Jason Donovan back from rock bottom

EMMA LEE Later this week, former teen heart-throb Jason Donovan will be signing copies of his new tell-all book, Between the Lines, at Waterstone’s in Norwich this Thursday. EMMA LEE looks back at a career which has taken him from Ramsay Street to the West End to the depths of the reality TV jungle – and finds out about the personal demons he’s had to beat to get there.

EMMA LEE

In May, 1989, Jason Donovan-mania hit Norwich. the Neighbours heart-throb turned Stock Aiken and Waterman singing star paid a fleeting visit to a city nightclub.

And before his trip was over, almost 200 fans, over-exhausted by seeing their idol up close and personal, needed medical treatment.

But as his candid new autobiography Between the Lines reveals, behind the pearly-white perma-smile and perky pop tunes was a troubled soul, who after trying and failing to find the credibility and cool he craved, turned to drugs instead to fill the void.

He started with marijuana, followed by cocaine. Even suffering a drug-induced seizure wasn't the wake up call he needed. That finally came when he became a father.

A much more content Jason, whose profile has rocketed since he appeared on the reality show I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here last year, was inspired to write a memoir of his journey to rock bottom and back again.

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And Jason-mania may well return to Norwich on Thursday when he holds a book-signing at Waterstones.

The son of an actor and a TV presenter, showbusiness was in his blood and aged just 11 he won a role in the lunchtime drama series Skyways - opposite a certain Kylie Minogue.

But his childhood was marred by the departure of his mother when his parents split up when he was just five. It was a bitter divorce, resulting in his father winning full custody, and he didn't see his mother again until he was grown up. It left him insecure and terrified of rejection.

Jason had just finished school when he clinched the part which was to be his passport to fame and fortune - Scott Robinson in Neighbours. Not long after, he was joined by Kylie Minogue who played his girlfriend Charlene Mitchell.

Their off-screen are-they-aren't-they relationship (yes they were, but both were very coy about it at the time) kept audiences guessing and both departed Ramsay Street for singing careers. Their relationship crumbled and girl-next-door Kylie grew up fast, hooking up with wildman INXS rocker Michael Hutchence.

But while Kylie became a pop queen, credibility eluded Jason, who, after a string of solo chart hits, went on to star in the West End stage in the revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

In a recent interview with the EDP Saturday magazine, he said: “I looked at myself in 1992 with a loin cloth and a pair of fluffy socks and a Joseph coat and thought is this me? At home I'd be listening to Nirvana records.

“But you've got to understand that there had been a very big shift from the 1980s into that sort of grunge, heroin-chic era. That didn't help.”

What also didn't help was his famous libel action against the Face magazine. He sued for libel over an article which inferred he had lied when he said he wasn't gay. He won, but it was a hollow victory, alienating him from his gay fanbase.

As, sadly is so often the case, drugs became his means of escape.

“I took them (drugs) to alleviate the daily routine and boredom. They gave me extreme highs, but the substance of those highs was very thin,” he said.

The wake-up call he needed came when his girlfriend, Angela Malloch, who he had met when he was in a touring production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, discovered she was pregnant. They were estranged at the time, due to his refusal to kick his drug habit, and Ange, as he calls her, wrote to tell him she was keeping the baby.

It was then he finally found the impetus to turn his life around. The couple later reunited and now have two children, Jemma and Zac.

“You've got to want to change and you can get as many people giving you advice that you think you need, but without the will to change it's useless.

“I was walking around with my daughter in a baby sling on my chest and it felt pretty good. In fact, it felt better than sitting in a room alone snorting cocaine. I had a new drug in my life and that was the love that I felt for my child,” he said recently.

Now nearly 40, Jason's career is back on the up (ignoring his Iceland adverts with Kerry Katona) thanks to his stint in the I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here jungle in 2006, where he came third.

“I believe the real turning point for me was the jungle. It allowed people to see me as me. There was an interest in me as a person rather than me as Joseph or me on Neighbours or my relationships or taking drugs. It enabled people to have an insight into Jason Donovan,” he said.

As well as writing his book, he's starring opposite Martine McCutcheon in ITV1's new soap Echo Beach, due to air early in the new year, is recording new solo material and has just announced a UK tour for 2008, including a date in our region at the Ipswich Regent Theatre.

“I'm still ambitious but I'm not desperate to change the world. I'm starting to get a bit more respect for the work that I do. I'm also ambitious to be a good dad. Let's start with that and work back from there.”

Jason Donovan will be signing copies of his autobiography Between the Lines: My Story Uncut at Waterstone's (formerly Ottakars), Castle Street, Norwich, on Thursday, December 13, from 12.30pm.

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