DENISE Welch is radiating health and happiness, and looking decades younger than her 61 years. Her obvious contentment and new-found confidence has been hard won – but there's plenty to celebrate.
The Loose Women panellist, who first found fame in Coronation Street, previously said her life was "spiralling out of control", due to well-documented problems with alcohol.
Now, she's celebrating eight years of sobriety with her husband, artist Lincoln Townley (47) and says their marriage has brought her serenity. She attributes her health and figure to following a LighterLife plan (she's now also an ambassador for the brand).
"Personally, I think age gets a bad rap because I feel more confident in myself now than I ever did in my 40s and 50s," says warm, down-to-earth Welch, during a characteristically candid chat.
"Being older allows you not to be bothered by all the bulls**t like I was when I was younger, because I'm so happy in my own skin. I was such a people-pleaser in the past.
"I've taken all the bad things out of my life, and my mental illness doesn't make as many visits as it did, so I just feel more in control."
Seven years ago, Welch lost two stone, which she's maintained with the LighterLife plan.
"I love the way I look now. I'm around a size 12 and although I may have a bit of a wobbly tum and cellulite, I don't think I look bad for 61. I'm certainly not a super model but I'm making the best of myself.
"Most importantly, I'm healthy and LighterLife enables me to have a normal relationship with food, free from punishing diets and denial."
Here, Welch – who has two sons from her previous marriage to actor Tim Healy – opens up about her wellbeing...
:: What effect has your weight-loss had?
"It's been brilliant because extra weight affected my breathing, contributing to my osteoarthritis flaring up, and as I have a latent back problem I need to avoid pressure on it. Once I lost the excess pounds, I lost those symptoms and thanks to Lighter Life I find it easy to maintain a steady weight.
"I feel proud of those shots of me in a bikini that I put on social media, because before if I looked slim in a bikini, it was because of all the bad things that kept me slim – drinking and smoking – whereas now I may have a wobbly tummy and cellulite but I'm healthier than I've ever been.
"Also I hope I inspire women my age that they don't need to be defined by a number on a birth certificate, and if they want to wear bikinis they should go for it!"
:: Why did you lay bare your recent period of depression in live videos on Twitter ?
"I've talked openly about my depression for 31 years – it began after I gave birth to my son, Matty, and over the years I've gone through some incredibly dark times and suffered a lot of pain with it.
"Last September, what I call my 'Unwelcome Visitor' came calling and I thought, as a mental health advocate, I can't just show the lovely happy things in my life, I have to show the bad times as well. I hope I can help others going through it, and those who are going through it with them, and raise awareness.
"I never know when an episode is going to happen, but when it does, it's like all the colour goes out of my life. I can't experience emotion, and the people I normally love being with, I don't want to be around. It's blighted my life and the lives of my family on many occasions. It's cruel, isolating and in the main invisible."
:: Your new book, The Unwelcome Visitor, is due to be published on June 25 – what do you hope it'll achieve?
"Though we have come a long way, this crippling, debilitating illness is still shockingly misunderstood. Those who suffer from depression will understand my story, and those who don't will hopefully learn how to understand.
"I consider anyone who survives severe clinical depression a survivor. I was asked to write [the book] after publishers saw my videos, but writing it was hard because it took me back to some dark times. I realised how many wonderful moments were ruined for me, but I still look back on my life as a happy one.
"Experiencing depression has taught me to really enjoy the periods in between. I'm very grateful for normality – I'm not striving for ultra happiness. We live in a world of 'compare and despair' on the internet and social media, but actually it's really about feeling normal, going through a day not feeling poorly, and appreciating every day."
:: What does Lincoln mean to you?
"Everything. He's the man of my dreams. We've been married for seven years and are a team. We've come through some very bumpy times, gave up alcohol together and have supported each other all the way.
"When I first realised I had fallen in love with him, I worried he hadn't seen me go through an episode of depression and wondered how he would react. He was absolutely incredible, with such empathy for me from moment one."
:: Do you ever notice the 15-year age gap?
"Neither of us ever think about it. Lincoln has always liked older women. I certainly wasn't looking for a younger man but as soon as we met, that was it. He's an old soul and tells me every day how gorgeous I am, so it's cool."
:: How bad is your snoring problem?
"I talked about it on Loose Women because it's easy to dismiss it as a joke, but not only is it affecting my life but also Lincoln's life, it's so bad. I've measured just how loud it is with a snoring app, the average is 25 decimals – mine is 94! A friend staying with us recently thought there was an earthquake when he heard me in the middle of the night!
"Lincoln is incredibly tolerant and sweet about it and only moves to the spare room if it's really bad. It definitely makes me more tired, because clearly it stops me sleeping well, and it's concerning because if it's a form of sleep apnoea it can [be risky]. I'm currently having tests and they suspect it might be a huge Vitamin B12 deficiency as my tongue is slightly swollen, which could affect my breathing."
How do you look after your health?
"My diet is really healthy and when I'm on the LighterLife plan, it's packed with vitamins, which is great. I have to confess although I'm very hard-working, I'm quite lazy in regards to physical fitness. I walk a lot and occasionally tone up my arms using weights."
:: To find out more, visit lighterlife.com