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MUSIC HAS GIVEN ME STRENGTH TO LEAVE THE DESPAIR BEHIND

SOMETIMES music is the answer, and never more so than for Martine McCutcheon, who is back in the spotlight after seven years of pain and depression to take part in new nationwide tour, Don Black's Songbook.

Showcasing the legendary songwriter's hits and Oscar-winning scores, the singer and actress found that one song in particular, 'As If We Never Said Goodbye', summed up what she's been through.

"The song is about losing your confidence and losing your footing within the industry and then kind of building yourself back up again. I literally had tears streaming down my face as I did it," she says.

"Not only did it feel like my story, but I also realised that it was still second nature for me to sing, it felt so natural and I was so very grateful for that.

"I told the shocked musicians at the rehearsal session, 'I'm sorry to cry but this is me, this is meant to happen'."

DESTINY

McCutcheon shot to fame aged 18 as Tiffany Mitchell in the BBC soap opera EastEnders, and went on to win a coveted Laurence Olivier award for her portrayal of Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady in a West End production in 2002.

She also played the love-struck secretary to the UK prime minister (Hugh Grant), in 2003's Love Actually.

But then it all came crashing down.

"Years of hell" saw her stricken by the chronic fatigue syndrome ME. She was confined to a wheelchair and even contemplated suicide. Last year, after years being unable to work, she was also declared bankrupt.

Although she now looks glowing with health, with her glossy brunette mane of hair and trademark dimples, McCutcheon (37) says: "It's been very, very tough. It's taken me a long time to get myself together and get back again.

"There have been many times when I was so depressed I didn't want to go on. Suffering excruciating pain for years with no medicine to ease it can get the better of you."

McCutcheon, originally from Hackney, London, first suffered minor health problems while she was performing in My Fair Lady, eventually forcing her to pull out of the highly successful show after a year.

Even so, nothing prepared her for a few years later, when she felt so ill that she collapsed 20 times, piled on weight, and suffered depression.

"I had unbelievable pain in my muscles and my joints, was incredibly tired and fatigued the whole time and was so weak I couldn't even lift my arms above my head to wash my hair.

"What was awful was that I genuinely thought I was going mad because I kept going to all these experts and having blood tests but nobody could find anything that made sense.

"The doctors finally had a 'eureka' moment and told me what I had but then revealed they didn't know what to do about it. That was a double whammy of a blow, I felt in complete despair," she explains.

Luckily, throughout it all, she was sustained by the love of her husband, singer/songwriter Jack McManus, who she married in 2012.

"Jack was definitely sent to me from somewhere special above because I just don't know how I would have carried on without him," she says.

RELATIONSHIP

"He's been a massive part of my recovery. When I gave up on us, our relationship and my career, and my confidence was on the floor, he never, ever did.

"He isn't just my husband, he's my best friend, and I discovered through the dark times more than ever that I did really, really love him."

While still has to cope with symptoms of ME, she feels she has gained more understanding of why the illness struck and how to deal with it.

"I was very young when I found success and I am by nature a perfectionist to the point of fault," she says.

"I definitely paid a price for that. I was incredibly hard on myself. No matter how many people told me I was talented or beautiful or whatever, I would feel I had to prove myself and push harder.

"My mind was incredibly strong, so I think the only thing that could force me to stop and make me take time out to smell the roses was my body stopping of its own accord. I think in life you go through truly rocky times, and you just have to grit your teeth and keep going, hoping that tomorrow will bring something different," she says.

"When you get a second chance, everything is a little brighter and more special than the first time around. You appreciate every single second and don't take anything for granted."

In her upcoming musical tour, she will appear with West End star Gary Gimlet and actress Maria Friedman.

The Don Black Songbook tour starts March 25. See ticketmaster.co.uk

HNEWS@HERALD.IE


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