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Denise: Love helped me make the clean break I needed

The Loose Women star is back in control and loving life after a difficult few years

By Gabrielle Fagan and Abi Jackson

A few years ago, it seemed almost impossible to open a tabloid newspaper without being confronted by photos of Denise Welch looking a little sloshed or flashing her underwear.

She was, she readily admits - and indeed has since spoken about it openly - going through a bad phase.

Today though, her eyes sparkle, her skin glows and there's an air of calm and confidence; she happily concedes that the boozy-tabloid-fodder phase is behind her.

"I'm enjoying life," says the 56-year-old, with that familiar upbeat honesty that made her such a hit with Loose Women viewers during her stint on the ITV show from 2005 'til last year. "I feel so well in myself, much more positive and in control."

This hasn't come about overnight, of course. And Welch, whose battles with depression and addiction date way back (she confessed to snorting cocaine during filming breaks when she was on Coronation Street in the Nineties), knows these struggles can be a rollercoaster you often have to ride for life.

But right now, she's the one in the driving seat.

"Two-and-a-bit-years ago, I gave up alcohol completely," she begins. "I followed Lincoln, who'd given up a couple of months before. We both had issues with alcohol and decided to face it together. We've been sober ever since, we're very proud of ourselves for that."

Back in those tabloid-fodder days, Welch, married to Tim Healy at the time, with whom she has two children (Matthew, 25, and Louis, 13), was accused of having an affair with artist Lincoln Townley, who's 15 years her junior.

She set the record straight in a tearful announcement on Loose Women in February 2012, confirming that she and Healy had actually been separated for some time.

Coming clean proved a relief, she admitted - in fact, being open has been a central part of bringing Welch's rollercoaster into a manageable gear.

She discussed her difficulties with drugs and depression in her 2010 autobiography Pulling Myself Together and, in early 2013, following another bout of boozy tabloid snaps, admitted she and Townley had a drink problem.

"Lincoln and I met in 'the madness', as we call it, and it could have gone one way or the other. But we found something that was worth fighting for, and it was never going to reach its potential with alcohol in the mix," she says today.

Love was a big part of her motivation for quitting drinking, but she refuses to say she wouldn't have been able to do it without Townley ("Because not everyone will have a supportive partner"), though he certainly helped, along with the love and support of her family and friends.

Plus it means they can enjoy the rewards together, and there are plenty of them - "You are happier in yourself, and everything is better when you feel better in yourself" - but there was a downside too. Welch soon discovered that she'd replaced her booze addiction with overeating, and piled on two stone.

"I know to some two stone isn't a great deal of weight, but when you've been used to being much smaller and you suddenly put that on ...," she says. "I remember thinking, 'I look overweight and it's making me feel uncomfortable', and I didn't feel happy in anything I was wearing. My self-esteem was low.

Her approaching wedding (she and Townley tied the knot last summer) provided the perfect motivation, and Welch managed to shed the excess weight with the help of LighterLife, whose programmes combine low-calorie meal replacements and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions and techniques to help people change their approach to eating for life.

One thing she certainly won't be giving up though is sex. "I've got a young husband, so I ain't giving that up!" Welch adds, roaring with laughter.

Her natural humour's no doubt played a part in her resilience over the years.

The depression is always in the background, though; she's still on medication.

"My mental health issues are still there and always will be," she explains.

Now that the rollercoaster's slowed down, does she ever look back and think, 'Maybe I shouldn't have said so much?'

"Sometimes ... My misery became a sort of tabloid fodder," she says.

"There's not a day goes by when I don't get an email or people in the street who say they've read my autobiography or heard people talking about it. So although my openness caused a fall-out in some ways, a lot of people related to my story. I do believe in using my voice in a positive way and I still will, but just not on a daily talk show."

Instead, she's hoping to focus on acting again. "I'm trying to erase that (the tabloid-fodder) from people's minds and go back to acting, which is what I love."

If she doesn't reignite the stage and screen success she enjoyed in her younger years, she knows she still has a lot to be proud of, and she certainly won't be lamenting her youth.

"So many of my friends are having a tough time dealing with ageing, and I have my days, but generally, I feel better and healthier now than I have done for years."

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