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MY ESCAPE FROM A DRUGS HELL; Former EastEnders star Caroline Paterson on being a mum and why she is checking into Rehab. By Sally Morgan.

Byline: Sally Morgan

When they were looking for a talented Scots girl to play a recovering junkie in the gritty drama Rehab, they couldn't have chosen better than Caroline Paterson. The former EastEnders star grew up on a tough council estate where drugs were everywhere. She could so easily have been sucked into that lifestyle, except she had the courage to fight it.

"There were a lot of young drug abusers living on the housing scheme where I grew up in Glasgow," admits Caroline, 38. "It was Thatcher's Britain. There was no work, no life and drug-taking was rife.

"The young girls were using heroin as an escape, but I didn't want to end up like them, pregnant and with no direction in my life. So when I was 16, I left the estate and moved into a series of bedsits and flats. I also came off the dole and joined a youth opportunity scheme for 25 quid a week."

It was the best move she could have made - her project was in the theatre.

"Performing was already in my blood," she says. "Although my mum Bridget was a nurse, my dad Billy was a lorry driver, and my twin brother and three sisters had `sensible' jobs, all my aunts were dancers and my grandparents had a Vaudeville cabaret act called York And Morgan. The first film I directed, The Lucky Suit, was about them."

Caroline drew on those poignant images from her past for Rehab, the moving story of a group of drug abusers struggling to get clean. She plays Rosemary, who must kick her habit if she is to get her baby out of foster care. Poignantly, her 18-month-old daughter Ruby plays the baby.

"Just having her there brought it home to me how awful it would be if she was taken away," says Caroline, who also has a five-year-old son, Louis, by her Italian partner Claudio Carnovale.

"When her onscreen foster mum whisked her away after a visit I became very upset and emotional. During one traumatic scene my Glaswegian accent became so loud and broad that little Ruby stared at me in horror and confusion. She was great and I'm very proud of her."

Sadly, neither of Caroline's parents lived to see their grandchildren.

"I was only 16 when dad passed away," she says. "He was 48 and had MS for 10 years before he died of a heart attack. And mum died seven years ago. I still feel sad that both my parents are no longer around."

It was around the time of losing her mother that Caroline, whose previous long-term relationship was with Trainspotting star Robert Carlyle, fell in love with Claudio, 39.

"He's calm and good at grounding me," she says. "Everyone assumes that being Italian he must be fiery, but I'm the volatile one. We're very happy as we are and have no plans to marry. I'd rather spend money on a holiday than on a big wedding."

Ironically, it was thanks to another bleak storyline that Caroline first found fame in EastEnders in 1983. She played Ruth, who met HIV sufferer Mark Fowler at a hospice where his wife Jill was dying of Aids. Ruth and Mark fell in love and got married, but five years on she dumped him and left Albert Square in shame, pregnant by his Irish cousin Conor.

"It was my decision to leave EastEnders," says Caroline. "I wanted to spend more time with Louis. I felt terribly guilty leaving him in a creche for 12 hours a day, five days a week. After a year of that, I'd had enough. The money was no longer worth it. I wanted to spend more quality time with my son. It was funny, but after I'd left, people would approach me in the street when Louis was in his pushchair and ask if he was Conor's son."

Since then, Caroline has concentrated on work behind the cameras. Her projects include directing Tinseltown, a TV series about a group of young professionals who take recreational drugs. Like Rehab, much of the script was improvised.

"It gives the drama a more realistic feel," she explains. "For Rehab I met lots of former addicts. One woman, who'd been on heroin for 20 years, seemed to have her entire life mapped out on her face. She inspired me to give Rose that haggard look of no return that you see in addicts' eyes.

"Rehabilitation is hard work, but it isn't all doom and gloom. At the Ley Community Rehab Centre, where we did our research, the success rate is huge. It gets addicts off drugs, helps them find flats and jobs and even helps get their children out of care."

If Rehab is yet another story warning of the dangers of drug abuse, Caroline doesn't mind. After all, the anti-drugs campaign couldn't have a better crusader than she is.

l Rehab, Wednesday, BBC2, 9pm.


SMILES AND SCOWLS: Ruth and Mark marry in EastEnders (top); and in Rehab (above); HAPPY FAMILY: Caroline and Claudio with their baby son Louis in 1998
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 22, 2003
Previous Article:HAYLEY'S HEARTBREAK; Five-year-old Hayley Okines suffers from a rare disease which means she'll die of old age by 13.
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