IN showbiz since the age of ten, Birds of a Feather actress and Loose Women star Linda Robson has always been a survivor.
But 18 months ago she suffered a breakdown that saw her life spiral out of control as she turned to alcohol and nearly destroyed her close-knit family.
Finally, after three stints in various clinics, her erratic behaviour was attributed to a rare allergic reaction to an anti-depressant and she is now on the road to recovery.
Linda, 61, has bravely chosen to share her story in the hope that it might help others.
THE first public indication that all was not well in Linda Robson’s life was when the police were twice called to the family home over her erratic behaviour.
That was January last year when, by her own admission, the Birds of a Feather and Loose Women star was in the middle of a mental breakdown.
Sitting in front of me now, she’s the picture of health and relaxation as she nurses a cup of tea on the sofa of her bright, first-floor living room that looks down on the street below.
I ask if she’s happy to tell me exactly what happened that day, and she gives me a small, faintly apologetic smile.
My family locked me in to try to keep me safe
She says: “I had been leaving the house to get alcohol so, because my family wanted to keep me safe, there were a couple of times they locked me in whilst they popped to the local shops for a couple of minutes.
“We have an outside bit downstairs, with a high, barred gate that opens on to the street.
“And that’s what they’d lock. So I went down there and shouted through the bars to a passer-by, ‘Help, help, I’ve been kidnapped.’ I did it a couple of times actually.
“A couple of police cars would pull up and the officers would jump out because, of course, they thought I’d actually been kidnapped.
“Then my poor husband Mark came back from the shop, saying, ‘What’s going on?’ and I had to tell him what I’d done.”
After establishing the true story, the police went away (“they took it very well”) but Linda’s family was still left with the distressing reality that, after a six-week spell in a clinic, she wasn’t any better.
She says: “They were worried sick. They thought they were going to get their old mum back again but they didn’t.
“Even my grand-daughter Lila kept saying, ‘Nanny’s not well.’ She knew something was going on but she didn’t really know what. So I felt really guilty about that as well.
“I still wanted to drink. As much as I loved my family, I couldn’t stop for them and I kept thinking, ‘Why can’t I?’ You know, I would do anything for them, I’d die for them.
“I wanted to be home and normal, not like I was. I didn’t want to be a burden to them. I just thought I’d be better off dead because then they won’t have to put up with what they’re having to put up with.
“Obviously, they’d be in a terrible state if anything had happened to me but, at that time, I felt it wasn’t fair to them what I was doing.
“I’d always been a positive person, loving a laugh and enjoying life. Then all of a sudden, I was someone else.
“And I hated that someone else. I’d got down to about eight stone by this time and I looked about a hundred.
“I’d lost my appetite. I wasn’t really hungry so I just ate to survive. I was in such a state. I would never have thought in a million years that someone as positive as me could end up like that, so that’s why I’m giving this interview — to let people know that if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.”
Apart from claiming to have been kidnapped, Linda would also throw money through the bars of the gate and ask passers-by to buy her alcohol.
She recalls: “I’d find money and say, ‘Excuse me, I’ve lost my key and can’t get out . . . would you be able to go and get me a little bottle of vodka from round the corner?’
“And a couple of people did. But one day, I asked a man to do it and he turned out to be from an alcohol crisis place that my family had called to come and help me.”
The humour of the situation isn’t lost on her and she gives me a rueful smile.
Linda says: “I can laugh about it now, but at the time, I was putting my poor family through hell and back.
“I was just blacking out all the time. I had always been able to pick my grandchildren up but suddenly I couldn’t be trusted to do that any more because I might be drunk.
“I’d be really crafty. A couple of times I was with Lila and I’d go to a shop and buy vodka without her seeing.”
The family decided it was time to find further help and, this time, Linda checked in for a six-week stay at a central London clinic.
She says: “I went willingly because I wanted to make myself better but didn’t know how to. My family came every day.”
There were activities designed to keep her busy but, according to Linda, her obsession with cleaning mushroomed again and she became fixated on washing her pyjamas daily as well as constantly loading and unloading the dishwasher.
“That’s always been my thing; washing clothes and cleaning up the house,” she says.
“At one point, I was washing the bedding every single day and having four or five baths a day.”
I got a bottle while nurse was distracted
She saw doctors in the new clinic but, when she told them that her treatment wasn’t assuaging her anxiety, they upped her medication.
Linda recalls: “The nurses were lovely and there was one, in particular, I took a shine to.
“One day, about four weeks in, she suggested she could take me out for a coffee because I was doing so well.”
They went for a walk and Linda asked if they could pop in to the Marks & Spencer shop where, with the nurse momentarily distracted, she went up to the counter selling cigarettes and alcohol.
She says: “I asked for vodka and they said they didn’t have it, so I pointed at a bottle of rum and said I’d have that instead.
“The woman handed it to me, so I opened it and started to knock it back in the shop whilst members of the public watched.
“I’d already necked half of it by the time the security guards came over and grabbed me, and the poor nurse was saying, ‘Oh, Linda, I’m never taking you out for a coffee again.’
“We went back to the hospital and she told them what I’d done. I’ve still never paid Marks & Spencer’s for the rum . . . ”
At the end of her stay, she returned home to her family who hoped that, this time, she would get better.
But straight away, her family and two sisters, Tina and Debbie, knew she wasn’t right.
Linda says: “I was sitting with the curtains drawn again, not wanting anyone to see me.
“Then came Christmas 2018, our worst ever. There’s a carol service that we always go to as a family and they didn’t want me to go because they were worried I’d show them up.
'I feel more like the old me again'
“They were all on edge because I was so unpredictable. I was a liability. On Christmas Day I just blacked out.
“I was drunk because as soon as anyone put a glass of wine down, I’d drink it. Lila would say, ‘Nanny’s drinking,’ and I’d deny it.”
The kidnap episodes followed shortly afterwards and her shell-shocked family set out to find yet another clinic to try and help her.
It was The Priory in North London and, this time, progress was made.
Linda says: “A doctor there did loads of tests. One was to see if I had dementia, which I didn’t.
“But he eventually worked out that I was having an adverse reaction to the particular anti-depressant I was on, which is very rare and something he’d only ever seen in two other patients.
“He substituted it with a different one and, almost immediately, I started to feel better.”
The clinic also stipulated that she could only do so much washing, could not draw the curtains, had to leave a light on and did not have access to a mobile phone.
Linda says: “So, after eight weeks there, I came out with these boundaries and I’ve been sticking to them ever since.
“It’s now been a year since I’ve had a drink and I don’t crave alcohol at all. I think the root of all the problems was my reaction to the medication.
“I feel more like the old me again and it’s such a relief.”
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