With her healthy glow and vibrant, chatty energy, it’s hard to believe Michelle Heaton was battling a deadly addiction to booze just 12 months ago. The star bravely opened up about her ordeal last June and shared heartbreaking selfies in September showing her puffy and bloodshot eyes taken at the height of her alcoholism.
Now, catching up with the mum of two on Closer’s shoot as she celebrates a year of sobriety, she admits she’s a completely different person, but she works hard every day to beat her demons.
The former Liberty X star, 42, spent 28 days at The Priory rehab centre last May after finally realising she needed help.
“At my lowest point, I’d wake up in the morning and pray for someone to help me or I just wanted to die,” Michelle tells Closer.
“I’d given upon my life and I didn’t care about losing my family or friends, it was only about where the next drink was coming from. My skin was grey, I was exhausted and my body was completely unrecognisable and bloated.”
“Rehab saved my life – after my medical examination there, they told me I’d have been dead within days if I hadn’t got help. I’m still on medication to help my pancreas function as it’s been completely destroyed. Recovery is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but my fight to keep sober is something I’ll do every day for the rest of my life.”
As Michelle reflects, she admits that her worst memories of her addiction are lying to her husband, fitness expert Hugh Hanley, 43, and her two children Faith, 10, and AJ, eight.
With tears in her eyes, Michelle adds, “I’d be vomiting in the bathroom and then lying to the kids, saying I had a bad headache. And believe me, Mummy had a lot of bad headaches. I feel so ashamed and sad when I think about how I lied to Hugh – I’d wait until he went to bed to start bingeing on vodka in the middle of the night.”
And Michelle says pal Katie Price gave her the will that she needed to check into rehab.
The star, who now follows the 12 Step Programme and attends AA meetings to stay sober, says, “I saw Kate happy and everything she had and I thought, ‘That’s what I want.’”
Katie, who has also spent time in The Priory, urged Michelle to get help, while Michelle also had support from other celeb friends.
She says, “Denise Welch sent me inspirational messages to read when I was allowed to look at my phone for two hours a day in rehab. She was so kind and told me about her experiences, which were similar to mine.”
Michelle, who shot to fame in pop band Liberty X in 2001, estimates she’s had a drinking problem for over five years, but the situation became extreme in lockdown.
She says, “I’ve always had an addictive personality – I’ve been obsessive about my weight in the past and taken cocaine, but nothing’s brought me to my knees like booze. It was easier to mask during lockdown because so many people were at home drinking in isolation. I’d be continually topping up my glass, one vodka bottle after another.”
Check out: Liberty X - where are they now?
After Liberty X split in 2007, it was reported Michelle signed a two album deal with the record label 19 Entertainment, owned by Simon Fuller. However, just two months later she revealed she had walked out on the deal, wanting to pursue a television career over music instead.
Michelle had previously undergone a preventative double mastectomy in 2012 and had a hysterectomy in 2015 after discovering she was at risk of developing ovarian cancer. It triggered an early menopause and the star says being sober has forced her to confront emotions that have stayed buried for years.
“I used booze for years to numb my emotions, but now I have to tackle them,” she says. “I’ve now been able to process going through the menopause properly without using booze as a coping mechanism. I’m now completely honest with Hugh and he feels like he’s got his wife back. He’s forgiven me and we’re best friends again...as well as best friends in the bedroom!”
"And she says she’s got nothing to hide from her children, saying, “I’ve talked to my kids about what’s happened because I’m really proud of myself for turning my life around.”
She says, “My body feels like a temple now there’s not a toxin in sight – I feel 10 years younger!”
She also enjoys long walks with her Labrador Bella and follows a healthy diet. “I’ve still got all the scars and loose skin but I’m not trying to be perfect any more,” she smiles. “I’ve got so much confidence and love for myself.”
Now Michelle and Hugh are launching a new fitness company called Mission Possible Wellness, and Michelle is still performing gigs with her former bandmates, Jessica Taylor and Kelli Young.
She says, “The girls have been amazing. On my first gig after being sober, they removed all the alcohol from my rider and gave me so much support.”
And Michelle says she’ll be forever grateful for her fresh start.
She adds, “I used to question whether people would find me boring or not like me sober. But now I know who my real friends are and I’m so excited about everything I have to look forward to. I love my family and I’m not striving for anything any more. I’m living in the present and feeling happier and stronger than ever.”
If you need help with a drinking problem, you can contact Alcoholics Anonymous free on 0800 9177650.