Sarah Lancashire on her ‘cruel’ illness: ‘I was a terrible mess’

Sarah Lancashire - known for roles including Happy Valley’s Catherine Cawood and The Accident's Polly Bevan - has opened up about her struggle with depression

The Accident Sarah Lancashire

by Kayleigh Dray |
Updated on

Sarah Lancashire is a one of the UK's most loved actors.

She first appeared on our screens as Raquel Watts in Coronation Street, and since then has found critical acclaim in a number of TV dramas, including Last Tango in Halifax, the BBC thriller Happy Valley and Channel 4's four-part drama Kiri.

However the road to success has not been easy.

The talented actress - who was awarded an OBE in 2017 - first began experiencing symptoms of depression when she was just 17 years old, and spent the following decades trying to find a way to deal with them.

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Despite her smiles, Sarah was often struggling with depression ©Getty

Unfortunately for Sarah, she was initially prescribed tranquillisers, which proved to be more of a burden than a solution.

Speaking to The Sun, Sarah explained: “Tranquillisers were the worst thing for it.

“I ended up in a terrible mess. My twenties were a write-off.”

Sarah found herself seriously affected by her mental health issues, and, as a young actor, it had a detrimental effect on her career.

“In my early days depression did inhibit me,” she said.

“I was too debilitated and terrified to tell anyone why I couldn't get on a train from Manchester for auditions in London.”

sarah lancashire raquel watts coronation street
Sarah got her big break in Corrie ©ITV

Despite this, Sarah did get her big break in 1991, when she landed the role of Raquel Watts on ITV’s Coronation Street.

While she flourished on screen as the cheerful barmaid, however, things were just as bad as ever away from the cameras.

“It's a cruel illness because you can't see it and you can hide it so well.

“At least, I can… I’m a genius at hiding it.

“I think a lot of people are. Actors are bloody marvellous at hiding.”

Two years into the role, Sarah experienced a life-shattering nervous breakdown, but did not confide in anyone beside her close family or take any time off work.

At the worst stage in the 14 month period, she found herself “hysterical” at the the thought of getting out of bed in the morning.

Thankfully Sarah was, in a completely unrelated instance, offered a 10 week break from Corrie.

And it was at this point that her mother, Hilda, decided to take action.

Check out: soap stars who tried to make it big in America


The soap stars who tried to crack Hollywood - STACKED

Emmett J Scanlan1 of 14
CREDIT: Lime Pictures & Shutterstock

Emmett J Scanlan

He played the infamous villain on Hollyoaks but Brendan Brady soon turned into the good guy following his relationship with Ste Hay.However in 2013 he left the Channel 4 show and has since appeared in Peaky Blinders, Gangs of London and Guardian's of the Galaxy as the head riot guard.

Adele Silva2 of 14
CREDIT: Shutterstock / Rex

Adele Silva

Adele left the role of Kelly Windsor in Emmerdale in 2007 in an attempt to crack America.But, instead of setting Hollywood alight, in 2010 she was pictured working in a Ted Baker store in LA. She then returned to Emmerdale as Kelly in 2011 but left shortly after.

Nikki Sanderson3 of 14
CREDIT: Shutterstock / Rex, Sony Pictures, Lime Pictures

Nikki Sanderson

Everyone knows Nikki as mouthy hairdresser Candice from Coronation Street. After leaving the cobbles she tried her hand at success across the pond – to lukewarm reception.She managed to land a role in film Boogeyman 3, but sadly for Nikki it went straight to DVD.Fast forward to 2012 and she joined the cast of Hollyoaks as Maxine Minniver.

Nathalie Emmanuel4 of 14
CREDIT: Lime Pictures, HBO, Universal Pictures

Nathalie Emmanuel

She shot to fame in the UK as Sasha Valentine on the Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks, but since her exit in 2010 she's managed to find fame stateside.As well as an appearance in the Fast and Furious franchise, Nathalie, landed a role in Game of Thrones as interpreter Missandei. She also features in the second film in the Maze Runner trilogy, The Scorch Trials.

Ricky Whittle5 of 14
CREDIT: Lime Pictures, The CW, Starz

Ricky Whittle

Another Valentine sibling to swap Hollyoaks for Hollywood was Ricky who played Calvin from 2006 until 2011. Unfortunately he was shot dead on his wedding day by Theresa McQueen.He has since starred in The CW Network series The 100, playing Lincoln, and American God where he has taken on the role of Shadow Moon.

Ben Hardy6 of 14
CREDIT: BBC & 20th Century Fox

Ben Hardy

This is one actor who has well and truly swapped Walford for Hollywood.After his shock departure from EastEnders, in which he played Peter Beale aka Ian Beale's son, Ben landed a role in X-Men: Apocalypse – an actual main, speaking part. He's also appeared in Bohemian Rhapsody, Mary Shelley and Netflix's movie 6 Underground.

Sam Strike7 of 14
CREDIT: BBC & Netflix

Sam Strike

Another EastEnders alumni, Sam quit his role as Johnny Carter in 2014 and went on to star in British drama film Bonded By Blood 2.He later made his Hollywood debut in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel Leatherface and has since played a serial rapist in the Netflix show Mindhunter.

