PLUNGING deeper and deeper into depression, Suzanne Shaw used booze and sleeping pills as a crutch throughout much of her twenties and thirties.
The singer suffered what she now describes as post-traumatic stress disorder after the dramatic collapse of pop group Hear’Say in 2002.
Two years later, she was left heartbroken when actor Darren Day, the father of her eight-week-old son, left her.
Suzanne, 39, was plagued by anxiety and it is only now, 18 months after ditching alcohol and taking up running, that she feels like “super woman”. She even wants to reunite with the band.
The singer’s son Corey is now 16 and she also has five-year-old Rafferty with her fiance, businessman Sam Greenfield, 38.
She says: “I feel so much stronger and less scared of life, whereas if you’d asked me a year ago, I probably would have been a nervous wreck.
“I love the guys, but I’d have been, ‘Don’t put me in for round two, I’ve only just recovered from round one’.
“It’s only when you come out of dark times you think, ‘Oh my god, I was in a bad way’. Now I feel like superwoman and I’m in a different head space.”
It has been two decades since Bury-born Suzanne was plucked from obscurity on ITV’s Popstars, together with Kym Marsh, Myleene Klass, Danny Foster and Noel Sullivan.
Their hit Pure And Simple entered the charts at No1, becoming the fastest-selling debut single at the time.
Suzanne, who was just 19 then, says: “It was a big thing. We were just five kids put in a house together in London and overnight we became famous, and all our dreams were meant to come true.
“But there was no human resources team considering the psychological impact on our mental health, as reality shows simply weren’t a thing back then. We were the guinea pigs.
‘Shock was massive’
“The price of fame simply didn’t enter my head. All I was thinking was, ‘I’m going to be on stage singing in front of thousands of people. This is amazing’.”
But just nine months after releasing their debut single, Kym quit, citing a “bitter” atmosphere among bandmates.
Replacement Johnny Shentall’s arrival failed to spark a revival and the band imploded in October 2002, leaving Suzanne shellshocked.
She says: “It was like we had done everything that the Spice Girls had done in their entire career, but we just did it in a very short amount of time.
“Because we were massively over exposed, people got bored of us very quickly and it soon became less about our music and more about our personal lives.
We were loved and hated within what should have been a ten-year span, but actually took less than two years.
“We were loved and hated within what should have been a ten-year span, but actually took less than two years.
“I don’t think I realised what the impact was until it was all over, because our schedule was so insane.
“We’d get up, go to a shoot, do some singing, do an interview, go into the recording studio, go to bed, get up and repeat the same process but in a different country, a different town, get in a helicopter, fly to a gig, and on and on . . .
“By this point, there were kiss-and-tell stories in the press and I became absolutely mortified that my private life was being talked about.
“It wasn’t until it stopped suddenly that I thought, ‘What the hell just happened?’
“My brain could not process the trauma and by the time the group split up, I didn’t even realise I was suffering from mental health problems.
“Life as I knew it disappeared overnight and I had no support system in place.
“I would actually compare what happened to PTSD as the shock was so massive.”
But rather than confront her problems, Suzanne buried them.
She says: “I was in denial for a long time. I went into a deep place and my coping mechanism became a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol, which numbed the pain.
“I wasn’t a big drinker with Hear’Say as we were too busy, and I’ve always been a bit of a lightweight, so there weren’t any 72-hour binges. But because I didn’t have a job any more there were definitely times when I was like, ‘Let’s party till the early hours and do 25 Jagerbombs’.”
In 2003, Suzanne started dating West End actor Darren Day and the following year, aged 22, she announced she was pregnant.
She says: “My hormones were all over the place and I was embarrassed that my glamorous life had come crumbling down and too ashamed to ask for help.
“Then Corey was born, sleep deprivation arrived, and the massive darkness of postnatal depression kicked in.”
Two months after Corey’s birth, Darren ended the relationship and her mental state plummeted.
She says: “I just kept all the thoughts to myself and things got darker and darker. It was a very, very lonely time.
“I never wanted to be a single mum and I never wanted to feel like a failed pop star, but there I was — a single mum and not in a pop band any more.
“I was totally overwhelmed, but I never contemplated killing myself.
“All I could think was, ‘I don’t want to be me,’ and that I needed to get away from the mental chatter in my head.
I gave up booze and never touched it since
“I thought, ‘I’ll just have a glass of wine. Or I’ll sleep. Or I’ll just have a sleeping tablet’. I had a huge amount of self-loathing and wanted to be a different person.”
Suzanne found salvation in a musical theatre and TV career. But roles in the West End, on Emmerdale and on reality show Dancing On Ice, which she won in 2008, merely papered over the cracks.
She lost her father Vincent Crowshaw to a brain tumour in 2012 and was still suffering with anxiety a year later after meeting Sam.
She says: “I had therapy sessions after my dad died and medication helped intermittently but it wasn’t really until about 18 months ago that I finally decided I had to address things properly.
“It hit me like a sledgehammer. I was petrified of my own shadow.”
In January 2020, Suzanne gave up booze and hasn’t touched it since.
She says: “Stopping drinking went hand in hand with exercising properly, following mindfulness and eating a plant-based diet.
“I found a love for running, which feels like therapy, and got to experience the runner’s high that everyone talks about.
“I wasn’t neglecting myself any more and I found happiness through the love of life, not through the love of circumstances.
“Before, I was guilty of seeking the quick fix. If I had more money, I’d be happier. If I had a better car, I’d be happier.
Stopping drinking went hand in hand with exercising properly.
“But these things don’t make you happy. You’ve got to be happy with what you’ve got — your children, your partner. Nothing else is going to make you happy.”
Suzanne says she is raising her boys like a “true northern mum”.
She explains: “With parenting, I say ‘If you don’t like it, do it yourself’ and ‘If you don’t tidy your room, you can’t go out’. Sam is fantastic with the kids.
"I’m sure having boys is less complicated than girls. Although, at the same time, I don’t want to talk about willies, bums and poo constantly. Sometimes, I miss plaiting hair and talking about Disney characters.”
Suzanne is relieved social media wasn’t around during her time in Hear’Say.
She adds: “I’m not sure I would have survived the process because social media can be so brutal.
“One of the reasons I was scared to talk about my mental health was the fear of being trolled. It is extremely hard to avoid someone who is trying to take you down.
“Corey sees bullying happening around him and knows how hard that can be.
“At the same time, I tell him if he wants to be an entrepreneur, he will need social media to build a brand, but it’s a fine line. I am grateful he hasn’t engaged with it all that much.”
One job Suzanne has yet to tick off her to-do list is rearranging her wedding, which was planned for 2015.
The couple had to cancel their nuptials after Suzanne discovered she was pregnant with Rafferty.
She says: “We have never got around to sorting that out, probably because we can’t agree on a venue.
“I would love a beach wedding, while Sam wants a big full-on church thing. It will happen eventually.”
In 2020, Hear’Say discussed the possibility of a 20-year anniversary reunion, but Myleene, a classical musician and radio presenter, turned down her ex-bandmates.
As for reuniting in the future, Suzanne says: “By the time we come out of the pandemic, we will have missed that 20-year milestone. It’s almost as though the universe is saying, ‘Guys, don’t do this’, but if the stars align then who knows?”
- Suzanne is running for 19 hours to raise money for the Samaritans – 19 lives are lost each day through suicide. To donate, go to justgiving.com/fundraising/suzanneshaw2021
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