Authors Posts by Helen O'Brien

Helen O'Brien

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Ceri with Eleri and sister Becky
Ceri with Eleri and sister Becky
My daughter Ceri had everything to live for. But her life was about to fall apart…
By Eleri Linden, 50, from Colwyn Bay, North Wales

As she swung her overnight bag over her shoulder, I could hear the excitement in my daughter Ceri’s voice.

“This is going to be a good night,” she beamed. “Bye Mum!”

“Bye, love,” I said. “Have fun.”

Ceri had been through a really rough time. She’d suffered badly with depression and I felt she hadn’t got the help she needed from the health service.

Her relationship with her partner, Sam, had also broken down and their two-year-old daughter Bethan was living with him because of Ceri’s health problems.

It had been a tough few years for us all. But, finally, there was some light at the end of the tunnel. Ceri had an interview for a science course at a college in Chester.

She was so excited, she’d already put down a deposit on a student flat with two friends.

“If I pass, I’ll be able to apply for university,” she told me.

I was so proud. Ceri had always been top of the class and she had so much potential. Now, she and her friends had planned a big night out in Chester to celebrate.

They couldn’t wait to find out where all the best bars and clubs were.

Hopefully this time she’s turned the corner, I thought.

I’d been looking after Ceri’s beloved springer spaniel Bella while she was away. When she got home, I texted her asking if she wanted take her for a walk along the beach.

Within seconds, my phone had buzzed with a reply which made my blood run cold.

It read: I can’t. Something terrible has happened.

My insides twisted as I dialled Ceri’s number.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I asked, as soon as she answered. “You know you can tell me anything.”

Ceri
Ceri

Poor Ceri was crying so much I couldn’t make out what she was saying.

“I’m coming over,” I said, before jumping in the car and making the two minute journey to her house.

Ceri didn’t answer the door, so I ran upstairs to her bedroom. She was hiding under the covers and her eyes were red and blotchy.

 

“Mum, I’ve been raped,” she croaked, before breaking down in floods of tears.

Shock and horror rushed through my veins but I knew I had to keep it together for Ceri’s sake.

“Oh, darling,” I said, trying to stay calm. “Just start from the beginning and tell me everything.”

“I got into a car thinking it was a taxi,” she wept. “But the driver took me to his house and forced himself on me.”

I hugged Ceri as she explained she’d asked the driver to wait for her friends, but he’d sped off. He’d driven her to his home and ordered her to turn her phone off and go inside.

She’d refused at first but, scared of what he’d do to her, she felt like she had no choice.

“Then I managed to escape,” Ceri said, between sobs. “I ran as fast as I could and hid in a bush in the next street but I could see his car. He was driving around, looking for me.”

 

In hysterics, Ceri phoned her friend Carl, who called the police. Hearing the commotion a neighbour came out to see what was going on.

Shockingly, the neighbour showed Ceri no sympathy. She just bundled her into a taxi and sent her on her way, refusing to let her wait for the police.

“I just walked the streets alone for hours,” Ceri admitted.

My poor, poor girl.

“Why didn’t you call me?” I gasped.

“I didn’t want to worry you,” Ceri replied.

“But I’m your mum,” I said. “I’d have been there in a flash, if only you’d told me.”

On the bedside table, Ceri’s phone started buzzing.

 

“It’s the police,” she said, cancelling the call. “They’ve been ringing me ever since Carl phoned them.”

“Maybe best to answer,” I said, gently. “We don’t want this horrible man on the loose.”

Ceri and Bethan
Ceri and Bethan

In no time, there were two officers at Ceri’s door. They took a statement and I couldn’t believe how much she could remember about her attacker.

She described his car, what he looked like and where his house was. She even remembered what way his driveway faced.

“You’re so brave,” I told her.

The next day, Ceri was taken to Manchester for humiliating forensic examinations. I held her hand in the back of the police car as we travelled there.

“I don’t know if I can go through with this,” she told the officers, shaking. “I don’t want to face him in court. What if I’m made out to be a liar?”

But the police talked her round and eventually she agreed to give a video interview.

 

A few days later, we got the call we’d been waiting for.

“They’ve arrested a man called Masood Mansouri,” Ceri said. “He’s been refused bail.”

Masood Mansouri
Masood Mansouri

Even though she’d had a bit to drink, Ceri’s descriptions were so detailed the police had tracked her attacker down within days.

I hoped this would give her a bit of a boost, but she still seemed withdrawn and down. I stayed up all night chatting to her, trying to make her feel better, but it didn’t work.

She didn’t even want to eat.

“Why don’t I cook us a roast?” I suggested. “I’ll pop to the shops and get some really nice food.”

I knew my other daughters, Becky, 18, and Emma, 16, would enjoy a nice family dinner, too.

“Whatever,” Ceri shrugged.

 

Ceri was vegetarian, so I made sure I picked up some quorn chicken. I was only gone for around half an hour and I picked up a pastry to take back to her, too.

