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I stopped drinking but got addicted to sex.. it nearly cost me my world; EXCLUSIVE HOW BILL STAR MARK BEAT ALL HIS DEMONS.

Byline: SUE CARROLL

I F The Bill's Mark Wingett had to sum himself up in one word it would be "lucky". It's an apt description.

This week he celebrates not only 20 years in ITV's prime-time cop show but he's also back with partner Sharon after a two-year separation.

He won't be raising a glass to his good fortune, however, because nine years ago he finished with the bottle before it finished him.

As DI Jim Carver, Mark, 42, has become one of the best-known faces on British television and his presence in the restaurant where we meet is commanding.

After so long at Sun Hill he walks and talks like a copper, there's an air of broad-shouldered authority about him and a reluctance to give too much away.

"When you've lost everything you ever wanted in your life," he says, "it's natural to be guarded, to protect what you've got."

He's referring to his long-term partner Sharon Martin, their daughter Jamila and his step-son Benny, all of whom he believed he'd lost for good when his affair with an extra from The Bill was exposed.

Yvonne Williams, a former fire-eater, blew the whistle after he ended their eight-year relationship.

Most women share a broken heart with a few close friends but she took hers instead to a downmarket Sunday paper where she pulled no punches in a steamy kiss and tell, revealing in graphic detail their dressing room romps and passionate sexual encounters.

"To say my world came crashing down," Mark says, "would be an understatement. But I don't hold any grudge against her for doing what she did. I take responsibility for it all.

"She did what she had to do because she was hurt and that's that. Call me naive but the thought she might go public didn't enter my head. When she did it left me no option, I had to tell Sharon everything before she read it.

"I remember getting an early copy of the paper and just feeling so crushed."

Explaining himself to Sharon, the make-up artist he'd lived with for 12 years was, he says, one of the hardest things he's ever had to do.

"Dreadful" he recalls, "you can't imagine what it's like having to inflict that sort of pain on anyone.

"Why did I have the affair? Because it was an addiction. That's what it was all about. When I stopped drinking I replaced that addiction with another one.

"Recognised, isn't it, sexual addiction?

"Obviously when I gave up boozing I didn't do enough work on myself, there were residual problems I hadn't tackled. I needed to sort myself out.

"It was a terrible shock to wake up and realise that everything I ever wanted had suddenly gone, blown up in my face."

Two years of what Mark calls "intense solitude" followed. He moved out of the family's North London home and became a weekend dad to Jamila and step-son Benny.

"Anything could have happened," he says, "Sharon could have met someone else and I wouldn't have been in a position to do anything about it.

"There were no rules, no boundaries. We were living separately.

"It was just two years of pain for us both but an undeniable bond kept us together, it's called love.

"Sharon, you see, never gave up on me. When we walked away from each other we both thought that was it, over for good. But women are sharper than men and able to see things more clearly.

"Our reconciliation happened gradually, when the raw pain began to recede. Slowly instead of seeing Jamila and my step-son Benny elsewhere I started to spend more time at home.

"Eventually we went on holiday as a family but, like most men I'm incredibly stupid, I couldn't see the signs.

"When we got back I thought, 'That's it then we're together,' but Sharon told me she needed more time. 'Why?' I asked, but she was right we still needed to talk. For the first time in my life I really listened and looked at myself and what I saw was someone who was headstrong and egotistical.

"Then 9/11 happened and the world turned upside down, the important things suddenly became more important. It focused the mind on what we'd had before and eventually we realised we wanted nothing else but to be back together as a family.

"I feel very strongly that I needed to lose everything in order to get it back. That I could end up with Sharon was, at one point, just an impossible dream yet out of all the self-sabotage we're now incredibly happy.

"If two people love one another enough it can be done." The path to happiness has certainly been rockier for Mark than most.

His life appears to have been littered with hurdles. As a schoolboy at Portsmouth's Horn Dean Comprehensive he was determined to be an actor but, after filling in a questionnaire, was told by his careers officer he'd make a good zoo-keeper.

"I just laughed," he says, "But it didn't deter me. My dad was in the navy and I'd had a services upbringing which had left me a bit timid. Acting was just a great release, I liked being this other person on stage.

