Michelle Heaton: Hero or Villain?


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The Independent Online

Life in the public eye has not always been easy on Michelle Heaton. She first hoved into view in 2001 as a gobby Geordie who lost out on the chance to be in mega-group (ahem) Hear'Say.

Yet she picked herself up and, with four other rejected Popstars candidates, formed Liberty X. That wasn't so bad; what was, was that Heaton was clearly the least accomplished singer in the group, which meant that all she got to do was breathe heavily and whisper, "I like it when you do it like that."

By the time the Xers split in 2007, she was as famous for being papped as for anything that came out of her mouth, and shots of her in various states of undress frequently decorated the tabloids.

Offering herself up as a guinea pig for a documentary on binge-drinking, she ended up with heart palpitations; but worse was to come in her nascent TV career, as she entered the Big Brother house then became a guest interviewer on the irredeemable OK! TV.

Yet she came through it all with a smile. It is an attitude the 33-year-old will need over the coming months after revealing last week that she has been diagnosed with a mutated gene called BRCA2, giving her an 80 per cent chance of developing breast cancer and 30 per cent chance of ovarian cancer. This has led her to the decision to have a preventative double mastectomy and hysterectomy – brave for anyone; not least someone whose career has placed so much focus on physical appearance.

Heaton admitted that she was asked by doctors whether she would like to be tested after her father was found to have the faulty gene three years ago, but declined. "I didn't really know what the issues were," she said. "Now I know knowledge is power, but at the time, my attitude was that ignorance was bliss."

By making her revelation, painful as it clearly was, Heaton is doing her utmost to ensure others – faulty versions of the BRCA genes affect between 2,000 and 3,000 breast-cancer patients a year – do not make the same error.