When I got home, she was still sitting on the couch, in the same position I’d left her.

We chatted as normal for around ten minutes before Ceri said the words which would change all of our lives forever.

“Mum, I love you,” she began. “But I’ve taken an overdose.”

Frantically, I quizzed Ceri on what she’d done. She was barely able to tell me she’d downed a bottle of my blood pressure tablets before she passed out, slumping on the couch.

I let out a scream so piercing Becky sprinted into the living room. My hands were shaking as I dialled 999.

“I need an ambulance, now!” I choked. “My daughter’s taken an overdose!”

For the next half hour, Ceri slipped in and out of consciousness, struggling for breath, but there was no sign of the ambulance.

 

Poor Becky had to hold her sister’s mouth open to help her get some air in her lungs.

“Where are you?” I screamed down the phone at the ambulance call handler. “Why haven’t you come?”

“I’ll make sure an ambulance comes now,” she assured me. Around fifteen minutes later, sirens came screeching down the street.

But just as they placed Ceri on the stretcher, she had a massive heart attack.

Ceri
Ceri

Deep down, I knew we’d lost her, but I ran to my car and Becky, Emma and I followed the ambulance to hospital.

“It’s not looking good,” a doctor warned us.

The next few minutes passed in a blur. Becky and Emma were hysterical and I tried to comfort them, but nothing could calm them down.

 

Eventually, I spied a sombre looking doctor walking towards us.

“We’ve tried to resuscitate Ceri but there’s nothing more we can do,” she said, solemnly.

We clung to each other and cried as she asked for our permission to turn off Ceri’s life support machine.

“Do you want to say a final goodbye?” she asked, but it was too painful. We didn’t want to remember Ceri lying lifeless on a hospital bed.

I couldn’t understand how my beautiful, clever, loving girl was gone. She was just 20.

For the next few months, we were lost in a haze of grief. Without Ceri, life seemed pointless but Bethan gave us a reason to go on.

“Where’s my mummy?” she’d ask.

“She’s in the stars, darling,” we’d reply, choking back tears.

 

In time, Masood Mansouri, 33, appeared at Chester Crown Court, charged with rape, kidnap and sexual assault. Ceri’s video evidence was played to the jury.

I couldn’t face sitting in court listening to Mansouri’s lies, so I read about the case in the papers. It made me sick to my stomach when he told the court Ceri had come onto him in the taxi.

I thought: Why would my beautiful girl touch a monster like you?

Finally, on April 30 this year, I got a call from the police.

“Mansouri has been found guilty of all charges,” an officer told me. “He got thirteen years in jail.”

She added that he’d probably be deported back to his native Iran when he was released.

It was the first time in British legal history that a rapist had been convicted without the victim being cross examined by the defence.

 

I burst into tears but soon my relief turned to anger. This man’s actions had driven my lovely Ceri to her death and nothing would bring her back.

Like many rape victims, she’d have been traumatised at the idea of taking the stand against Mansouri and I know the thought of being cross examined would have terrified her in her final days.

I can only hope her case might spare other girls the trauma of giving evidence in court after a sexual assault.

The pain of losing Ceri rips me apart every day but it gives me some comfort to know she helped put her attacker behind bars, where he can’t hurt another innocent girl.

When Eleri lost her daughter in such tragic circumstances she was lost in grief, but she was able to find some comfort in the fact she helped put her attacker behind bars, protecting other women.  We helped her sell her story to a newspaper and two magazines, as a tribute to her daughter and also to raise awareness to other young women. If you’d like to share a story with the national press, fill in the form on the right and one of our team will give you a call to gently talk you through the process.

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Michelle sold her story to Take a Break
Michelle sold her story to Take a Break
I was in denial about my size, until a holiday snap gave me the hump…
By Michelle Cottam, 31, from Neath

The hot sun shone brightly as we made our way across the gravelly path to the camels.

The animals sat in huddles at the base of the large black rock with seats hung over each of their humps.

‘Oh my goodness,’ I said with a huge grin on my face. ‘They are lovely!’

I’d never seen a camel in real life before and immediately got my husband Gary, 53, to take a snap of me beside the big beasts.

This will be one for the photo album, I thought to myself.

 

I was wearing a pretty, frilly vest top and although I’d been struggling with my weight, I felt good.

Michelle with the camel
Michelle with the camel

We were in Lanzarote with our one-year-old son, Sam, and counting calories couldn’t have been further from my mind.

I’d stuffed some lovely but baggy size 20 outfits into my suitcase and thought nothing more of it.

We even had a private pool which meant I could happily swim with my baby – something I would never attempt at home. I didn’t want people sneering at my rolls of flab in a bathing costume.

I hadn’t always been big. I’d been slim until my late teens when my lifestyle suddenly changed. I started partying with friends and on boozy nights out, I’d down bottles of sugary alcopops before grabbing a greasy kebab on the way home.

