Ant and Dec are about as iconic a duo as Bonnie and Clyde, Batman and Robin, fish and chips. Since they were teen stars of Byker Grove, wherever Ant and his oversized forehead went, his shorter half stood religiously to his left. They are at the helm of our entertainment needs, treating us to shows from Britain’s Got Talent and I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! to the happiest ninety minutes of the week in the form of their current show, Saturday Night Takeaway. We barely know them as individuals: they are simply one.
But all of this is set to change. On 18th March, a bleary-eyed Ant McPartlin stumbled from his mini after being involved in a three-car crash in London, for which the blame lay with the star, who was arrested at the scene for being under the influence of drink. What followed was a flurry of rumours and revelations, with ITV announcing that Declan Donnelly would go on to host the pair’s iconic show all by himself. Cue outpourings of horror at the thought of poor Dec presenting untethered and alone.
“Addressing McPartlin’s rehab stint head on gave the message that it’s okay to struggle”
McPartlin’s struggles were brought into the public eye back in summer 2017, when he was admitted to rehab after becoming addicted to prescription painkillers following a knee operation two years previously. Jokes about his seasonal absence pervaded the first episode of I’m A Celeb in the autumn, in what can only be described as a huge act of destigmatisation: instead of trying to sweep the elephant under the carpet, addressing McPartlin’s rehab stint head on gave the message that it’s okay to struggle and seeking help is nothing short of brave.
“Rehab is far from a luxury, and for many addicts, … is a whole lot scarier than prison itself”
Yet whereas before, outpourings contained nothing but sympathy, a drink-driving arrest has triggered a more conflicted reaction. Some are of the opinion that driving under the influence should put you behind bars, not give you the comparatively lesser sentence of a spell in a rehabilitation centre. Undoubtedly, drink driving is a crime with potentially life-changing consequences; a three-year old girl hospitalised in the crash on the 18th March was thankfully not seriously harmed, but the risk was there. However, rehab is far from a luxury, and for many addicts, the thought of not only eradicating the drugs from their lifestyle but facing up to the underlying issues causing their dependency is a whole lot scarier than prison itself.
The problem of prescription drug addiction is becoming so predominant that Public Health England have recently launched a year-long review into the issue, aiming to stop the increasing prevalence in its tracks. It can be difficult to understand how a person can become addicted to something as widely ingested as painkillers, and this can be an obstacle to seeking help. Yet whilst the first decision to take prescription drugs is voluntary, overconsumption and abuse over a period of time can lead to dangerous neurological effects. These alterations in how the brain looks and works can affect a person’s self-control and ability to make sound decisions, and the consequent compulsion to seek a substance obliterates any shred of rationality. Addicts are certainly not blind to the impact their drug use has on both themselves and their families, but their dependency is often stronger than any desire within them to change.
Ant McPartlin is a reminder that anyone, despite the façade they present and the happiness they emit, can be blighted by mental illness or addiction, and can be suffering more than we could ever imagine. In the days after McPartlin’s arrest, a Facebook post citing the age-old quote, ‘be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle’, went viral: it seems these words have never been more pertinent than in our society today.
Featured image courtesy of ‘damo1977′ via Flickr. Image licence found here