Darren Day talks about his mental health and bipolar diagnosis, and says Blackpool was the last place he felt 'normal'

Darren Day talked about how a zoom call with Robbie Williams led to his bipolar and borderline personality disorder diagnosis during lockdown.
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Blackpool has a special place in Darren Day’s heart. He associates the resort with meeting childhood heroes Joe Longthorne and Bobby Ball.

But it all goes back to the summer of 1996 when he performed with Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday.

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The show ran for a summer season, from May to November at the Opera House - and it was the summer when it all felt to be coming together for Darren.

Darren DayDarren Day
Darren Day

He said: “It really was the happiest time of my life. I had a Saturday night TV show, and I had my first top 20 single. I’d just signed with Simon Cowell’s record label, RCA and everything was just going great for me.”

And to top it off, Summer Holiday broke the box office record that summer.

Darren’s first musical theatre role was in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in 1993 - but his season at the Winter Gardens was his career highlight.

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His name now graces a plaque in the Winter Gardens entrance - along with other stars that have appeared over the years.

“Every time I see my name on that plaque I feel so humbled to be up there with all of those legends.

I really have to pinch myself.”

But there’s a deeper reason why Mr Day, now 53, looks so fondly back to that summer.

The TV personality was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2020 - after decades of battling with his mental health.

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And Blackpool was the last time he remembers feeling ‘normal’.

He said: “1996 was just an iconic year for me because it’s the last memory I have of feeling good in myself - when I didn’t feel socially inept, or that I needed to self-medicate.”

In 1997 he began ‘self-medicating’. Then in 2004 he was diagnosed with clinical depression - but the anti-depressants seemed to make matters worse for Darren.

“I must have been on every type of medication available but it wasn’t just that they didn’t work, but often they made me feel even worse.”

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So he thinks it was fate that he would meet Robbie Williams who set him on a path of self-discovery.

The pair met on Celebrity Big Brother in 2016, and they became good friends.

Then at the start of lockdown the two reality TV stars had a heart to heart.

Robbie had gone through rehab in 2007 after becoming addicted to prescription drugs. He put Darren in touch with the team that helped him.

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“I went into rehab and I had a team of people around me - a psychiatrist, therapist. It was a game changer. They had really helped Robbie and he insisted they’d be able to help me too.”

The performer had done a 6 month stint in Chicago as Billie Flynn.

And then in 2020 had been well into rehearsals for his new show, Footloose, when the UK went into lockdown.

Rehearsals stopped and Darren suddenly had a lot of free time.

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“I’m loathe to say anything good about lockdown because it was awful, but it really saved me.

“I suddenly had time to think and - it’s like the butterfly effect - one little thing leads to another.”

He’d been struggling with his mental health for a long time but hadn’t got to the root of why he felt such dark moods that often changed from one moment to the next.

He said: “I'd get up in the morning feeling alright and by the afternoon I felt like I was in the pits of hell. That change could be one day to the next, or as it got worse it’d be one moment to another. From being fine to completely dreadful. It was so rapid and extreme.”

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He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.

People with borderline personality disorder often experience very intense emotions and severe mood changes.

It can cause feelings of abandonment, emptiness, and paranoia. People with BPD are more likely to behave impulsively and turn to substance abuse, self-harm or binge eating.

Since 2020 he has been getting regular therapy and has changed medication; he feels like he’s on the right path.

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“It’s really saved my life. I’m sober. I feel normal and getting back to how I felt in that summer season again.”

“The scariest part is that I got to a place where I was comfortable being in the gutter. Life was either heaven or hell - but I was never good at being in the middle ground.

But now I'm okay in the middle.”

And his three kids - Madison, Dalton and Corey, are a big motivation.

Darren is even bringing his youngest two - Madison, 15, and Dalton, 11, to Blackpool for the Easter holidays.

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They are at the resort for a week when Mr Day stars as the reverend in a stage production of Footloose.

“We’re renting a cottage for the week. I can’t wait to share some of these incredible memories with my children.”

But there is one thing the AGE is not looking forward to - a trip to the Pleasure Beach fills him with dread.

“When I was in my 20s I was fearless but I’m not so keen now. I’m guessing I’ll have to suck it up.”

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He will also be visiting the memorial of the late Joe Longthorne - the variety entertainer who passed away in 2019, aged 64.

The singer, whose career spanned five decades, was Darren’s idol but they became good friends in later life.

In 2014 Darren was invited to stand-in for Joe when the singer was diagnosed with throat cancer.

It was the most flattering moment of his career.

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He said: “I’ll never forget opening night - there were 300 Joe Longthorne fans watching, and he was watching from his wheelchair at the back. It felt so surreal.“He was my hero and I was so lucky to get to know him. There will never be anyone who can match Joe.”And now he thinks of Joe whenever he performs. Last year Darren was given a ‘Variety Club of Great Britain’ gold heart that belonged to the late performer.“His partner, Jamie, picked out the gold heart from a display case when I performed at his club on the North Pier. He said he knew Joe would have wanted me to have it. So now it's in my pocket every time I go on stage.”And after 20 months out of work, Darren is thrilled to be back in theatres again.The Footloose tour visits 25 venues across the UK and it's the perfect show to get audiences on their feet after the pandemic.He said: “It feels like how I imagine the roaring 20s would have felt, post-war after everyone had been deprived of going out.”And Day sees it as a transitional moment in his career - as he shifts from playing the ‘romantic lead’ character to being in the ‘dad role’.But he’s happy with that.“I feel really lucky to be still doing what I love and taking on these iconic roles. Especially now, so many friends and colleagues are out of work so I’m just more grateful than ever to be performing.”Darren’s character - Reverend Moore - has a teenage daughter and has lost his son in an accident.And as a father to a 15-year-old girl, he has plenty of real life experiences to draw from.“There's a moment where the Rev walks in on his teenage daughter at a disco and she's wearing these hot pants and a low cut top that he didn’t know she had. A father’s nightmare!”Darren’s daughter, Madison often sends him screenshots of outfits she wants to buy from PrettyLittleThing – which are always too revealing.“I write the words “Madison, PrettyLittleThing” on my script and I know the expression I need to react with."

If you’ve been affected by subjects discussed in this article please contact the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], or go to samaritans.org