Then during the day, I’d binge on convenience foods like pizza before feasting on a Chinese takeaway after a busy day at work.

I was a sucker for special fried rice and I loved tucking into a huge portion of duck in plum sauce. I couldn’t get enough.

 

But although my junk food diet had taken its toll on my frame, in truth, I took no notice. By the time Sam came along in March 2011, my diet had taken a backseat to life as a busy mum.

However as my weight soared to a giant 18 stone, my confidence plummeted. I loved playing with my little boy but I refused to join a mother and toddler group for fear of being judged and I dreaded Sam starting school.

I hated the thought of being the fat mummy at the school gates. I vowed to slim by the time Sam was school age – but there was plenty of time for that…

Then one day, shortly after our holiday in the Canary Islands, I was browsing through our sunshine snaps when I came across the camel picture.

I immediately got the hump. I looked enormous!

My cheeks burned red with shame as I realised I had more lumps and bumps than the camel. I was horrified.

I’d been in denial about my size until then, but that unflattering photo was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

 

‘I had no idea I was that big!’ I said to Gary, ashamed. ‘How can anyone look big next to a camel?’

‘I love you no matter what,’ Gary replied, as he wrapped me up in a reassuring hug. ‘You’re beautiful to me.’

Michelle before weight loss
Michelle before weight loss

I replied: ‘But I’m not beautiful to me.

I had to change, and fast. I looked into diet plans and decided to kickstart my weight loss by swapping two meals a day for health shakes.

I was surprised how easy it was to substitute processed junk foods with the vitamin-filled drinks. They were so filling, I didn’t even miss my old habits.

The pounds fell off and within 18 months I’d shed an incredible seven-and-a-half stones.

‘You know I don’t care what size you are but you look amazing,’ Gary said to me one evening, eyeing me up in a beautiful maxi dress.

I blushed. I could only have dreamed of wearing a tight, floor-length gown before my weight loss.

 

I used to try and hide my flabby frame under unshapely clothes but now I enjoy flattering my 10-and-a-half stone, size 12 body in skinny jeans and slinky dresses.

My life has completely changed and my confidence has soared.

Michelle now
Michelle now

Sam is now four and when he starts school in September I’ll have no concerns about picking him up  at the school gates. I’ve gone from a ten-ton mum to a yummy mummy.

That horror holiday snap may have given me the hump but I owe an awful lot to that camel!

Michelle was mortified when her holiday snaps came back and one photo in particular gave her the hump! It spurred her on to lose seven stone though so she came to Sell My Story to share her slimming success, selling her story to Take a Break, inspiring countless other women. If you’ve lost weight and want to tell your story, fill in the form on the right and we’ll give you a call to explain how it works.

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Cheryl with her son Danny
Cheryl with her son Danny
I was looking forward to a week of sun, sea, and sangria. But my relaxation plans soon came crashing down…
By Cheryl Reynolds, 29, from Edinburgh

Clocking in for my shift at the hospital, I gave my workmate Jennie a wide grin.

“Let’s book it later,” I said.

We both had annual leave coming up, and we’d decided to treat ourselves to a break abroad.

After all, as hardworking nurses we deserved to put our feet up for a while.

Images of the clear blue sea lapping at the shore were all that was keeping me smiling through my long shifts.

I wanted a complete change of scene. I love my home in Edinburgh, but somewhere more exotic would be a very welcome change.

My son Danny, two, would be at his dad’s that week so the timing was ideal. So, later that day we got on the computer to start looking at the deals.

“I just want somewhere hot and sunny,” I said.

“Well there’s a great offer here for Lanzarote,” Jennie replied.

I’d never been before, but it seemed to fit the bill.

“The Canary Islands are great,” Jennie assured me, entering our bank details.

I couldn’t wait. Although our holiday was only weeks away, the days seemed to creep by.

In the meantime I decided to check out our destination online, to see what I had to look forward to.

I clicked through pictures of beautiful long beaches and scrolled through promising weather reports.

 

But then, I spotted a detail that chilled me. I didn’t know Lanzarote was a volcanic island!

I’ve always had an irrational fear of volcanoes. The thought of waves of molten lava engulfing towns, villages and people made me shudder.

You didn’t tell me we’d be sleeping next to a volcano! I texted Jennie

She told me off for being such a worrier. After all, we were going on holiday to relax.

As our date of departure in March drew closer, I popped in to see my mum to say goodbye.

“Look after yourself,” she made me promise.

I rolled my eyes, and gave her a hug.

 

She said: “Before I forget, I’ve got something for you.”

Mum waved a sheaf of paperwork in my direction. I was confused.

“I’ve sorted your holiday insurance, love,” she explained.

Getting insurance hadn’t even crossed my mind. I was sure I wouldn’t need it, even with a volcano just up the road. I tucked the papers safely in my bag though.

“Thanks Mum,” I said.

Just days later Jennie and I checked in at the airport. We couldn’t be happier to be jetting off for our sunshine break.

