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“I felt shame and thought I had to keep it a secret:” Ex-EastEnder John Partridge opens up about drinking and cancer

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ACCORDING to former EastEnder John Partridge, the greatest performance of his 30-year career wasn’t as the soap’s Christian Clarke or in major stage productions such as Chicago.

Instead, it was convincing everyone he was at peace with himself when, in reality, he was racked by self-doubt and had become a slave to excess.

As he turns 47 this week, the industrious actor and performer told iN10 that he partied just as hard as he worked – until a moment of clarity told him enough was enough.

When John arrives in Edinburgh next month with his new one-man show, Stripped, it just so happens to coincide with the 300th day of his sobriety – and a new outlook.

“I’ve always found it easier in life to pretend,” admitted John, who will be seen next month in the new series of Celebrity MasterChef on BBC 1.

John will be on Celebrity Masterchef next month. J(C) Shine TV – Photographer: Production

“It was never my ability I was unsure of, it was the other stuff – am I good looking enough, funny enough, cool enough?

“I started working in London at 16. The professional side of me was developed, but emotionally I was a boy pretending not to be a boy.

“There were two Johnnys. There was the 10-year-old Johnny who packed his bags and went off to ballet school and there was the Johnny who went out and got trashed.

“You would never have known I did that, because I always was the first to turn up to work, I always made sure I looked good and I barely missed a show in my career.

“Those are my greatest performances to date.

“But one morning after the night before, I allowed myself to feel and listen to that 10-year-old me and suddenly I didn’t want to do that stuff anymore.

“The desire had gone and it’s such an amazing feeling.

“I feel so lucky that I was able to turn the tap off, because I know it’s not like that for everyone.”

Someone else who is thankful is John’s husband, fellow actor Jon Tsouras.

“He said he always knew I could do this, but never thought I would,” John continued.

“That broke my heart in a way, because when I first met Jon I told him I was a man who can.

“This was 15 years ago and he was young when I met him, and I told him I could take care of us.

“But I lost the right to say that on some level. So to be able to say that again now and for it to be true means everything to me.

“He is away on tour and doesn’t need to be worrying himself sick about what I’m doing.

“For him to have that peace of mind and relief means so much.

John performs ‘A Chorus Line’ at the London Paladium.

“He’s always been the best thing about me, so to think I made him worry isn’t a great feeling.”

Earlier this year, John took part in The Real Full Monty, a TV documentary where two groups of celebrities – male and female – stripped off to raise awareness for breast, testicular and prostate cancers.

In an emotional scene, John revealed for the first time that he had been treated for testicular cancer in 2004.

Talking about the illness, he says, allowed him to open up about everything else he’d kept inside.

He said: “When we were making the show I was just into my sobriety and I had never talked about my cancer before.

“I felt shame and always thought I had to keep it a secret.

“I’d made a lot of money going out in big touring shows at the top of the bill and I didn’t want people to not hire me because they thought I was sick or had been sick – that was something I had hung on to.

“At that moment, I hadn’t let anyone know I was sober or even that I had struggles with that. Opening up about cancer allowed me to open up about this.

“I hadn’t even told my sister about the cancer.

“She came to see the performance we did at the end and had no idea.

“It was an opportunity to come clean and say this is another thing I’ve been hiding.”

Being in showbiz, there must be temptations around every corner for John to return to his old ways.

“Someone said it must be a struggle, but it’s not,” he said.

“I wake up motivated and go to bed exhausted, but for all the right reasons.

“I went to a do the other night and usually I would be anxious about how it was going to end and how wretched I would feel the next day.

“But the other day I drove, picked my friend up, went along to the event, and when I felt ready I went home. It was wonderful and you couldn’t pay me to go back to that old feeling.

“When I arrive in Edinburgh it will be my 300th day sober, but it was the 17,155 days before that nearly killed me.”

Six months before John kicked the drink and drugs, his mum passed away after living with Alzheimer’s for seven years.

He previously admitted to only taking part in Celebrity Big Brother two years ago to help pay for his mum’s care and he was completely devoted to her.

Having watched his mum succumb to the illness, it remains a topic John is passionate about and he says society isn’t doing enough to help those with the condition.

“I was there through all of that journey and to see it was excruciating.

“There is a much bigger debate to be had about the value we put on the elderly.

“Research into Alzheimer’s is so far behind things such as cancer and HIV and that’s because young people don’t get it – if you were born with Alzheimer’s a lot more would be done.

“Because we place no value on age, because we just think, ‘You’ve had your life’, that is why we are so far behind in terms of research. It’s not sexy to support dementia.

“My mum responded more to singing groups than any drug she took and we don’t know why.

“I show pictures of my mum during the show and pass a bucket round for Alzheimer’s charity donations. I know that’s severe but I don’t want to do the soft approach.”

If that sounds morbid, John promises there is also plenty of light in Stripped.

“I tell jokes, too,” he smiled.

He can sing as well – and there is plenty of music in the self-written one-man show. Featuring original songwriting and choreography alongside performances of songs by David Bowie, Jeff Buckley, Boy George and Bush, John describes it as a tale of sexuality, sobriety, success, love and loss.

“A friend of mine said it started off as a show all about me and ended with it being about her – you think your story is unique to you, but we all live very similar lives.

“I’m putting myself out there, almost explaining my story to myself while telling it to the audience.

“I’ve been to the Fringe before but have never taken part – it’s a mad, crazy thing, so I should fit right in!”

And with his newfound inner peace, John is excited for what the future might hold.

“I’ve achieved more than I thought possible,” he added. “

But I’m curious, because to achieve what I did when I was like that – well, who knows what I can do now.”

Performance Details:

John Partridge: Stripped, Assembly Checkpoint, Aug 1-26.