Mel B on how Happy Valley’s domestic abuse storyline matches her own trauma: ‘Glass-eyed and beaten – I was that woman’

Mel B on how Happy Valley’s domestic abuse storyline matches her own trauma: ‘Glass-eyed and beaten – I was that woman’

me did not watch Happy Glen when it first came out. I was living in Los Angeles back then. I actually only got around to it recently – just a week before the new series came out. A close friend recommended it to me but I always thought it looked too dark. But I went back to the first set and within minutes I was hooked. It’s dark as hell but also brilliant in a way that only Northern British drama can be. You get the rain, you get the backdrop floating between beautiful countryside, concrete council estates and cozy houses. You get the accents, the mix of cultures, the families sitting down for their afternoon “tea”. Not “dinner” like they do in the South.

And that’s before you get to the acting. Sarah Lancashire is off the charts. I know Sergeant Catherine Cawood – she is as real as any of the women I grew up with on a council estate in Leeds. She’s flawed, she’s tough, she’s morally strong and she doesn’t give a *** what people think of her (except the people she loves). I am in awe of all the actors, from James Norton and Siobhan Finneran to Con O’Neill and Ishia Bennison. I want to name each of them because, like Catherine, I know all these people. They are completely true to life, true to my northern soul.

But season three is everything to me. I went through an abusive marriage of 10 years and, at my lowest, most desperate and isolated, I took to drink and drugs to self-medicate. I wrote about it in my book Brutally Honest, because nobody talked about it. The mechanism to deal with this may add to the shame, guilt, powerlessness, but more than 60 percent of women abuse self-medication because their lives are hell. So when Mollie Winnard (as Joanna) appeared on screen – glassy-eyed and beaten, with low-level terror seeping from her pores – this wasn’t a woman I knew, this was a woman I was.

When Catherine was given the chance to worry about her abusive husband, Joanna said nothing. She sat in silence, just as I did when a lovely police officer – PC Cunningham – sat by my bedside in 2014 after I overdosed. He knew something was seriously wrong. He gently asked me questions about my relationship, but he couldn’t talk to me. So here I am, nine years later, sitting on my sofa back in Leeds and happy to talk to Joanna but knowing she won’t because life – abuse – is not that simple. Not the way things go. Those scenes made my blood run cold because they were so truly unbelievable that I wanted to call the writer and creator, Sally Wainwright, to tell her how much this affected me.

When I wrote my book in 2017, most publishers rejected it because they didn’t think domestic abuse was a salable subject. Talking about being a mother, self-medicating, the grim reality of everyday life – it was all too much. When it was finally published in 2018, Teresa Parker of the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid told me it was the most realistic account of abuse she had ever read. It was true. My story – regardless of the veneer – was the same story as all women like Joanna. I became their patron and I now speak at conferences in parliament, about the epidemic of violence against women in our society. I have been awarded an MBE, not for being a Spice Girl, but for the work I have done with Women’s Aid. I used my voice.

In the last five years, we have started talking properly about domestic abuse. I am so proud to be one of the voices that break the silence. And Sally Wainwright should be too. Abuse is not the main story i Glen Happy, it is woven into the fabric of the story like a bright red thread. And that’s exactly how it is in life. It’s the grit in the road, the crack in the ceiling.

Joanna dies violently on her kitchen floor – not literally at the hands of her husband but no doubt because of the relentless cycle of abuse she was in. I was horrified when I saw it. But I was also surprised that Winnard’s portrayal is so real, and that the reality of domestic violence has become an integral part of mainstream drama. We are talking. We are watching. Thank you Happy Glen.

‘Happy Valley’ will be broadcast on Sunday night at 9pm on BBC One

Melanie Brown – Mel B – is a patron Women’s Aid

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, you can call the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge, on 0808 2000 247, or visit given on their website. here.

If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the following organizations for support: actiononaddiction.org.uk, mind.org.uk, nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth, mentalhealth.org.uk.

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