As soon as we stepped off the plane I felt a wave of humid, warm air wash over me.

This is ideal, I thought, the heat already relaxing my tired muscles.

 

We settled in at the hotel complex with plans to get up bright and early the next day to explore.

 

So, after a good night’s sleep we headed down to reception to get some tips of where to go.

 

“There’s a lovely beach just over the road,” the receptionist said.

 

“Sounds good to me,” I said.

 

My pale Scottish skin was ready for some sun, so I’d already pulled on some little shorts and a vest top.

Cheryl on the beach just before accident
Cheryl on the beach just before accident

We followed her directions and minutes later we stepped out onto the rocky shore.

 

“Ooh it’s the scary volcanic rock,” Jennie joked.

 

I said: “Don’t remind me.”

 

I’m a natural poser so I was soon mucking around on the stones as Jennie snapped away with her camera.

She gasped as I flipped up into a headstand, right by the water’s edge.

“Let’s get a nice picture now,” she said.

I wandered over to a bank of rocks stacked along the rear of the beach. Then I pulled myself up onto a big flat boulder.

I perched in a flirty pose with one hand on the rock beside me, while Jennie stepped back for a good shot.

“That’s a fantastic one,” she said.

“Your turn now,” I said.

Cheryl on the beach just before accident
Cheryl on the beach just before accident

I wriggled forward to hop down for my chance behind the camera.

Then, I felt the rock beneath my hand crumble away.

 

I barely had time to scream as the stone I’d been safely sitting on just moments before rocked forward.

Then the whole bank of rocks tumbled down on top of me.

I’m going to die, I thought.

Seconds later I opened my eyes to clouds of dust. My survival instincts kicked in and I dragged myself through the gap I’d landed in.

I knew there could be a second avalanche, and I didn’t want to be there when that happened. That’s when I collapsed, winded and covered in blood, at Jennie’s feet.

My left foot was turned inwards at a sickening angle, and my shin bone was poking out of my leg. I couldn’t even feel my foot.

Being a nurse, I knew this wasn’t good.

Aftermath of the rockslide
Aftermath of the rockslide

So, in a snap decision, I twisted my foot back into position to make sure the blood was still flowing.

 

Meanwhile, Jennie was just staring open-mouthed at me in utter shock.

“I think I’ve broken stuff,” I said. Then I started screaming.

A Spanish guy ran over to help. He pulled off his canvas backpack and pushed it down hard on my leg to stem the spurting blood.

Then an English firefighter who was there on holiday dashed across too.

“Just stay still, there’s an ambulance on the way,” he said. A crowd quickly gathered, with everyone trying to help.

There was a young woman pouring cold water over me to stop me going into shock. Others shared encouraging words, telling me to keep calm and reassuring me I’d be alright.

Then my vision went completely black and I battled to stay conscious until the ambulance arrived.

The firefighter helped to carefully shift me onto a spinal board. Then the paramedics injected me with morphine, and I drifted into a haze.

 

At the hospital doctors and nurses swarmed around me. I groaned in agony as they scrubbed at my wounds to clean the dirty volcanic dust away.

The pain was like nothing I had felt before. It was even worse than childbirth!

After x-rays I was diagnosed with a compound tibia and fibula fracture, and my pelvis was shattered in four places.

At least I’m alive, I told myself. Those rocks could have killed me.

Eventually my leg was splinted with a plaster cast and I was wheeled off to a bed on a ward. Jennie was still by my side, gripping my hand.

Cheryl in hospital
Cheryl in hospital

“Don’t worry, I’ll get in touch with your family,” she said.

That’s when I remembered the paperwork my mum had given me.

I said: “I’ve got travel insurance too. Can you call them?”

 

It’s a good job Mum is such a worrier after all, I thought.

For the next three days Jennie spent hours on the phone to the insurance company while I was laid up in bed.

It wasn’t the relaxing break either of us had imagined.

“Make sure you’re still working on your tan,” I said to Jennie.

I didn’t want her holiday to be ruined, just because my sunbathing plans had come crashing down.

She was by my side for visiting hours every single day though. Instead of cocktails and sunloungers, we had hospital drips and my big metal bed.

“At least we got a couple of holiday photos in first,” I said.

Jennie showed me that final picture on her camera.

 

It was strange seeing myself looking so happy, with no idea what would happen just seconds later.

I’d need surgery for my broken bones, but the waiting list was huge. So, the insurance company arranged for me to be transferred to a private hospital.

That’s where doctors discovered I had an internal bleed. They explained a shard of my pelvis had nicked an artery.

I had four pints of blood pumped into me, before I was rushed off for a lifesaving operation.

The surgeon fixed external frames to support my leg bones and my pelvis too.

Ten days later I was flown back to Scotland in an air ambulance.

My mum was so relieved to see me, and Danny crawled up onto the hospital bed to give me a big hug.

