How We Met: Danniella Westbrook & Tony Mortimer
'Tony's partner and I went on tour with the boys – not to concerts, but we shopped the world'
Danniella Westbrook, 35, is an actor who appeared as Sam Mitchell in the BBC soap opera EastEnders in the 1990s. She hit the headlines in 2000 when it was revealed that her addiction to cocaine had destroyed part of her nose. Having been clean for eight years, she takes up her EastEnders role again later this year. She lives in Kent with her husband and two children
I was living in Woodford with a girl called Melissa Bell, an actor from Neighbours, when I met Anthony. Melissa was poorly and couldn't do a Saturday morning kids' show she'd been booked for, so I went instead, and the East 17 boys were there promoting a single.
We all got on like a house on fire and not long after, I started going out with Brian [Harvey, Mortimer's band mate]. On our first date we went to a kebab shop in Walthamstow and on the way home stopped at Ant's place. I had a little MR2 sports car at the time and I sat outside as Brian went in. Ant's partner Trace came to the door and said, "Are you gonna come in or are you too much of a snob?" I went in and from that day, I've been best friends with both of them. Through everything, from me and Brian splitting up to me being really ill, they've always been 100 per cent supportive, and out of a really crap relationship came a really good friendship.
When the boys were at the top of their career, Tracey and I used to get things thrown at us by fans. They'd camp outside the house and Trace used to give them cups of tea but I was never that nice. Anthony always got the most fans, probably as he's the most likeable and intelligent. He was the whole band basically and I've always said that, even when I was with Brian. They would have been nothing without Anthony and his musical talent.
Ant has always been grounded, probably because he and Trace had their first child early on. I think it was difficult for them when I was ill, especially Tracey, as she didn't even drink. They both really tried to put me back on the right track, but I wasn't ready then. We've grown up together and while a lot of friendships fall away as you get older, this never has. I'd be lost without them.
If we had our time again, Ant and I would probably both choose to reach our peak now, rather than to have got it so young. It was loads of money and madness and everyone wanting a piece of you. We did make the most of it, though. Tracey and I used to go on tour with the boys – we didn't go to every concert, but we shopped the world.
It was good when East 17 reformed, as it was closure for Ant, but I didn't go to any of the gigs, as I don't care about the other three. In the same way I'd like to pull away from the whole drugs thing and be known for acting, I'd like to see him pull away from all that and stand alone as a musician. I loved the music he wrote back then but I think what he's doing now is even better.
Tony Mortimer, 38, is a singer-songwriter known for hits such as 'House of Love' and 'Steam' in the 1990s with urban boy band East 17. In 1995, Mortimer won an Ivor Novello award for the group's Christmas number one 'Stay Another Day'. He lives in Hertfordshire with his partner and two children
It feels like Danni has always been in my life, but we first met either on a kids' TV show or backstage at Top of the Pops – I'm not sure, life was a bit hazy back then. It was around 1994 and we were at the peak of our fame, just putting on our parachutes ready for the free fall. Danni was still in EastEnders so we'd see her around the BBC. She was a stunning girl and everyone was drawn to her. I think she was one of the first real stars to come out of British soap.
Danni started going out with Brian, but I didn't see that much of her then as we didn't hang out as a group too often after work. It would have been nice if she and Brian had lasted as a couple – a celebrity fairy tale – but that wasn't to be and it was actually after they broke up that she started coming around to our place more often.
She was notorious rather than famous at one point, but car crashes are what the public like. For me, it never got to the point where she looked completely out of control. You worry about people's health, of course, but you have faith that the body is a tough little machine and can take a lot.
She knows she got in trouble and she sorted it out, while juggling a family, too. It takes a special person with a lot of strength to do that. I'd like to think I was able to support her through it. We support each other, really – just talking and having someone to listen to you is great therapy.
Danni and I are similar in lots of ways. We both love Chinese food, the simple life, our families and are obsessed with having a swimming pool in our back garden – even though neither of us has one at the moment. We had a similar Essex upbringing, got famous about the same time, disappeared about the same time and now hopefully we are both going to get a second chance.
We do get recognised when we are together, although it happens to her a lot more than me. People have asked if I am "his brother". I've lost two stone, so now I am back from chub-land I get it a bit more.
Danni's not a rude, look-at-me show-off but she doesn't mind all eyes on her. She's at her best making people laugh – she has great comic timing. If she goes back into EastEnders and it goes well, I think she will be around forever. I can see her being the next Barbara Windsor.
Tony Mortimer will play a live solo gig at Monto@229 club, Great Portland Street, London W1 on Thursday. For information: www.myspace.com/tonymortimer
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