Emma's fight for happiness
Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson would seem to have it all, but behind her jolly, cheerful demeanour she has hidden long bouts of depression writes Anna Coogan
Actress Emma Thompson has heaps to be happy about -- a successful career, two Academy Awards, a gorgeous younger husband, Greg Wise, and a lovely daughter, Gaia. It just seems to keep getting better for the talented star whose new movie, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, is now in cinemas.
So why is the fabulous Emma talking about depression? In a remarkable series of interviews, the Love Actually actress has opened her heart about the depression which has yapped at her heels for most of her life, and at various points in her career and evolving family life, has threatened to drag her down to the point of utter despair.
There was the premature death of her father Eric Thompson, who was best known as the creator and narrator of The Magic Roundabout, and her divorce from actor husband Kenneth Branagh; both episodes in Emma's seemingly glittering life which she has admitted left her feeling profoundly depressed and debilitated.
In a move which can only give hope to fellow depression sufferers, the star of Sense and Sensibility has admitted that her life has been a success in spite of suffering from repeated bouts of the illness.
Revealing that the emotional fallout following her marriage split from Belfast-born star Branagh left her shattered, 50- year-old Emma has said: "I don't think I did stay sane, really. I probably should have sought professional help long before I actually did. The divorce was a ghastly, painful business but, also, the fame was in some ways ghastly as well. You become slightly more public property in ways that aren't always comfortable."
Sandra Hogan, spokesperson for Aware, the support group for people suffering from depression says: "When someone well-known and respected speaks out about their experience of depression, it can be very helpful for other people going through a similar situation, and for the wider issue of stigma as well.
"Depression can affect any one of us at any time, and when we see this so emphatically from someone successful, it really helps to drive that message home. And where the person has also managed to build a successful career and a fulfilling life for themselves, it can bring a lot of hope to others, too. It's a reminder that depression is not a life-long sentence and that it is possible to come through it," Sandra says.
And Emma has definitely succeeded in spite of her struggle with depression. She remains the only person to win an Academy Award both for acting (for Howards End in 1992) and for writing (the screenplay for Sense and Sensibility in 1995). And she can pick and choose her parts from Hollywood rom-coms such as Junior with Arnold Schwarzenegger, to Sybil Trelawney in the Harry Potter films.
Meanwhile, dishy younger husband and actor Greg Wise came into her life on the film set of Sense and Sensibility -- apparently he first chased Kate Winslet on the film set -- and today the couple have a happy family life with their daughter Gaia and foster son Tindy in suburban north London.
Emma has battled defiantly to get where she is, and has said of her depression: "It's the sort of depression that doesn't necessarily make you want to kill yourself. You just don't want to be. You want to switch it all off and stop. That's not the same as saying: 'I'm going to kill myself.' But it's a feeling I know well."
She first suffered when she was 24, she was starring in the West End in Me And My Girl when her father died following a pulmonary embolism. Emma has said: "I think that first bout was an actual clinical depression. I didn't change my clothes and I couldn't answer the phone but I went into the theatre every night and sang The Lambeth Walk and I was cheerful. But that's what the theatre is like."
And the illness struck again while her six-year marriage to Kenneth Branagh was falling apart. The couple were the ultimate successful duo when they married in 1989 after they had starred together in the TV drama Fortunes Of War. In her mid-thirties and broody, Emma watched painfully as her hopes of a family life slipped away.
She has revealed that writing the screenplay for Sense And Sensibility, Jane Austen's novel about the complexities of love, is what saved her sanity.
"Ken had an old black cashmere dressing gown I'd given him one Christmas and he was gone -- he wasn't living at home -- and I used to put it on and crawl from the bedroom to the computer and sit and write. Then I was alright because I wasn't present. I think Sense And Sensibility saved me from going under in a very nasty way," the actress has admitted.
If the film Sense and Sensibility brought her second husband Greg Wise into her life, and Emma was 40 when her longed-for daughter Gaia was born after IVF treatment, the years that followed also brought more depression as Emma struggled through three more IVF cycles.
"It was hellish after Gaia was born, trying to have another baby through IVF. I blamed myself and no one could persuade me that it wasn't my fault, and that led to another depression. I didn't notice my 40th birthday because a vast explosion had gone off in my body . . . it was bad. I counted other people's children for years."
Today Emma and Greg have provided a home for Tindy, a refugee from the war in Rwanda, and who is studying for an MA in human rights law.
Emma has said:"I couldn't have more children and that was hard. But if I'd had more children, there wouldn't have been space for this young man who we all love and who has changed our lives."
If there could be such a thing as a poster girl for surviving depression, surely Emma Thompson has the job under wraps.