Learning to walk again
Learning to walk again

I spent another few weeks in hospital in Edinburgh, where I had another operation to permanently pin my leg into shape.

Within a week I was defying doctors’ expectations, hobbling around with a walking frame. They’d said I would be bed bound for six weeks.

Now, several months later, I’m still relying on crutches while my leg fully heals.

I knew that volcano would get me somehow, but I wasn’t expecting to be struck by an avalanche of rocks.

I’ll never forget my Lanzarote holiday – I’ve got Jennie’s beach photo to remind me!

Cheryl was looking forward to some sun, sea and relaxation when she got stuck in a Lanzarote landslide. When her friend showed her the picture to prove it, she decided to share her shocking story with the readers of Take a Break and The Sun. If you’ve had a holiday disaster and would like to sell your story, complete the form on the right and one of our team will give you a call to talk you through the process.

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Deborah sold her story to Take a Break
Deborah sold her story to Take a Break

 

I should have been over the moon when my Anthony proposed, but I had a big fat problem…
By Deborah Goodchild, 43, from Swindon

Slumping on the sofa, I reached for the family-sized packet of crisps next to me. After a hard day at work, I often came home feeling tired, so I ate to make myself  feel better.

 

After the crisps, I then scoffed a whole large bar of chocolate – and that was after having a massive curry for tea.

But snacking only helped me feel better for about half an hour, and then I was back to feeling lethargic and depressed.

My weight became a problem after I gave birth to my daughter, Ashleigh, now 23. Diagnosed with bad postnatal depression, I comfort ate my way through the dark moments.

I’d start the day with a pile of toast dripping with butter, lunch would be a mayonnaise-filled sandwich, then I’d snack on piles of chocolate, biscuits and crisps all day.

I’d then devour a takeaway for dinner followed by even more chocolate and crisps before bed.

It was hardly a surprise when my weight crept up to a staggering 19st 5lbs, and I hid my hulking frame in drab size 28 clothes. And although I tried to convince myself I didn’t care, I felt frumpy and unattractive.

Deborah before her weight loss
Deborah before her weight loss

It didn’t help that shopping was such a nightmare – I was limited to plus-sized shops like Evans and specialist stores online.

 

I didn’t like going out with friends as I could never find anything nice to wear, so I just stopped going out altogether.

I was lucky though – my partner Anthony, 44, loved me for who I was, and was more than happy to snuggle up with me on the sofa with a massive pizza and a tub of ice-cream.

We got together in 1998 and hit if off straight away – I knew he was the right man for me. A year later, on Valentine’s Day, Anthony took me out for a romantic dinner and suddenly proposed.

My heart flipped when I saw the sparkling engagement ring, and I couldn’t stopped myself from beaming.

‘Yes, of course I’ll marry you!’ I squealed and threw my arms around him.

But as he slid the ring onto my finger, I had a horrible thought. My excitement quickly turned to dread when my thoughts turned to our big day.

The vision of being a wide bride, waddling down the aisle, filled my mind with horror. I wasn’t sure I could find a dress to fit me – I would be a total embarrassment.

‘Let’s wait a while before setting the date,’ I told Anthony, as we talked about wedding plans. ‘Let me lose a bit of weight first.’

 

But a year later, I gave birth to our son Kyle, now 15, and piled on even more weight. I was so busy taking care of my new baby, all thoughts of the wedding were put on hold.

But every now and again, Anthony would bring the subject up.

‘I’d like to set the date soon Deb,’ he said gently. ‘It’ll be wonderful to be a proper family at last. I really want you to be my wife.’

I felt my heart hammering in my chest. I said: ‘What’s the rush?’ feeling under pressure. ‘Everything is fine as it is, plus I want to lose some weight before I go near a wedding dress anyway.’

I could tell my response disappointed Anthony, but I just couldn’t get married while I was this fat. So I vowed to make a change.

The thing was, every time I started a diet I soon gave it up – it just felt too difficult. I always started with the best of intentions, but a week later I would find myself giving in to sugary treats and junk food because I felt low and tired.

Deborah before her weight loss
Deborah before her weight loss

I deserve a treat – I’ll just start again on Monday, I always thought to myself, but then it would happen all over again.

More years passed by – an incredible 13 in fact – but still no wedding. While friends made harmless jokes about me putting off the wedding, Anthony started getting more and more impatient.

‘Do you not want to marry me?’ He asked one night in March 2012, obviously hurt at my reluctance.

‘Of course I do!’ I replied. ‘More than anything.’

That night, something snapped. I didn’t want to hurt Anthony and I did want to marry him – just not like this.

I longed to be his wife and realised that the only obstacle standing in my way was me. So I looked for a local Slimming World group in my area and attended a meeting a few days later.

Surprisingly, I found the diet easy to follow and I really enjoyed learning how to cook healthier meals.  

I swapped the buttery toast for a bowl of fruit, the sandwich for a healthy salad, the chocolate for fruit and instead of ordering a greasy curry from the local takeaway, I would make my own healthy version.

