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Doctor in distress: Interview - Ben Hull; Ben Hull, Brookside's latest GP, talks about the anxieties that have dogged him both in real life and in the roles he plays.

Byline: Angela Hagan

Few people ever find themselves at their own leaving do and welcoming party at the same time, but that's the situation Ben Hull found himself in when he quit Hollyoaks to star in another Mersey TV soap, Brookside. And in an ironic twist, he goes from playing a self-destructive soul to a life-saver as the Close's dishy new doctor, Gary Parr.

It will be a welcome change for Ben, 28, after his traumatic last few months on the teen soap. Last autumn in Hollyoaks, Lewis got caught up in a tragic spiral of drink and depression. It resulted in an overdose, leading to a long, agonising death as his liver failed. Playing a messed- up, suicidal young man took its toll on Ben.

"I'd go home after filming and feel incredibly depressed," he says. "Playing such a tormented and depressed character was exhausting. Even if you don't believe what you are saying and doing, eventually it all rubs off. I was not a nice person to be around."

Ben, who was born in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, is no stranger to depression. At one point during his three-year drama course at Manchester Polytechnic, he feared he was having a mental breakdown.

"I went through a phase when I was totally exhausted," he says. "I had put everything into acting and had nothing left. At college they break you down and kind of reconstruct you, but it's difficult to find yourself when your strength of character has been ground down. We were encouraged to open up and let out all our deep, dark secrets. But there were no counsellors to talk it through with, so we were letting all these things run around our heads. I was burnt out. I was thinking the most crazy thoughts. I genuinely thought I was going mad."

Thanks to the love and support of his parents, Sally and Brian, and his sister Becky, 25, Ben pulled through.

"My parents were brilliant," he says. "They know that I bottle things up. I tend to sit on things and let them churn inside me."

As if getting inside Lewis's head wasn't disturbing enough, Ben also knew that after six years in Hollyoaks, he was about to become a jobbing actor again.

"I had some fears," he admits. "I kept thinking maybe I should ask them to make out that Lewis's death had just been some dream, like Bobby in Dallas." Luckily, his decision to quit has paid off - although it seems Ben can't quite beat the blues. As the new doc at Brookside's walk-in centre, he tries to convince Jimmy Corkhill to remain on his medication for depression.

"Jimmy wants to wean himself off lithium, so he comes to see me for advice - so I'm still involved with depression," laughs Ben. "Gary Parr doesn't suffer fools, although his new wife is, well, a bit of a goer."

Even though Ben is still working for the same TV company, his first day on set was nerve-racking. But then he has always been something of a worrier. Aged 14, he had a panic attack on a plane which has left him with a fear of flying.

"My mum had to physically lift me on to the plane," he recalls. "We sat at the back where you can feel the turbulence the most and it was just dreadful. I got worse and worse until I went to bolt from my seat. Mum dragged me back and popped a tablet in my mouth to calm me down, followed by a couple of gin and tonics. I got it from dad. He hates flying too."

A fear-of-flying course helped Ben conquer his anxieties to an extent, and he was able to brave the short flight from Liverpool to London for our interview today.

"There was a bit of wind and a queue to land, so we had to circle," he recalls. "I was gripping the seat, but I got through it. I have to because I'm taking my lovely lady on holiday on a plane soon and I don't want anything to ruin it."

Ben refuses to name the "lovely lady" in question, but confirms she's an actress and that it's early days in their romance.

"She's a very special person," he says. "I am a bit of a romantic. A lot of people like to go out dancing and drinking, but I love to sit in talking and drinking. I love all that, `How's your day been?' stuff. I love nothing more than sitting in the bath talking with a load of candles and a nice glass of wine."

He also loves socialising with his friends in Liverpool, so it's fortunate that Brookside snapped him up as soon as he left Hollyoaks.

"I had various conversations with people after I'd announced I was leaving," he says. "They knew I came cheap!"


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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 12, 2002
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