the kids you were, Michelle?
Michelle: I recorded a video for them. It was so hard not telling them face to face, but otherwise they would have had those memories of me breaking down.
Hugh: In the video she said, “Mummy is going to a hotel for four weeks to get happy and get better.”
Alcoholism can often be hereditary. Do you worry about the kids when they’re older?
Michelle: I think now we’re educated it’s definitely something we would be tuned into.
Hugh: Yeah, but with kids you just don’t know. We’ve got that to worry about, and the BRCA2 gene.
All this must have been so hard on your marriage?
Michelle: I’m surprised Hugh’s still here and I think he is, too.
Hugh: It put a massive strain on our marriage. A lot of people would say, “You need to leave and give her a wake-up call,” but I didn’t think that was the right way to go about it. I didn’t want to give up on her or us. The reality was she was either going to end up in rehab, severely ill in hospital or dead.
Michelle: I’m surprised I’m still here. It wasn’t like I wanted to commit suicide but the reality was I knew I was going to die and Hugh and the kids would have to go through that, but I still couldn’t stop and that’s how cruel this disease is. I’d been in pain since Christmas last year and was told I was going to die, but I still carried on. Now I wake up every day and I can’t believe I’ve got another chance.
Was there a point you thought Hugh would leave you, Michelle?
Michelle: Oh yeah. I actually pushed him to the point where I would beg him to leave because I didn’t want to put him through the pain I was going through. Of course I didn’t want him to go – everything would have crumbled around me if I didn’t have this man beside me now – but I couldn’t face him messing his life up. I knew I was in such a bad way and dragging him and the kids down. I’d say, “Just find someone else, I know you want to leave.”
Did you consider leaving, Hugh?
Hugh: It would have been easier to walk away but I knew Michelle was in there and I didn’t want to give up on her. And I knew if I walked away she wouldn’t have made it. I didn’t want the kids to grow up without their mother but it was definitely sometimes hard to stay. It’s relentless living with an alcoholic. You question your sanity. The easiest way to describe it is like having mental boxing matches with someone. She was snappy, aggressive and had become sloppy with everything. She wasn’t the Michelle I married. But the best outcome is where we are now. The kids have a far better mum and she’s back to being the person I married.
Would you say you’ve both come out of this stronger?
Hugh: It’s like we’ve had a second chance to fall in love again. I think we’re getting on better than ever. I’m boring and a teetotaller, whereas Michelle is fun and a teetotaller so now we’re a different mix.
Do you believe Michelle won’t drink again, Hugh?
Hugh: I don’t know. If she started drinking again I would just be apprehensive about how bad things could get. I don’t know if I or the kids could go through that again. It’s not that I don’t think she won’t beat it, I just don’t want us to go back to that dark time.
Michelle: I have to take it day by day. I have the tools I learnt on the programme in the Priory and my AA meetings, therapy sessions and an amazing sponsor. The four weeks in the Priory saved my life. After leaving I was struggling with the concept of never being able to have a drink again. I’m still struggling with that anxiety.
How bad had things got before you went into the Priory, Michelle?
Michelle: About 48 hours before I went in, I’d drunk copious amounts of alcohol and was almost in a fight with a friend, and I just remember being verbally abusive to Hugh.
Hugh: Four days before going to the Priory she also had a very bad fit in bed at 2am. She wouldn’t stop shaking and her mouth was drooling. That was scary. Her skin was also changing colour and she hadn’t eaten for days.
What’s next for you?
Michelle: I’ve got some Liberty X gigs this summer. The band have all been so supportive. They knew I had problems and thought they were adding to them because of the gigs. They were willing to stop Liberty X to help me, but that wouldn’t have helped. I can’t wait to get back on stage.