Ant McPartlin was facing a life-or-death decision in the summer of 2017.
Stay in an unhappy marriage and allow his addiction to further spiral out of control.
Or follow his heart by breaking free, focussing on sobriety and then attempting to rebuild his career.
It took him some time – and a devastating drink drive crash that could have killed someone and came close to derailing his comeback altogether – before he chose the latter option.
But this weekend Ant will marry the love of his life Anne Marie Corbett – clean, sober and blissfully happy, with his status as one half of the country’s most successful TV duo restored.
This weekend Ant McPartlin will marry the love of his life Anne Marie Corbett – clean, sober and blissfully happy, with his status as one half of the country’s most successful TV duo restored
It’s a life lesson that sometimes making the unconscionably tough decisions in the short-term will bring lifelong peace.
And it’s a reminder that trying to overcome personal challenges on your own can be impossible.
Because behind this fairy tale comeback has been Anne Marie – his self-described ‘rock’ who is about to become his wife.
I feel proud of Ant – who is innately private despite his superstar status in Britain – for living through such a difficult recovery in the glare of the public spotlight.
It was in August 2017 when I first sat down with the Saturday Night Takeaway presenter, just out of a two-month rehab stint, at a house in West London where he would reveal to the world just how close to death he’d come because of an addiction to a cocktail of drugs for the past two years that had seen him rushed to hospital after an ‘insane’ binge on tramadol, morphine and alcohol.
I had spent time with and interviewed Ant and Dec countless times over the years in my former role as a presenter at ITV’s Lorraine show, but this was the first time he had ever spoken without his loyal sidekick and best friend by his side.
The experience was, I have no doubt, incredibly difficult for him, but he knew the importance of sharing his story with his millions of fans before returning to TV.
And in a brutally honest admission, Ant told me: ‘I was at the point where anything — prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs — I would take. And take them with alcohol, which is ridiculous. The doctors told me, ‘You could have killed yourself’.’
In hindsight, his comeback came far too soon.
While I was hopeful, I remember walking away from our very honest encounter thinking the chances of a smooth path back to sobriety and happiness were bleak.
Flowers being arranged ahead of the wedding of Ant McPartlin and Anne-Marie Corbett at St Michael’s Church in Heckfield
Ant was obviously still depressed, with sadness etched on his face at all times, and in crippling pain thanks to a botched knee operation. He was clearly still struggling without stimulants. And he was grappling with the difficult reality of having to end his 11-year marriage to Lisa Armstrong.
When I enquired about the whether his relationship with the Strictly Come Dancing make-up artist could survive, he would only say: ‘All I can say at the moment is that she’s been amazing – fantastic throughout. She’s been very supportive. As has Dec. Time will tell (about the marriage). It’s very personal, isn’t it.’
Immediately after the interview, Lisa went back to work and Ant went to stay with his mum in Newcastle.
I knew the marriage was effectively over, but it would take five months for Ant to confirm publicly he was seeking a divorce.
Just two months after that, in March 2018, the horrible news emerged that Ant had been arrested for drink driving after hitting two cars in his Mini in South West London.
But by June, Ant had emerged from rehab again and it was revealed he was dating his former personal assistant Anne Marie.
From that moment on, his life was on the up.
That’s not casting aspersions on Lisa, who had done all she possibly could, but such an unhappy union had become a huge weight on Ant.
Ant’s second solo interview – again with me – came in January 2019.
By this time, he was genuinely a different man, right down to the Alcoholics Anonymous symbol tattooed on his left wrist.
Ant and Anne Marie deserve the most joyous of celebrations – they’re proof that love really can conquer all, writes DAN WOOTTON (pictured)
Resolute, stone cold sober, in control of his life again, deliriously happy and, above anything else, completely and utterly in love.
Having been reluctant to talk about Lisa in our previous interview, his eyes lit up when explaining how Anne Marie had saved him from himself, stressing they were both single and in ‘turmoil’ when they realised they were in love.
Speaking from his heart, he declared to me: ‘Anne-Marie honestly is the fundamental reason for the great change in my life. She’s been my rock. She’s a beautiful soul. We’re very happy. I’m in the best place I’ve been in my life, to be honest with you. It’s great.’
And blasting criticism from Lisa that Anne Marie had broken the girl code by starting a relationship with Ant as ‘absolute rubbish’, he fired back: ‘She is the most wonderful true woman. And the way we are and when people see us together they’ll see how honest and kind and happy we make each other.’
In just 18 months, Ant was a man transformed.No longer in denial about the extent of his addiction, thanks to Anne Marie, who had become his sober partner, he now had the support system around him to stay off alcohol and drugs.
I was in no doubt their love was real and would propel Ant back to the top.
Thankfully, that’s exactly how things have turned out.
Even though the divorce from Lisa was torturous for Ant, with bitter recriminations resulting in a settlement worth tens of millions, he has never veered off course.
It’s an old cliché, of course, but Ant stressed to me that money hadn’t bought him happiness. What had was a woman who he had known in a personal and professional capacity for years, but who he fell in love with when the chips were down.
Anne Marie is a devoted mum to her two children to her ex, so their courtship has been a sensitive one.
But this weekend, their love will triumph all as they tie the knot in a relatively low-key ceremony surrounded by 100 close friends – the people who really matter.
Ant knows who his true friends are now – the people who didn’t run a mile when he was sitting destitute in a prison cell.
And he also knows that without the unwavering love of Anne Marie he may not have got through these hellish past few years at all.
As Ant told me of the secret behind their special bond: ‘It’s magic isn’t it? Who knows. If I knew, I’d bottle it.’
Ant and Anne Marie deserve the most joyous of celebrations – they’re proof that love really can conquer all.