The media has reported that Ant McPartlin is undergoing treatment for depression and addiction issues. He’s certainly not the first celebrity to have fallen foul of self-medication. But why do stars head down this path, when surely they have access to the best doctors and treatment programmes in existence?
Think about it this way. You’ve bought a ticket to see, let’s say, Madonna (disclaimer – the next three paragraphs are entirely fictional – as far as I know). You’ve spent about £60 on the ticket, £150 on transport and £100 on accommodation. The venue holds around 50,000. It’s a sell out. On tickets alone you’re looking at costs of £3m. But then Madonna gets food poisoning. She can’t perform. Luckily, she has an understudy who is just as successful, let’s say, Kylie Minogue. So the show can go on.
Wrong. That might happen in my day job. The bosses might bring in a temp or a freelancer or share the workload out. But when you’re a celebrity, it’s you, specifically, that the people want. It’s you, or nothing. You paid for Into the Groove not I Should Be So Lucky (showing my age here I know).
So Madonna might be puking her guts up but she’s feeling the pressure to perform. Nobody can step in for her. She’s necking Imodium, anti-nausea pills and paracetamol like there’s no tomorrow. She simply must perform. But if she keeps this up, her body won’t function especially well without those pills, and this is where the problems start.
Now I don’t know the full ins and outs of Ant McPartlin’s illness. Only what’s reported in the media. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the pressure to keep going for the sake of his employers, his fans, his partner, his family, his reputation, even, didn’t play some kind of role in his troubles.
Yes, it’s an assumption. And no, I’m not suggesting that his employer, partner, family, fans put the pressure on. But if you know people are depending on you, applying that pressure yourself really isn’t terribly far-fetched.
Depression can be a chronic illness that takes time to recover from, but often stars do not have that luxury. I’ve had five weeks off work for anxiety, I’ve known people forced to take six months off for depression or stress. But can celebrities do the same? Or do they have to hit rock bottom before they feel justified to do so? My guess is it’s more often than not the latter. So if you’re depressed and anxious and you feel you need to get through just one more show, what would you do? Take a valium perhaps? I know somebody very well who saw a doctor through an employer (in entertainment) due to depression and anxiety. The doctor they saw (not in the UK) was literally throwing pills at them left right and centre. It got them on the stage, it got them through their struggles in the short-term, but it created a longer term problem.
So when we look at stars and their ‘wild’ or ‘intoxicated’ behaviour, can we always assume it’s a reckless act? That’s it’s somebody living a celebrity lifestyle, having access to whatever they want, whenever they want? Or should we consider that sometimes, this kind of recklessness is born of hard graft and the pressure to keep going at all costs? Luckily, the media and public response to Ant McPartlin appears to have been wholly supportive. And that is absolutely the right response to have. But Ant and Dec had already established themselves as a wholesome, family act. What about people like Amy Winehouse, who tackled the demons of mental illness from a young age? Who exploded onto our radar as a bit of a ‘wild child’.
I watched the documentary, Amy. Friends talked of her being bundled into a taxi unconscious through intoxication and flown to another country to perform on stage. Maybe if she felt she could have stopped just for long enough to recover, she’d have stood a better chance?
The problems are very similar. It’s just that we, the public, didn’t know Amy for long before her downfall and, tragically, her death. We had much longer to get to know that Ant McPartlin is a good guy and we therefore see his illness as precisely that, an illness.
The response is good. We all wish him well. But in future, let’s remember this empathy we hold for Ant McPartlin and extend it to others in need of support too.
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