The Week in Radio: When it's best not to bottle up your feelings

 

"What did you buy?" asked Victoria Derbyshire.

"A bottle of gin," replied Rachel.

"And where did you drink it?"

"The first mouthful would have been in the toilet at Tesco... Then I went to a hotel."

"And drank the rest of the bottle?"

"I presume so, yes. I blacked out."

And so the cycle began again.

The story of "Rachel", as she has consented to be called on air, has been one of the most remarkable and affecting listening experiences of recent times. Her interviews with Derbyshire on BBC Radio 5 Live have done what most phone-in programmes have the capacity to achieve but rarely do: they have shone a light on a common but crippling area of human experience – alcoholism – and given us the whole, horrifying picture. They have shown alcoholics as pathologically stubborn, destructive, self-loathing people who rain hurt and chaos down on all those around them. They have equally demonstrated how they are damaged and deeply ill and worthy of compassion and care.

It doesn't always work out this way. Compassion can be scarce on these shows. These are the moments where members of the public are encouraged to spout moral outrage down the blower and where the "hanging's-too-good-for-'em" brigade are given full vent. For much of the time, they are for people whose lives are so very comfortable that all that's left to do is get on their high horse about other people's.

Derbyshire's programme is a cut above the rest, though, not least because of its clear vetting of callers and obvious raison d'être: to investigate complex issues as respectfully and intelligently as possible. It has, in the past, broadcast from an abortion clinic and an animal research laboratory. Derbyshire's excellence as a presenter lies in her ability to remain cool in the face of chaos and insanity.

Rachel first rang the programme two years ago. She said she was a consultant anaesthetist and talked, haltingly and slurrily, about how, after 10 years of heavy drinking, she was about to enter rehab. She described how alcohol had superseded everything else in her life, including her job, partner and child. Then, live on air, she cracked open a fresh tin of Guinness.

This time around, Derbyshire went to Halifax to see Rachel. Currently, she's not drinking. In fact, she's doing rather well. She visited her house, went with her to drop her daughter at school and accompanied her to a support group meeting where a fellow alcoholic stated: "This is an illness that will take you over. It will drive you to the edge of madness. It is evil and it is cunning."

They talked about Rachel's last relapse – brought on by stress and a lack of self-belief – that started with the trip to Tesco and finished in a blur of gin two weeks later. "It was very much like being an automaton," observed Rachel. "There wasn't an awful lot of conscious thought."

They talked about her recent driving ban and subsequent community service, prompted by an early-morning trip to the supermarket where she had necked the vodka in the car park and then tried to drive home. It was Rachel's partner, John, who called the police.

Rachel is in a good place for now. Her voice was clear, her manner determined though the shame at what she had done, and how she had behaved, was never far away. Since she was last on the programme, she said, three friends had died. One had been on the way to residential detox and had fallen down the stairs and broken her neck. "There but for the grace of God," Rachel said, articulating what the rest of us were thinking. "It could easily have been me."

twitter.com/FionaSturges

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital