Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

tears, tabloids

and toyboys

Denise Welch, former Corrie star and Celebrity Big Brother winner, knows that her escapades of the past have made her a prime tabloid target.

Falling out of nightclubs drunk, flashing her breasts on national television and engaging in extra-marital affairs have all gained her an image of being an out-of-control, middle-aged man-eater.

Now, she has set herself up for more flak with the publication of Starting Over, her second autobiography in just two years, in which she reveals all about her break-up with husband of 24 years Tim Healy, her romance with toyboy fiance Lincoln Townley (below) and her forays into reality TV.

Her admissions in the latest book may initially leave the reader unsympathetic, including revelations that she left Carol McGiffin's 50th birthday party in Bangkok - which Healy attended - to be with her old flame Steve Murray.

But Welch (54), explains: "You have to understand that fidelity wasn't the top priority in our marriage."

Despite this, there's a recent picture in the book of Healy and Welch and their respective new partners in the family home smiling for the camera.

"We're not going on holiday with them," she quips, "but we've been out for dinner and if I go away, Tim will come here with his partner Jo to have Louis (their youngest son). Tim is still in my life. He's the father of my children and he's a very good father."

Indeed, they both found new partners when they were still together, but Welch says the marriage had been over for quite some time. She announced the split earlier this year on Loose Women.

"Tim and I chose for me to do it that way, surrounded by people who are my good friends. My life at the time was in freefall. We were relieved that it was out there, but it was a tough time."

Their two sons, Matthew and Louis, were aware of the news before it was made public and knew of their parents' new partners, she says.

"They don't enjoy all of that side of it, but they knew our reasons. They were fed up with Mummy being perceived as the adulteress and Daddy being 'long-suffering'."

She has since become engaged to party planner Townley, who is 15 years her junior, while she and Healy remain good friends.

"The children see us being much more friendly with each other because we are not married anymore. It's improved our relationship, without a shadow of a doubt. We are still very much in each other's lives, but on a level which is better for us. We had just grown apart."

Welch is still living in the family home in Cheshire, which is up for sale, while Healy is renting. When the house is sold, she and Townley will buy their own place.

Welch is now planning a wedding abroad next July and hopes that her Loose Women pals will be there.

"He popped the question at a lovely hotel in Nice and it was very romantic. He got down on one knee and proposed in the traditional way, which has never happened to me before. There were tears - I was thrilled."

The relationship has been the subject of countless column inches, with Townley's sexuality often being the topic.

"The Press have picked up on the fact that he's somebody with a past, as if there's something murky going on. It's not like that, but he's lived a life. Although he's younger than me, he knows what he wants. Tim couldn't have been more pleased for us."

And Welch is clearly smitten. "It's like having a gay best friend that I love. We make each other laugh, which is one of the main things. I love the way he looks."

She has also given up drinking for the sake of her relationship with Townley.

"I was a party animal. Now I'm not, because I've taken alcohol out of my life. I still go to parties, but I just leave earlier.

"I think a lot of people feel they're going to take the fun out of life if they stop drinking. I've added to the fun in my life because I can remember everything. And I don't have the hangovers and I feel much healthier."

She has difficulty responding to the suggestion she was an alcoholic.

"Some people think you're not an alcoholic if you don't drink in the morning. I didn't drink in the morning or every day. I didn't hide bottles under the chair.

"But I became powerless over alcohol when I started to drink. I don't go to AA, but AA says that being powerless over alcohol is being an alcoholic.

"If you read a list of reasons you should cut out drink, one is having blackouts, which I did, and when your behaviour starts upsetting and affecting the people you love. So that was two boxes ticked."

Welch charted her battle with clinical depression in her first autobiography, Pulling Myself Together. These days, she isn't free of it, but it's much better than it was, she reflects.

"It rears its head very little nowadays, which is partly to do with the hormone treatment I received for it but also coming out of the menopause and giving up alcohol. I certainly feel I'm much more in control of it, than it is of me. I'm on a low-dose anti-depressant that I'll be on forever."

In the book, Welch charts her accounts of her experiences in Dancing On Ice, which was terrific, and Celebrity Big Brother, which was hellish, as she clashed with US actor Michael Madsen.

Although she hated the experience, she doesn't have any regrets about taking part; at the end of the day, it earned her enough money to pay off a large tax bill.

"I try not to regret anything. I don't regret it because I found out a lot about myself, some things I liked, some things I didn't," she says.

"I found out that I actually like quite a lot of things about myself. I never thought I was a hypocrite or a bully and I reaffirmed that with myself, because I was in there with people who were both.

"I used to surround myself with people who weren't good for me. I vowed not to allow myself to be put in a situation where I was so vulnerable again. I've always adored my friends, but it made me appreciate the people close to me."

She doesn't regret exposing her breasts in a hot tub on the show.

"I can't understand the furore that it caused. I wouldn't do it again and we were all tipsy. If I'd have been bitchy, nasty and two-faced, that's what I would have regretted," she says.

The actress has starred in Waterloo Road, Down To Earth, Soldier, Soldier and Coronation Street, and will be appearing on Piers Morgan's Life Stories later this month.

"It would take me five years in a drama to make what I did on Celebrity Big Brother, but I want to concentrate on more acting," she adds.

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