Robert Kazinsky8 of 14
CREDIT: BBC, Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Pictures

Robert Kazinsky

Rob played EastEnders favourite Sean Slater from 2006 until 2009, but got his big American break when he was cast in the hit vampire series True Blood, playing Macklyn Warlow. He then appeared in Pacific Rim, Warcraft and Captain Marvel.Rob returned to EastEnders for a brief stint in 2019 but viewers are yet to see him make another comeback.

Patsy Palmer9 of 14
CREDIT: BBC & Rex / Shutterstock

Patsy Palmer

We loved Patsy as Bianca in EastEnders, but she left the soap in 2014 to pursue her American dream.While she's yet to be cast in any major roles, Patsy did manage to land a job in a Best Buy advert. Well everyone's got to start somewhere, haven't they?And despite being an actress turned DJ, it's Patsy's children that have made it big in the US.

Lacey Turner10 of 14

Lacey Turner

She's well known for playing Stacey Slater in EastEnders but in 2010 Lacey bowed out of the show after her onscreen character fled the country after killing Archie Mitchell.Ahh throwback.Following her departure from the show, Lacey played the part of a witch in ITV2's show Switch but it wasn't long before she reprised her role as Stacey.In 2014 she headed back onto the square and finally confessed to the police that she killed Archie.

Michelle Keegan11 of 14

Michelle Keegan

Coronation Street fans will remember where Michelle Keegan first started on TV and it was on the cobbles.The actress played Tina McIntyre and during her time on the show she hid her abortion from David Platt, she tried to keep Gary and Izzy's baby after she was their surrogate and she was left devastated after her dad faked his own death but ended up actually dying.It's safe to say that she went out with a bang, after all Rob Donovan pushed her off a balcony.After leaving the ITV show, Michelle went on to star in Tina and Bobby, Our Girl and Brassic.

Rachel Shenton12 of 14
CREDIT: Lime Pictures & The Silent Child

Rachel Shenton

From 2010 to 2013 Rachel Shenton starred in Hollyoaks as Mitzeee Minniver. The feisty character left the show and moved to America upon discovering she's five months pregnant with Riley Costello's baby.After leaving the Oaks, Rachel went on to star in Switched at Birth and White Gold. However, it was in 2018 when she won an Oscar for her short movie The Silent Child, in which she wrote and starred in.

Martine McCutcheon13 of 14
CREDIT: BBC & Universal Pictures

Martine McCutcheon

She's well known for playing Tiffany Mitchell in EastEnders but after Frank Butcher ran her over outside the Queen Vic she died.Fast forward a few years and Martine McCutcheon played Natalie in Love Actually. You know, the movie that everyone goes crazy about around Christmas time.She's also appeared in Agatha Christie's Marple, Midsomer Murders and as a panelist on Loose Women.

Roxanne McKee14 of 14
CREDIT: Lime Pictures & HBO

Roxanne McKee

Roxanne first graced our screen as Louise Summer's in Hollyoaks. During her time in the village she cheated on Calvin Valentine with Warren Fox, had an abortion after not know who her baby daddy was and was murdered by her fiancé Warren Fox on their wedding night.Cute.After leaving the Channel 4 show, Roxanne went on appear in EastEnders: E20, Vendetta and Game of Thrones. In the popular HBO programme, she played Doreah; you know the woman who betrayed Daenerys with Xaro and was left to die in the vault with him.How charming?

sarah lancashire happy valley
Sarah is now best known for her role in Happy Valley ©BBC

“She literally dragged me to the doctor,” said Sarah.

“It gave me my life back.”

Sarah left the soap in 1996 - the same year as her divorce from her first husband, Gary Hargreaves, a music lecturer who was 11 years her senior.

She has since revealed that they only married because she had fallen pregnant, and that the 10 year marriage lasted “10 years longer than it should have done”.

In a bid to help herself overcome her mental health issues, Sarah vowed to remain single and did so for the next five years.

sarah lancashire news
Sarah's next big role was in Where The Heart Is ©Getty

She found success as Ruth Goddard in Where The Heart Is, before returning to Coronation Street in 2000. Sarah then went on to star in several critically acclaimed dramas, including Clocking Off, Chambers, Seeing Red, and My Fragile Heart.

It was for this reason that she was given a two-year golden handcuffs deal with ITV in 2000, which saw her secured exclusively to their network; Sarah was the first ever actor to be given a contract of this sort with ITV.

It was a very good year for Sarah, as she also began her relationship with top TV executive Peter Salmon.

The pair announced their engagement in 2001, and she said at the time: “Look at me! It's very difficult to disguise how I feel.

“I just can't stop smiling.”

sarah lancashire husband peter salmon
Sarah found love with TV producer Peter Salmon ©Getty

The pair have gone on to have a son together - and a very happy marriage.

With the popular drama Happy Valley set to return for a third explosive series next year, it seems as if Sarah has found true success as Sgt Cawood.

But, although she's currently not taking medication for her mental health issues since 2011, Sarah says that that may change in the future.

“I know there will come a time when I'll have to, but for now it's OK.”

What a phenomenal woman; it seems as if Sarah Lancashire is every bit as inspiring as Sgt Catherine Cawood.

This article first appeared on Closer on 18 March 2016

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