EX-EASTENDERS star Paul Nicholls looks back to his best after fearing he would die if he didn't kick his cocaine addiction.
The actor, 42 — who played schizophrenic Joe Wicks in the BBC1 soap — looked happy and healthy as he stepped out after telling The Sun he was desperately battling to stay clean last month.
Wearing a white T-shirt and ripped jeans, the former soap hunk carried a Sainsbury's bag for life as he stepped out in London.
Paul looked like he was getting plenty of fresh air as he showed off a golden tan.
His trademark floppy hair was swept back in his usual handsome style as he flashed his winning smile.
He looked worlds away from the coke addict he was last year when he told The Sun he“pressed the f*** it button” as he went on four-day benders in squalid drug dens with people he did not know.
Paul, whose life has been blighted by Class A abuse, said his addiction peaked last year, and added: “If I don’t stop, I will die.”
Paul said: “I’ve had addiction issues before and relapsed last year.
“The rabbit hole I went down led to places that I never thought I’d end up in — in flats with people that I didn’t know.
“I was taking lots of dihydrocodeine, a very strong opiate pain killer and on top of that, cocaine . . . every time I relapsed cocaine is always present.
“At certain points I’d be gone for three or four days and not sleep at all. I stopped caring, I pressed the ‘f*** it’ button.
“The last time I ended up in a flat with people smoking stuff, doing this and doing that.
“They recognised me. I was looking around and I thought, ‘If I don’t stop, I will die’.
“I’ve still got so much shame around this stuff.”
Paul said he has been attending Narcotics Anonymous and has fought hard to stay clean for the last few months.
But he said he has never fully recovered from an ordeal in Thailand in 2017 when he got trapped under a waterfall for three nights.
And he admitted that his stroke the following year sent him to “rock bottom”.
Pin-up Paul, whose real name is Paul Greenhalgh, joined EastEnders as a 16-year-old in 1996 but left a year later — revealing he was suffering with depression as well as drink and drug problems.
A familiar face on TV, he has appeared in numerous roles including in The C Word with Sheridan Smith, BBC detective drama Death in Paradise and most recently Channel 4’s Ackley Bridge.
He also starred in the hit film Bridget Jones’ Diary: The Edge of Reason in 2004. Paul dated soap co-stars Martine McCutcheon, 45, and Danniella Westbrook, 47, as well as Hollyoaks actress Joanna Taylor, 42. He married model Chantal Brown in 2008 but the couple divorced in 2015.
That year, he appeared on The Sun on Sunday’s front page after being snapped smoking from a crack pipe in a friend’s flat.
But Paul said his recent problems began during the trip to Thailand when he plunged off a road on his motorbike after being chased by “16 or 17” wild dogs. He broke both legs and was trapped under a waterfall for three nights before he was rescued.
Paul explained: “I had 37 different infections from that accident including malaria, cholera and dengue fever.
“I was in hospital in Samui on my own for six months on intravenous antibiotics before I could go back to Manchester.
“It was an incredibly hard thing to come back from.”
But just as Paul returned to work in the theatre, he suffered the stroke. He said: “I was due to start rehearsals for Rain Man, playing the Dustin Hoffman part, but the night before I collapsed. I woke up about 16 hours later.
“When I came round, I couldn’t move the right side of my body.
“It took me about three hours to get off the floor on to the bed and then out of the room to pull myself upstairs to get to a phone.
It was horrendous… I didn’t care about myself
“I knew what had happened straight away. The right side of my body was paralysed, I knew it was a stroke. I managed to get upstairs and ring an ambulance.
“They took me to hospital where they explained there were still traces of infections from the accident in my blood. I had to work with a physio for all of 2019 pretty much to get the right side of my body working again.”
Breaking down in tears, Paul said: “I thought my life was over.
“I lost belief, I did. I just didn’t care. I’ve never really had self-confidence. I am a worrier. I’m not your typical kind of lad.
“I just sank into a deep depression. I sank like a stone.
“I did my physio. I went through the motions of life, but I was in bed most of the time. The whole of 2019 was basically a write-off.” He lapsed into drug addiction last year.
He said: “That point when you let yourself relapse is called ‘the f*** it button’. I pressed it.
“Once I take any substance, judgment goes out the window.
“In the places I ended up, people knew who I was. I know there’s people out there with pictures and that’s why I’m kind of saying all this stuff.
“It was horrendous. I didn’t care about myself. I wasn’t well at all.
“I had no one around me. I was on my own. I had my own place at that point in Belsize Park. After benders, I just crawled back and recovered. There’s still a lot of shame.
“I mean, when you’re on substances and running around and not caring about yourself, you don’t feel anything.
“When you’re clean, you remember things and you go, ’Oh, God. Oh good God, why? What was I doing? Why was I there?’.”
Friends helped him at the end of last year and he started attending Narcotics Anonymous.
He said: “How am I avoiding hitting the f*** it button now? Meetings. there’s a whole fellowship of people out there. In recovery, that’s what that’s there for. There is a bit of hope now, though. I mean, I’m back in recovery. I have fear, which most addicts do. But I can get to a year clean again and work again.
“Smoking is my only vice right now although I’ve been mainly vaping.”
Paul had been dating former dancer Hemma Kathrecha and moved in with her and her two-year-old son.
She was the ex of pal Robert Selby, who Paul met at NA two years ago.
Mr Selby accused the star of “knifing him” in the back and stealing her from him. Paul declined to say whether he and Hemma were still together, saying only: “This is not about anyone else.”
He did say he wants to get back into work — and hasn’t ruled out returning to TV’s Albert Square.
He added: “Joe Wicks from EastEnders is still the character most people recognise me from.
“Joe left in a cab and went to Bolton, so he could come back. I never watch it now, but would I return if they asked me back? Of course!”
- IF you are suffering from problems with drugs, call Narcotics Anonymous on 0300 999 1212.
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