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I got PTSD after my childhood abuse – now I want love, says Charlie Webster

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SPORTS presenter Charlie Webster has told of her brush with death in a bid to help others cope with their own traumas.

The broadcaster was given 24 hours to live after she contracted a rare form of malaria during a charity bike ride in 2016 and was put on life support.

TV sports presenter Charlie Webster has told of her brush with death in a bid to help others cope with their own traumas

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TV sports presenter Charlie Webster has told of her brush with death in a bid to help others cope with their own traumasCredit: Supplied by Charlie Webster
Charlie was given 24 hours to live after she contracted a rare form of malaria during a charity bike ride in Brazil in 2016

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Charlie was given 24 hours to live after she contracted a rare form of malaria during a charity bike ride in Brazil in 2016

But the physical and mental toll it took on Charlie was compounded by the childhood abuse she suffered at the hands of her step-father and a running coach.

The former Sky Sports presenter has shared her experiences and the road to recovery in a new book, Why It’s OK To Talk About Trauma.

However, Charlie, 41, insists it is not all doom and gloom, saying: “I use some of my story in it to help people understand how these things impact us.

“That’s what I wanted the book to be, rather than, ‘isn’t this a sad but empowering story?’.”

Charlie began suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder while recovering from malaria and hopes the book can shake some of the stigma surrounding mental health.

It comes after actress Amanda Abbington said she received death threats for revealing she had been diagnosed with PTSD after quitting BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing on medical grounds.

Charlie explains: “My book is called Why It’s Ok To Talk About Trauma and a few people have asked me why we never talk about trauma.

“I really want to do this to try to change that and help people.

“Some of the things that people say, ‘Oh well Amanda was on Strictly, how can you possibly feel like that?’

“But we don’t ever know what is going on in somebody’s life.

“Mental health is becoming an epidemic. Yet, we still do that.

Charlie Webster reveals she is still haunted by drama of her malaria battle

“We’re taught to speak out, but when somebody says they’ve got PTSD, we shame them for it.”

‘Emotional pain’

Charlie became unwell shortly after attending the opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

She had just completed a 3,000-mile bike ride from London and through Brazil.

She recalls: “I thought I’d just got a stomach bug or something.

“I was just being sick and I’d gone into the hospital asking for some tablets, thinking I’ll be OK tomorrow.”

Charlie was put into a medically induced coma and given 24 hours to live.

Miraculously, she pulled through and was flown back to the UK to continue her recovery, including learning to walk again.

She quickly returned to work despite feeling “broken” inside.

Charlie says: “People kept saying to me, ‘You are so lucky’.

“It was confusing because I didn’t feel lucky.

We’re taught to speak out about mental health but when somebody says they’ve got PTSD we shame
them for it

Charlie

“I felt absolutely broken.

“I felt like my career had ended.

“I felt I’d never be myself again.

“I didn’t recognise myself emotionally, mentally and physically.

“I couldn’t even look at my body because it felt so violated and sore, even just to touch my skin.

“I felt like my body had scars all over it.”

She adds: “I remember one night at work and everybody was like, ‘Oh my god you are amazing, wow, you’re back’.

“There was all this love and it was incredible.

“But then I remember bawling my eyes out because I felt like nobody understood what it was like.

“There were the physical things like having to relearn to walk and talk again, but it was also the emotional pain.

“I was having flashbacks all the time, of being in the coma, my coach, the abuse.

“Every time I fell asleep, I felt like I was gonna die.

“It was just so overwhelming.

“I remember once being physically sick ringside while presenting a boxing match, not because I was ill, but from all the emotion and stress.”

Charlie recounts a frightening panic attack on a train from Leeds to London that pushed her to seek professional help.

She felt like the world was spinning out of control, comparing it to being in a “video game” with “somebody else having the controls”, and collapsed on the floor of the train.

Charlie was referred to Dr Rachel O’Beney, who works for Central and North West London Mental Health Foundation NHS Trust.

Webster in London, starting her 3,000-mile charity cycle to Rio

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Webster in London, starting her 3,000-mile charity cycle to RioCredit: Simon Dewhurst
Charlie at the finish of the London Marathon in 2019

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Charlie at the finish of the London Marathon in 2019Credit: Ash Knotek/Snappers

At first they met three times a week and she also had group therapy.

