Trinny Woodall: My last binge with three friends, all now dead

Makeover queen Trinny Woodall reveals to Nina Lakhani how alcohol and drugs once ruled her life, and how she fought back
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The Independent Online

Trinny Woodall has revealed in detail for the first time the toll drink and drugs has taken on her life and her friends. Speaking as she prepared to open this week the newly relocated Hope House, a unique women-only rehabilitation centre in London, she spoke candidly about how getting sober was harder even than her recent marriage break-up and setbacks to her TV career.

The past 12 months have undoubtedly been tough for the 45-year-old TV presenter. Her nine-year marriage to Johnny Elichaoff came to an end, and after eight years of ruling the airwaves with her great friend and makeover partner, Susannah Constantine, they left ITV last year amid rumours of the axe.

"My last year of using and getting sober, that first year, was the toughest time in my life," she said. "This hasn't been an easy year, like for anyone going through a separation. I would say in some ways it's been difficult with personal things and in other ways it's been cathartic."

Born Sarah-Jane Woodall, she was nicknamed Trinny by a family friend, Frank Launder, the director of the St Trinian films, after being sent home from school aged five for cutting off another little girl's plait. At boarding school from the age of six, Woodall's relationship with alcohol started after she moved to a day school in London at the age of 16. New-found freedom for a painfully shy teenager, suffering from acne, proved too much and drugs soon followed. She was in rehab by the age of 21.

"It was a tough rehab. I was thrown out after a month because I'd shown a sort of porn movie on April Fool's Day. It was a nightmare. It was that thing of wanting everyone to love you, so you try to be funny because you think no one will like you otherwise because you're not good enough. But they threw me out."

She started going to AA and NA meetings back in London but her heart wasn't in it. Lonely, she turned back to her old friends and the familiarity of drink and drugs. "Someone in the meeting came up to me and said, 'You haven't had enough. You need to go out and have a real rock bottom.' So then I used for another five years."

Her last ever drink and drugs binge – a two-day bender in a house not so far from where she lives now – was with her best friend Katy and two male friends. The four friends made a pact to get sober. Woodall had made countless such pacts before, but the next morning something had changed. "It wasn't my worst drinking and using but emotionally I was bankrupt. I felt I had nothing. All my ambition and drive had gone. All my connection with people had gone."

She called her counsellor, who arranged a place in treatment. "I drove down to the rehab centre in my hire car, shoving all these pills in my mouth, these tranquillisers, and I crashed the car on the way. But when I finally got there, I walked in and felt such a sense of relief." Over the next two years she did "hit rock bottom", and spent months in rehab, but survived. The other three friends ended up dead. Katy got sober, but died from HIV-related pneumonia; the other two friends died from accidental overdoses, one while working in Peshawar as a journalist.

"There were times when rehab and the halfway house were very, very tough, but I never felt like I wanted to leave. I kind of felt it was my last chance, that I'd done all the drinking and using that I ever wanted to do," says Woodall reflectively. She celebrated her 19th year sober last Wednesday.

She won't go into details about her drug use, only that she "did everything", but she never injected so HIV was not a concern. Her reasons for taking drugs, she says, were bound up in her reasons for drinking: low self-worth.

"It's so difficult to know exactly why. My grandfather was an alcoholic; my uncle was an alcoholic, so I can definitely see the physical addiction through the generations. It's probably a mixture of growing up and taking things from my upbringing that made me feel insecure and the kind of person I already was when I was born .... Once you're in the throes of addiction I don't think it matters what the substance is."

A year in rehab was followed by a year living with her parents, going to daily AA and NA meetings while trying to rebuild a life without her former friends. She took a string of secretarial and PR jobs before meeting Constantine at a party. The gap left by addiction was filled with work: a fashion column; an unsuccessful book; a daytime TV shopping show and a failed internet fashion business before the pair were "discovered" while doing a makeover slot on This Morning with Richard and Judy in 2001. Woodall still attends meetings, wherever she is, because she needs to.

The centre she will relaunch this week first opened its doors 20 years ago (her friend Katy was one of its first clients) but has just moved to much bigger premises because of a growing demand. Run by the charity Action on Addiction, the centre will provide second-stage, abstinence-based treatment for up to 23 women dealing with issues such as abuse, self-harm and low self-esteem.

She is driven, ambitious and absorbed by work, and her life seems hectic. But she dismisses suggestions she might be a workaholic.

"To me the word 'workaholic' is a negative word. I think I'm very focused and am quite a good multitasker, and I'm quite driven in knowing what my responsibilities are to my family and knowing what I've got to do to do that. In some ways I'm slightly like a single parent so I need to be able to provide for my family. So that's how it is."