Soon, the weight was dropping off me – and I was over the moon when I lost a stone in just three weeks!

 

Even Anthony and Kyle enjoyed the new meals, and as my energy increased we started doing more out and about as a family. I started running, cycling and even bought a treadmill.

As my dress size shrunk, I rediscovered my passion for shopping and fashion and started buying flattering outfits to wear.

People started doing a double take in the street when they saw me and complimented me on my appearance.

I even started asking friends if they fancied going to the pub for a drink or for a night out on the tiles – something I hadn’t done in years.

Deborah now
Deborah now

‘Wow, you look amazing – it’s like I have myself a brand new woman,’ Anthony joked as I was getting ready for a night out. ‘Well done love, I’m proud of you.’

Before my weight loss, the idea of going on holiday abroad filled me with dread – there was no way I’d be seen dead in a swimsuit, but I found myself perusing holiday websites in search of an exotic getaway – my confidence had never been higher.

My weight loss was slow and steady. I was determined to keep it off for good. Whenever I thought about slipping up, I reminded myself about how much I wanted to be a blushing bride – not a bulging bride.

 

Finally, in August 2014, I felt confident enough to book the wedding.

‘Let’s do it,’ I grinned at Anthony. ‘Let’s pick a date and get everything booked for our big day.’

Anthony beamed – he was over the moon – and so was I! I was confident that I could now walk down the aisle feeling like a glamorous bride – instead of being the size of a house!

We booked the local register office for August 2015, and invited 50 guests to a hotel bar for the evening reception. I even asked Kyle to give me away, and he was thrilled.

‘I’m so chuffed you’re finally doing this, Mum,’ he said, giving me a hug. ‘It’s about time!’

Shopping for wedding dresses was an exciting but daunting experience – and something I never quite believed would happen.

I took my friends for support, and as I didn’t have a clue what sort of style I wanted, I tried on a few before settling on a beautiful gown.

 

Standing in that gorgeous dress, I beamed as I faced the mirror. I felt attractive – and amazing!

I was thrilled when the store owner told me that I would have to get it taken in before the big day.

Deborah now
Deborah now

To date, I’ve lost a staggering seven stone and at 12st 5lbs I’ll glide down the aisle in a size 14 dress.

I can’t believe that after a 16-year engagement, it’s finally happening. I had my perfect man all along – but now I’ll have the perfect wedding body to match.

Deborah was so mortified at the thought of waddling down the aisle as a wide bride that she put off long-suffering fiance for 16 years! So when she lost a whopping seven stone to marry the man of her dreams, she was understandably proud of her slimming success and wanted to share it with other women. We helped Deborah to sell her story to Take a Break, reaching a wide audience and fetching the best price. If you’ve lost a large amount of weight and want to share your story, fill in the form here on the right and we’ll call you to discuss your options.

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Louise and Josh
Louise and Josh
I thought I could trust my friend Dannielle with all my secrets. But was she hiding something?
By Louise Wright, 25, from Lancaster

I took a deep breath as I opened the door to find a friendly looking couple waiting on the doorstep.

“Hey,” the girl grinned, “Nice to finally meet you. I’m Dannielle.”

I’d just moved to a new city to be with my boyfriend Josh. We’d met on Facebook through mutual friends and it wasn’t long before romance blossomed.

Now, Josh wanted to introduce me to his friends. He’d invited his mate Sam and his girlfriend Dannielle round for a drink.

They’d all known each other for years so I was a bit nervous I’d feel like the odd one out but I needn’t have worried.

 

Soon, Dannielle and I were gossiping like sisters.

“You and Josh are perfect together,” she grinned. “I’m so glad you’re happy.”

At the end of the night, she gave me a huge hug and we swapped numbers. Within weeks, we were the best of friends.

Dannielle introduced me to her daughter, Angel, then two, and I loved going on days out with them to the park.

Louise and Dannielle
Louise and Dannielle

We also loved girly shopping trips, hunting for all the best bargains in Primark and New Look.

“Gorgeous!” Dannielle would beam, as I modelled the latest party dress I had my eye on.

But, a few months later, I started to feel a bit off colour. When my period didn’t come as usual, everything started to fall into place.

 

 

I took a pregnancy test and my stomach flipped over when two blue lines appeared.

How will Josh react? I thought. We haven’t planned this…

When he came home from his work at a tyre factory that evening, I took a deep breath.

“I’m pregnant,” I said, waiting nervously for his reaction.

“That’s great news!” he said, scooping me into a hug. “I’ve always wanted to be a dad.”

But there was one other person I was bursting to tell. I scrolled through my phone until I found Dannielle’s number and I tapped out a text.

Guess what? I typed. I’m pregnant!

Within seconds, my phone buzzed with a reply.

 

Congratulations! Dannielle had written. Angel will have a new friend!

Nine months later, little Jessica came along. Both Josh and I were smitten as she was placed on my chest for the first time.

