Jill Halfpenny battled booze demons brought on by dad's death after seeing another actress at AA meeting

Geordie actress Jill Halfpenny
-Credit: (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Jill Halfpenny battled her booze demons after seeing another actress at her first AA meeting.

The 48-year-old actress, from Gateshead, reveals in her new book how she used binge drinking to "escape" and "stop thinking" following her father's sudden death when she was young. Mirror Online reports how Jill, who first found fame in teen drama Byker Grove alongside Ant and Dec, has now been been teetotal for over a decade. However she said "it took a while to admit I needed help".

The mother-of-one, who won Strictly Come Dancing with pro Darren Bennett in 2014, writes: "I began to see that I became a different person when I drank and I didn't always like who I became. For a long time, alcohol had helped me escape, to stop thinking. Conversely, I thought it also helped me access all the things that lay dormant inside me."

Referring to her decision to attend an AA meeting in 2013, she writes: "I felt a mix of shame and desperation as I approached the door but I took a seat at the back and attempted to take it all in. As I calmed myself down, I noticed a woman walking around, asking a few of the attendees if they would be happy to do a reading. She looked radiant, happy… 'I want what she has!' I thought.

"I took a closer look and realised I recognised her. She was an actress. She looked at me and smiled warmly. I wanted to cry so bad." Jill, who recently appeared in Channel 5's The Cuckoo, describes the meeting 11 years ago as a "revalation".

She writes: "I experienced something I never have before – people, strangers, sharing how they feel. No small talk or pretence, just real authentic feelings. They were talking about how their insides didn’t match their outsides, how they struggled with feelings of unworthiness – and for the first time in my life, I felt completely seen."

Jill, who previously starred in Eastenders, said she needed to attend several more meetings before she could utter the words "My name is Jill and I'm an alcoholic". She said that once she had, she felt "a weight lift from my shoulders" and over the next two years, she "became a woman that I felt proud of being".

Jill’s new book also explores the loss of her father Colin – who died in 1979 when she was just four – and her partner Matt in 2017. Both men suffered shock heart attacks.

She writes: "There was a sense of feeling cursed when Matt died after what happened to my dad. Like, how can that happen twice?" However she admits that grief has made her "a better person" because it taught her to be kinder to herself.

The actress has also found love again, with a man called Ian. She says: "After Matt died, I didn’t know if I’d ever meet anyone again, but Ian is my cheerleader. I know I’ve met somebody who I love and who loves me."