"I had a great drama teacher, Mr Green, who encouraged me to audition for the National Theatre and that was it. By the time I was 18 I got a part in the movie Quadrophenia along with Sting, Michael Elphick, Toyah Willcox and Lesley Ash. I don't think any of us had proper training. We just knew what we wanted to do."

The shy retiring schoolboy morphed rapidly into someone very different when he joined the hard-drinking, fast-living 80s school of actors.

"I regularly drank a gallon of beer a night," he says, "sometimes two. On one mate's birthday I knocked back 21 pints and 21 shorts, I was completely caught up in that youthful bravado of boozing.

"The business then was full of heavy drinkers and to be one of them you had to hold your liquor. My thing was 151 degrees proof Antiguan rum, so strong it could kill you.

"But I'd tuck into that without turning a hair. By then I was on The Bill and, looking back, I wonder how on earth I maintained the job.

"My life revolved around alcohol but I couldn't see it. I thought everyone else drank as much as me but they didn't. No one could have." Mark believes his "moment of clarity" came at 33 when, after an ultimatum from Sharon, he realised if he carried on he'd end up dead or insane.

He would almost certainly lose his family and most probably his job.

"You don't need other people to tell you, you have to do it yourself. Something in me just made me stop," he says.

"I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I felt I was going insane. I went to a self-help group and had therapy. What sort of madness is it that makes you pour that much drink into your body?

"I still go to meetings and talk to other alcoholics, I love it. In America last year I met one woman who has been sober for 62 years. For me it's a journey that's continuing.

"I marvel sometimes at Sharon, who can open a bottle of wine, have a glass and leave the rest of it. 'I don't know how you do that', I'll tell her. If it were me I'd be on the third bottle and drinking from a pint glass."

Now Mark lives by the maxim that one drink is too much and all the drink in the world isn't enough. He's also constantly reminded of the demise of friend and colleague Kevin Lloyd, The Bill's Tosh Lines, an alcoholic who died after a booze binge three years ago.

"His children Poppy and James work on the show," says Mark, "so we never forget Kevin. In fact we talk about him a lot.

ONE of the worst experiences of my life was watching Kevin kill himself.

"He'd had eight months of sobriety, he could have made it but you've got to be brutally honest with yourself, no matter how much it hurts. Kevin chose oblivion and I can understand that, he liked to be out of control.

"I wished I could have reached him but he didn't grasp hold of me, or was unable to. They were incredibly good to Kevin at The Bill but when, after they'd given him an ultimatum to stop boozing, he turned up with a hangover they had to let him go.

"That was on a Monday. By Saturday he was dead, it was absolutely heartbreaking."

He'll be remembered, along with everyone else who has passed through Sun Hill, when the cast celebrate the 20th anniversary tomorrow with a live edition of the show.

It will be particularly poignant for Mark who was brought in to film Wooden Tops, the pilot for what is now The Bill. "I had a one-month contract," he recalls, "the idea I'd be starting a 20-year run as Jim Carver would have been inconceivable."

Fittingly, the anniversary special will centre on Mark and Trudie Goodwin (PC June Ackland), the only original cast members left.

There are to be no pre-recorded scenes, a prospect that leaves him uncharacteristically nervous.

"There'll be some spectacular effects, stunts and a murder, no wonder we are s*** scared. We'll be fine.

"After 20 years of dealing with some harrowing and difficult storylines we're sustained, like a lot of coppers, by a gallows humour.

"I never forget for a minute that I've got a lot to smile about. I've just signed a new contract with The Bill, I've got a lovely home and a cottage in Kent which we retreat to when we can.

"I've so many friends outside the business as well as in it.

"And I've got a great family who've supported me though everything. You can't blame me for feeling a bit lucky."

A lot lucky, some would say.

-The Bill Live is on ITV1 at 8pm on Thursday.

CAPTION(S):

REUNITED: With partner Sharon; CLOSE: With daughter Jamila; LONG SERVING: Mark and Trudie; HAPPY: Mark can celebrate, now the bad times are behind him; Picture: HARRY PAGE
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 29, 2003
Words:1723
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