Sam Faiers: My health just fell to pieces live on TV”
TOWIE star Sam Faiers reveals how illness forced her to quit the hit show and how poorly she was in the Big Brother house.
As one of the most popular cast members on reality TV show, TOWIE, Sam Faiers had become accustomed to living life in a celebrity goldfish bowl. But then earlier this year, she quit, realising, “there's only so much you can give ... from now on, I want to keep things private.”
The 23-year-old joined the ITV2 series, The Only Way Is Essex, in 2010 and left this April, shortly after being diagnosed with the incurable gut condition, Crohn's disease, a condition that became apparent when she appeared in Celebrity Big Brother in January.
“Doubled up in agony with terrible stomach cramps, weight dropping off me, and not able to keep down any food I was really frightened. I knew something was seriously wrong and I couldn't believe it was all being played out on television in the Big Brother house,” says Faiers.
The clearly difficult time made her re-evaluate her life, one of the results of which was her decision to quit the hugely successful series.
It can't have been an entirely easy decision. Until recently the former bank clerk from Brentwood, who was swept into a world of TV studios, nightclubs, and instant fame when she was chosen to appear in TOWIE, had revelled in her glamorous lifestyle. One of the members of the original cast, she appeared with her sister, Billie — the pair own a fashion boutique, Minnie's — in the programme which focuses on the lives and loves of young people in Essex.
“I was only 19 when I joined and I've done all my growing up on the show. There's been the tears, the tantrums, the romance and the break-ups — I've been through it all. It's been like a roller coaster as I've played out my life and relationships on screen,” says Faiers.
She also had an on-off romance with fellow TOWIE star, Joey Essex throughout the series — another reason she left the programme was to focus on the pair's rekindled relationship, away from the spotlight — “we're together and things are great”.
But it was her diagnosis with Crohn's disease that remains the real trigger in re-evaluating her life.
The disease is an inflammation of the gastro-intestinal tract which is most common among 15 to 30-year-olds but can also be diagnosed in older people, and affects around 100,000 people in the UK. Classic symptoms are rapid weight-loss, painful stomach cramps and diarrhoea. It can be managed, as
hers has been, with drugs and close attention to diet.
“My time in the Big Brother house, nearly a month in January, was a nightmare because I was so poorly. Effectively my body went into shutdown and I only just managed to make it to the end,” says Faiers who's now teamed up with Love Your Gut (loveyourgut.com) to support this year's Gut Week, which runs from this Monday to Sunday, to raise awareness about digestive health.
“I'd be crying with the pain, violently ill after eating anything, with boils on my face, no energy and such terrible joint pain in my ankles I could barely walk.
“I lost a stone and a half because I was unable to absorb any of the vital nutrients from food.”
During the show she was often confined to bed and unable to join in the tasks with the other housemates, and the public, unaware of her illness, dismissed her as ‘boring', though she still came fifth in the contest.
Medical experts were called in twice, but thought she was suffering from a virus or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and it was only when she came out that she discovered the seriousness of her condition.
Doctors believed she'd probably been suffering from Crohn's for a year without knowing it, and her gut had become so inflamed that ulcers had developed.
“At one stage I was facing surgery but thankfully I've responded so well to the medication and diet changes that wasn't necessary. Now I feel absolutely fine, I'm in remission and although I'll have to cope with this forever, I know it's perfectly possible to live a normal life,” she says.
“Of course, I wish I'd recognised bouts of of sickness and diarrhoea over the last year were warning signs but I'd dismissed them as down to my hectic lifestyle and too much fast food.
“Now I'm committed to raising awareness of this condition so that other people avoid having the crisis I did and can get treatment which is very effective. It's so fulfilling to hear of people who've read about my problem and recognised the symptoms and are getting help. I'm not embarrassed about talking about any of this as long as it helps others.”
Her recovery at home proved to be a turning point. “Although I've never been obsessed with my weight or being a skinny minny you are conscious about your image when you're constantly being filmed. Even when the cameras aren't on you the paparazzi are following you around looking for unflattering shots. In the early days of the show that upset me so much once that I nearly quit.
“Also my life on the series has been about working hard and partying and I've had a ball but now I realise I didn't give enough priority to my health,” she says.
“It was a real wake-up call during my recovery when at one stage I was too weak to even get off my mum's sofa. I really re-evaluated things and realised that image isn't everything and all that really matters is your health and being happy. At that point, I wouldn't have cared what dress size I was if I could have felt normal.
Now I believe a great body isn't a perfect 10 in a bikini, it's a healthy, functioning, pain-free body which is what, thankfully, I've regained.”
Patently enjoying her freedom from the scrutiny that comes with being constantly on our TV screens she says: “I love TOWIE and will miss it dreadfully. It changed my life, I don't regret a minute of it, and I've had so much fun but it was the right time to move on. Most of the people I'd joined with had left and it felt like the end of an era. I felt my role in it had come to a natural end.”
The facts about incurable Crohn's disease
- Crohn’s disease is a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system, anywhere from the mouth to the back passage, but most commonly in the last section of the small intestine or the large intestine.
- Symptoms of the disease include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss, and blood and mucus in the stools.
- The exact cause of the disease is unknown, but a combination of factors may be responsible, including genetics, a problem with the immune system, and smoking.
- There are currently around 115,000 people living with the condition in the UK.
- Famous people who have been diagnosed with the disease include former US President Dwight Eisenhower, Beverly Hills 90210 actress Shannen Doherty and singer-songwriter Anastacia.
- In adulthood it affects slightly more women than men, but in children more boys are affected than girls.