“Hello, gorgeous,” I whispered, stroking her hair.

I couldn’t wait to get Jessica home and as I snuggled up with my perfect family, I felt like the luckiest woman alive.

“She’s perfect,” Josh cooed.

But soon, cracks began to appear. The sleepless nights were taking their toll and often Josh and I would snap at each other.

I knew I could turn to Dannielle for advice. She’d been through the same thing with Sam when she’d had Angel.

 

She told me: “It’s always hard at first. But things will work out when you’ve settled into a proper routine.”

Over the next few months, Dannielle was always on hand if I needed a cuppa and a chat. Plus, Angel was great with Jessica.

She was a lifeline, as all of my family and my old friends lived miles away.

“I’m so lucky to have a mate like you,” I said.

But Dannielle wasn’t just great with me. She gave loads of advice to Josh, too.

One night, he shut himself in the bedroom for hours and I could hear him talking on the phone.

“Who was that?” I asked, when he finally came downstairs.

“Just Dannielle,” he replied. “I was talking a few things through with her.”

The next day, Dannielle told me she’d been giving Josh some relationship advice.

 

“You two will work through your problems,” she said, squeezing my hand. “You’re made for each other.”

“I hope so,” I replied. “I really love him.”

“Why don’t the four of us have a drink?” she suggested. “Just like old times? We all deserve a bit of fun.”

I agreed we should let our hair down. The next night, Dannielle and Sam came round to ours and we had a laugh and a few drinks.

Sam had gone to the loo when I popped into the kitchen to refill our glasses. I was a little shocked when I walked back into the living room and Dannielle was playfully stroking Josh’s arm.

But I put my fears to the back of my mind.

The two most important people in my life would never betray me, I thought.

Over the next few weeks, though, Josh and I weren’t getting on any better. We couldn’t go more than a few hours without rowing and I felt really lost and alone.

 

 

In need of a pick me up, I reached for my phone and dialled Dannielle’s number but it rang out.

That’s strange, I thought. I’m sure she’ll call back soon.

Hours passed before Dannielle sent me a text, saying she’d been busy. Over the next few days she seemed a bit distant, but I shrugged it off.

Louise and Josh
Louise and Josh

But the next afternoon, I got the biggest shock of my life.

I decided to take Jessica into town to do some shopping and, as I pushed her buggy down the street, a bus drew up beside me.

My legs almost buckled beneath me as I saw two familiar figures waiting in the queue to board.

It was Josh… and he was hand in hand with Dannielle! As he planted a kiss on her cheek, I started to shake violently.

I was in such a state that the bus had driven away before I’d had the chance to confront them.

 

Once I’d gathered myself together, I took my phone from my pocket and typed in Josh’s number.

“I’ve just seen you getting on a bus, hand in hand with Dannielle,” I said. “Care to explain what’s going on?”

The line went silent for a few seconds before Josh spoke.

Eventually, he said: “I’m sorry, Louise. It’s been going on for a few months. I love her.”

I almost collapsed with shock. Dannielle had been a shoulder to cry on, but all the time she’d been having her wicked way with my man!

Furious, I dialled her number but it went straight to voicemail.

I was mad at Josh, but I expected him to come crawling back to me. I assumed he’d want to give our relationship another try for Jessica’s sake.

Instead, he told me he was moving out.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s for the best.”

I tried texting and calling Dannielle but I didn’t hear a peep from her. It was like our friendship had never meant anything to her.

I knew I had to be civil to Josh for Jessica’s sake and I allowed him to see her once a week. A few months after he’d left, he popped round to pick her up.  

“I’ve got something to tell you,” he said. “Dannielle’s pregnant.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I slammed the door behind him before I burst into tears.

Now, I’m trying to rebuild my life without Josh and Dannielle. Needless to say, Sam was gutted too, and we grew close as we comforted each other.

Our friendship did turn into something more for a while but we soon realised we were only ever meant to be friends.

Josh still sees Jessica, but I don’t have anything to do with Dannielle.

She’s never apologised for ripping my family apart, while pretending to be my best mate. I miss our girly chats and shopping trips, but I could never trust her again.

I thought I could share all of my secrets with Dannielle but I never planned on sharing my man.

Dannielle and Josh
Dannielle and Josh

With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Josh Swales, 26, said: “I don’t feel guilty because I’d been trying to get out of the relationship for ages.”

Dannielle Smith, 24, said:  “I was never friends with Louise. My daughter’s dad was friends with Josh. Josh and I did nothing until the 15th of April last year. We have been together 13 months and, yes, we have a child together but Louise was with my daughter’s dad before Josh and I got together. I don’t want this published as there is no point in bringing up the past.”

Louise was devastated when her best mate stole her man and decided to name and shame the pair in Take a Break, Britain’s biggest selling women’s magazine. We negotiated the best price for her and allowed her to reach a large audience. If you’ve been cheated on and want to speak out, contact us on the form on the right and we’ll tell you how it works.