But Charlie, who ran the London Marathon in 2019 to raise funds for charity Malaria No More, admits it was not easy to let her guard down.

She says: “I found it very hard to talk to her.

“I was not very trusting.

“I knew that I needed help but it was very hard for me to open up.

“I’d kind of guarded my heart for a long time and just kept pushing my emotions down.”

Charlie had good reason to be distrustful of people.

Her mother Joy was still at school when she became pregnant at 16.

After Joy, now 57, met a new partner, he physically and mentally abused them.

Charlie has revealed that her step-father would be so controlling that she was too terrified to use the bathroom at night because she would be told off for making a noise.

The abuse became so intolerable that she felt suicidal.

There was no relief outside of the family home in Sheffield, as the talented runner was groomed by her coach, Paul North.

Charlie had joined the all-girl running club aged 12 and the abuse started two years later.

North would sexually assault Charlie during “private training sessions”.

It was only after North was jailed for ten years in 2002, for multiple counts of sexual assault and one rape, that Charlie realised she was not his only victim.

She said she had felt so “ashamed” that she had kept the abuse a secret for 20 years.

But she bravely talked about it in BBC documentary, Nowhere To Run: Abused By Our Coach, in 2021.

It was inspired by her friend Katie, who was also abused by North and whose testimony had helped put him behind bars.

Two years after the documentary aired, Katie devastatingly took her own life.

Charlie presenting on Sky Sports

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Charlie presenting on Sky Sports

Campaigner Charlie, who is part of the Ministry of Justice’s Victims’ Panel, says: “The feelings I had at that time after was guilt.

“I know that it’s not my fault, but I just wish I could have done something because I know that she didn’t want to not live.

“She just wanted the pain to stop — and it was because of what he did.

“But [North] gets to live his life as he’s out now and with his family.”

The long-lasting effects of the abuse have affected Charlie’s love life, too.

The presenter, who once dated Downton Abbey actor Allen Leech, 42, talks candidly about relationships in her book.

She says: “It was the hardest chapter in the book to write because it makes me sad.

“I find it very hard to trust people and let them in.

“I found myself sometimes repeating patterns of behaviour, or I’d go into relationships where I knew they weren’t very good for me.

“Some of the safer relationships felt more unsafe because I was constantly waiting for that person to find out that I’d been abused.

“I remember once in a relationship I told the person — this is before I spoke about it publicly — and they didn’t give a good reaction.

“It made me close down and feel bad about myself.

“It made me feel that I wasn’t loveable.”

Charlie says therapy and exercise, in particular running and walking, have helped her to process her past traumas.

‘I’d love to be a mum’

She now feels ready to find love — and hopes to one day have children.

She admits: “I would absolutely love to have a relationship.

“I’ve got so much to give and I’d love to share that with someone.

“I’d love to have children and I’m scared about my age, I suppose.”

Asked if she would consider doing it alone, Charlie says: “Whatever it may look like, I would love to be a mum.”

Today, Charlie divides her time between London and Los Angeles.

Her true-crime podcast, Scamanda, was in last year’s top ten most-downloaded.

Last week it won two Webby awards for “excellence on the internet”.

Charlie has also taken up dancing on the advice of Dr O’Beney.

She explains: “She told me I needed to find something just for fun, rather than to achieve this or that.”

Now Charlie is eyeing Strictly, although she had to turn down show bosses a few years ago when they first invited her to take part as she was still recovering from malaria.

She says: “We chatted and they wanted me to go on and I just wasn’t well enough. I was gutted.”

With a glint in her eye, she says: “I’m going to Glastonbury for the first time next month and I’m going to just dance and have fun.”

  • Why It’s OK To Talk About Trauma by Charlie Webster is out tomorrow (Headline, £16.99).
Charlie has opened up about the childhood abuse she suffered at the hands of her step-father and a running coach

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Charlie has opened up about the childhood abuse she suffered at the hands of her step-father and a running coach
The presenter says therapy and exercise have helped her to process her past traumas, pictured presenting with BBC Sport

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The presenter says therapy and exercise have helped her to process her past traumas, pictured presenting with BBC Sport

You’re Not Alone

EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide

It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.

It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.

And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.

Yet it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.

That is why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign.

The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.

Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You’re Not Alone.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:

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