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 She described how alcohol had superseded everything else in her life, including her job, partner and child.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
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect