“Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
Princess Diana, speaking to Martin Bashir for Panorama, November 1995
It was the interview she was never supposed to give. A candid airing of the Royal Family’s dirty laundry that the establishment had tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress and which effectively sealed Diana’s permanent exile from royal life.
The third person in her marriage to the Prince of Wales was, of course, the woman he would later marry, Camilla Parker-Bowles, the current Duchess of Cornwall.
Of course, Diana was by no means the first or last person to have endured an intruder in their personal life and this week we saw evidence of another relationship left in tatters by the destructive presence of an unwanted companion.
On Wednesday, Ant McPartlin checked himself into rehab for the second time as an ugly collision and an allegedly failed roadside breath test forced him to face up to an addiction that has systematically robbed him of pretty much everything he once cherished.
Last year, when he first admitted publicly to a dependency on prescription painkillers and alcohol and announced a six-month sabbatical from his television commitments, the Great British public rallied to his side in an outpouring of love and support for which the 42-year-old entertainer was doubtless hugely grateful.
It was a very different story this week.
From a strictly legal perspective, we have no idea whether Ant was over the drink-drive limit when he was breathalysed – and the burden of proof lies with the authorities rather than Ant McPartlin in that regard – but his people have done nothing to deny the media reports and the official statements released by his management company and ITV have left little doubt as to the truth of events at the roadside in South West London on Sunday afternoon.
Quite where the tide of overwhelming public support began to turn into one of widespread condemnation is difficult to pinpoint. Was it when we learned that a 3-year-old girl was in one of the cars involved? Or was it simply that the public looked at McPartlin’s wealth, fame and privilege and decided he had been given his chance at redemption last year?
What is certainly true is that there has been little nuance to the exasperation in evidence during the past week; and that underlines what we already know about public perceptions of – and attitudes to – addiction.
This may be an unpopular point of view, but the fact is that Anthony McPartlin is an addict and without professional help and support, he can no more escape the controlling effect of his addiction than he can choose to stop breathing.
In this way, and going back to Princess Diana’s quote at the start of this article, addiction has recently been the unwelcome companion in every single relationship Ant McPartlin has had – with his estranged wife Lisa Armstrong, with his best friend and on-screen partner Declan Donnelly, with his mother who was in the car with him on Sunday and with everyone else he holds dear.
And the uncomfortable truth is that along with Ant himself, every single one of them is, to one extent or another, an innocent victim of his addiction.
Addiction is terrifyingly and uncompromisingly relentless, and it doesn’t discriminate. It will infect and taint everything and everyone close to him because it manipulates and controls every choice he makes.
And in the process, it will damage everything it comes into contact with.
Without help and support, there’s no escape and there’s no respite. Just one, endlessly long and dark tunnel where the light of hope simply does not shine and where the addict is simply destined to repeat the mistakes of the past on a never-ending loop.
For every person who has rushed to adverse judgement of him this week, there’s an addict or recovering addict who will relate to the downward spiral that Ant’s addiction has engineered.
As I’ve said elsewhere over the last few days, what he did was wrong. His decisions were wrong. And it’s unquestionably right that he should face the full extent of the law in punishing him for that. And it will. Not now or tomorrow, but at some point in the near future, Anthony McPartlin will stand in a British courtroom and he will be made to pay for endangering his life and the lives of others.
And when that happens, I hope we’ll be able to say that justice for the car-related events that took place on Sunday was served.
But being a criminal – if that’s what the law ultimately deems him to be – and being an addict are two wholly different things, and it’s neither right nor fair that he should be punished for being both. Anyone who thinks otherwise is, I suggest, a victim of their own lack of understanding.
Here’s the probable truth: at the point Ant McPartlin consumed enough alcohol to become a risk to life, rational thought and evaluation were already in his mental rear-view mirror. His priority at that point was to self-medicate in order to cope with something far more immediately threatening to him than most of us can possibly understand.
Is that okay? No. Is it justifiable? No. But is it the reality that Ant McPartlin is dealing with? Absolutely.
Because in the end, addiction is the antithesis of rational behaviour. Addiction is about self-soothing and whilst the medication of choice can be transient (alcohol today, drugs tomorrow), ultimately the need to self-administer something to relieve whatever deep-rooted anxiety is involved becomes a hard-wired inevitability.
It’s probably not the case that Ant didn’t care about the possible consequences of his actions or didn’t understand them; it’s far more likely that at the point he tipped over the edge of sobriety his addiction was already in the driving seat and he was no longer in control of the chain of events that followed.
Since the events of Sunday, Ant McPartlin has issued a statement saying he’s ‘devastated’ that a little girl’s life was put at risk. The same statement speaks of his remorse at the consequences of what happened.
There’s no reason to doubt his sincerity – remorse and shame are good friends of addiction and they are usually heartfelt. But they’re not enough on their own to dig him out of the black hole he’s fallen into.
His recovery is made harder still by his fame. He has lived his entire adult life in the public eye, listening to the applause of people who adore him. That applause is fainter this week, the adulation less unwavering. Celebrity magnifies the problem and his journey back to good mental health will not be a private one. As I’ve observed before, fame can be a cruel mistress.
I have never met someone who chooses to be an addict. In fact, every addict would rather be anything but an addict. But without professional help and support, that becomes all but impossible.
In re-entering rehab, Ant has given himself a chance to heal and has at the same time given the people around him the chance to come to terms with the collateral damage left in the wake of the choices he made at the weekend.
They say you should walk a mile in someone’s shoes before you pass judgement on them. I wouldn’t wish that on any of Ant’s critics this week – I can promise you it’s not a mile anyone would want to travel willingly.
But it’s too easy and too blasé to say, ‘he knew better than to drink and drive’ or ‘he needs to pull himself together’ or ‘he’s let everyone down’.
All that and more is undoubtedly true, of course, but it’s also completely irrelevant because the rational Ant McPartlin was missing in action when his life derailed.
Whatever lies ahead for him, he will be a changed man at the end of it. It’s virtually unthinkable (though not impossible) that Dec will abandon the lad who’s stood on his right- hand side these last 25 years, but the clean-cut image they’d created for themselves has gone for good now, and who knows if they’ll be able to recapture the popularity they’ve enjoyed for a quarter of a century.
In the end, the kind thing for all of us to do is to hope Ant finds the help he needs, and he can emerge from this with his mental health intact. That doesn’t require us to defend his actions at the weekend, it requires us merely to understand the context in which they were taken.