MICHELLE HEATON’s husband feared she would end up dead if he did not stand by her as she battled crippling alcoholism.
It sounds terrifying, but Hugh Hanley knew if he left his wife of 11 years, their two children faced the prospect of losing their mother.
Michelle Heaton’s husband Hugh feared she would end up dead if he did not stand by her as she battled crippling alcoholismCredit: David Cummings
Following a bender in December 2020 Michelle was put on a drip in hospital – her body was weak from addiction and her face swollen and almost unrecognisable
Today, in an emotional joint interview, the couple lay bare their ordeal and Hugh gives his harrowing perspective on watching former Liberty X star Michelle self-destruct.
Hugh, 42, says: “At the start of last year, I didn’t know if Michelle could survive. Her body was shutting down and she was drinking more than ever.
“We were heading to a final outcome because everyone was at breaking point.
“She was choosing darkness and I was trying to deal with the chaos of her spiralling and worrying about where it was going to end for her, me and the kids.”
Michelle, 42, had been drinking excessively for a few years, but in 2019 and going into 2020, things were out of control.
At her worst, she was downing two bottles of wine and a bottle of vodka a day.
And by the time she checked into rehab in April 2021, her liver was on the verge of cirrhosis and she was days away from death.
Hugh says: “It became the norm that Michelle was always going to be chaotic and life was going to be stressful and hard work every day.
“I spent three years trying to get out the door to work without getting absolutely screamed at because I’d woken Michelle up.”
“I’d manipulate friends into picking up the kids from school. I was selfish. I was exhausted.
“I didn’t want to lie, but I had to because I needed alcohol. It was relentless.”
The couple’s marriage was pushed to breaking point and Hugh was effectively left as a single parent to daughter Faith, nine, and seven-year-old son AJ.
But he refused to walk away from Michelle.
He says: “There was a desire to make sure the kids didn’t grow up without a mum.
“I knew if I left, Michelle wouldn’t have made it much longer. I was very aware that I was there to help keep her alive.”
I would always promise myself this was the last time I was going to drink or use cocaine. But I’d wake up with the fear of it not being there and have to buy more vodka.
Then, following a bender in December 2020, Michelle was put on a drip in hospital and was unable to perform in panto.
With her body weak from addiction and her face swollen and almost unrecognisable, her despairing family did not know how much longer she could survive.
Michelle says of that winter binge: “I didn’t know why I couldn’t stop drinking. It didn’t matter how ill I got, I still ‘rewarded’ myself with alcohol.
“I looked sick, I knew my liver was packing in but my addictions were just getting worse.
“That whole New Year period I see as one dark day of nothing but being willing to die because I didn’t know how I was going to live. I couldn’t see any way out.”
Hugh recalls one bleak day when their doctor and a pancreas and liver specialist told them it was as serious as it could be.
He says: “Hearing two senior doctors say your wife is going to die and then watching her go home and continue to drink, just felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall.
“I’d ask, ‘What is it going to take for you to realise how bad this is?’ But she wasn’t taking it on board.”
Michelle adds: “I did try to stop. I really did. I’d have a couple of good days and when I say good days, I don’t mean sober days.
“But I just couldn’t stop. Now I understand addiction, I know this is a disease and it can happen to anyone.”
That whole New Year period I see as one dark day of nothing but being willing to die because I didn’t know how I was going to live. I couldn’t see any way out.
It was only an intervention by Hugh, her close friends and her manager that made Michelle realise she needed help.
She checked into rehab centre The Priory for almost a month.
It was where best pal Katie Price had previously sought help at a reported cost of £5,000 a week.
Michelle’s liver scores — a measure of how damaged the organ is — “were like nothing they’d ever seen”.
Hugh, who was not sure if she would make it out again, says: “I was dealing with the anger, the frustration, the humiliation, because while she was locked up doing her thing, me and the kids were taking that humiliation, telling our friends, family, teachers, my work — and that was hard.”
Michelle knew this was her last chance.
She says: “I was going to die if I didn’t get help. I knew we could never afford this again because it was very expensive, We had to borrow the money, which we’re still paying back.”
This week she shared a photo of her “grey and swollen” face from the day she checked into rehab — together with one of her “healthy and happy” today to celebrate eight months of being sober.
But the real work started when she got home from The Priory in May last year.
She says: “I was so worried about relapse and was mourning my addictions. I had this hole in my life and couldn’t see how I was going to exist without alcohol.
Hearing two senior doctors say your wife is going to die and then watching her go home and continue to drink, just felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall.
“Hugh had suffered for so many years, not knowing why he couldn’t fix me. And I’d blamed him for not being able to fix me.”
Hugh says: “Stuff came out while she was in there — I didn’t know anything about cocaine.
“I wanted to take care of my wife, but I also felt it was my right to ask questions.
“Thankfully, we were able to talk and not be in a situation where it escalated.”
When it comes to what they told the children, Hugh says: “We told them, ‘You know Mummy’s been a bit cross? She has gone away to get happy again’.
“And what they saw was they were getting fun Mummy back.”
After her stint in rehab, Michelle joined Alcoholics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous and started the 12 Steps programme and she is passionate about talking about addiction.
The singer had a hysterectomy in 2014 — two years after an elective double mastectomy after discovering she carried a gene that gave her an 85 per cent chance of developing breast cancer.
The hysterectomy sent her into early menopause and for the next two years she was “a lost person”
She says: “I lost a year or two not knowing who I was.
I’m so passionate about explaining what addictions are — a disease of the mind and an allergy of the body — and it’s not about pointing fingers. I’m just an addict and the only way I got fixed was by admitting I was powerless.
“Drink did later play a part but it would be too easy to say that’s what made me an addict.
“That’s why I’m so passionate about explaining what addictions are — a disease of the mind and an allergy of the body — and it’s not about pointing fingers.
“I’m just an addict and the only way I got fixed was by admitting I was powerless.”
Despite his pride in Michelle’s progress, Hugh still fears a relapse.
He says: “If she does trip up, I’d have to start putting up barriers and protecting myself.”
Both feel their marriage is stronger than ever.
Hugh says: “As soon as she got sober, we slotted back into our groove and things are the best they’ve been.”
Michelle is keeping fit, eating healthily and says her only vice these days is caffeine.
Her liver has repaired and she’s hoping to get her career back on track too.
She says: “I let a lot of people down.
“But I want to immerse myself in the job I love.”
- For help with drinking issues, visit alcoholics-anonymous. org.uk or call 0800 917 7650.
Hugh said: ‘Hearing two senior doctors say your wife is going to die and then watching her go home and continue to drink, just felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall’ – pictured with their kids
Pictures of Michelle before entering rehab and nowCredit: INSTAGRAM/MICHELLE HEATON
Michelle said: ‘Drink did later play a part but it would be too easy to say that’s what made me an addict’Credit: Paul Edwards
Michelle added: ‘I’m so passionate about explaining what addictions are — a disease of the mind and an allergy of the body – and the only way I got fixed was by admitting I was powerless’
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