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Aimi sold her story to Womans Own
Aimi sold her story to Womans Own
I leapt at any chance to keep my youthful looks but my latest obsession had a price…
By Aimi Veness, 40, from St. Leonard’s-on-Sea

Smoothing my expensive moisturiser into my skin, I ran my fingers over the corners of my eyes.

 

I was looking for the smallest sign of a wrinkle. It had become part of my daily routine.

I’ve been obsessed with keeping my youthful looks since my 20s, long before I had anything to worry about.

At 26 I started having regular botox jabs, just to keep the ageing at bay.

Then I had breast implants too, to keep my chest looking perky.

Even back then I was insecure. Women do get judged on their looks, and I wanted to make sure I was judged positively.

I was working as a dancer and every inch of my appearance was up for scrutiny. So since my 20s, I’d never looked back.

I was a sucker for the latest lotions and potions. I figured everything was worth a try! Honestly, I was a beautician’s dream client.

Aimi on her 40th birthday
Aimi on her 40th birthday

But last August, with my 40th birthday on the horizon, my paranoia reached new levels.

“Don’t be silly, you look beautiful,” my husband of four years, Marc, 40, said, catching me sneaking a peek at my face in my hand mirror.

“You won’t be saying that when I look haggard,” I replied, only half joking.

I wanted to be a sexy wife!

Plus my best friend is only 30. We loved socialising in upmarket bars and clubs and I didn’t want to look like her mother.

The thought of turning 40 really touched a nerve with me. Then, one evening Marc came home from the gym.

“There’s this new thing all the guys are trying,” he told me as we tucked into our dinner at home in St Leonards-on-Sea. “They’ve bought some injections and they’re supposed to make you bulkier.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked, my interest peaked by the latest thing on the vanity market.

 

“They’ve said it’s good for the skin too. Rejuvenates the cells or something…” Marc explained.

Now this sounded like it was right up my street! “I need you to get me some, I want to try this,” I begged Marc.

So, after dinner I got straight onto the internet to find out more. Growth hormone injections, I typed in.

As the results sprang up on my laptop screen, I grinned. They’d been dubbed the ‘fountain of youth’ and celebrities in America loved the jabs.

I read that Demi Moore was supposedly a fan, and Madonna apparently swore by them.

“Well if it’s good enough for them…” I thought.

It’s hard not to feel the pressure when you see beautiful famous women going to any lengths to maintain their looks.

But when I carried on my research my heart sank. The injections weren’t quite the miracle wrinkle cure I’d hoped for.

Aimi growth hormones
Aimi growth hormones

They were potent… but they had side effects too. The drugs had been said to cause diabetes, joint pain, and they’d even been linked to cancer.

Plus, in the UK they’re only sold on the black market so you can never be sure what you’re buying.

It was enough to make me stop and think. I was torn. But, talking things through with Marc, I managed to rationalise the risks.

“Everything gives you cancer these days. Plus I’ve used sunbeds all my life, and that hasn’t killed me,” I said.

“Well I suppose if everyone else is trying them they can’t be that bad,” Marc replied, wavering.

“I don’t smoke or take other risks. I want you to get me some jabs,” I pleaded.

So, a few days later Marc came home from the gym with a little box of vials and powder.

I sent him down to the local drugs clinic to get the sterile needles too.

 

Then, later that evening, I carefully mixed the powder with the sterile water, and flinched with pain as I pushed the needle against my tummy.

I had done my research, and 2IU (international units) was apparently the recommended daily dose.

Some of the bodybuilders were taking up to 10IU, but I didn’t want to turn into the Hulk.

Marc even tried a jab too, swayed by my insistence that they’d be safe.

The next morning I was back in front of the mirror, closely inspecting my face for the slightest change.

To be honest, there wasn’t much to see. Miracles don’t happen overnight though, so I stuck to my daily routine.

I’d get up in the morning, brush my teeth, inject the growth hormones, and then set about beautifying myself for the day ahead.

Within a couple of weeks I was truly converted. My skin felt plumper and softer, and I’d even lost around a stone.

Aimi
Aimi

The hormones fire up your metabolism too so my stomach was the flattest and most toned it had been since I was a teen.

The only downside was that the jabs were bruising my stomach, so I swapped to injecting in the fleshiest part of my bum.

“Doesn’t that feel fantastic?” I asked Marc, pulling his hand up to stroke my face.

“To be honest, I can’t tell the difference,” he admitted. He’d long since given up the jabs himself too, not convinced that they worked.

I was hooked though.

When I treated myself to a nose job for my birthday in November, I had to stop the injections for a few weeks.

I couldn’t wait to start the treatment again though.

I’ve now turned 40, and I know I look great for my age. I’m spending up to £200 each month on my supplies but it’s well worth it.

I know the growth hormones might not be safe, but I won’t give them up. Marc thinks I’m crazy, and my mum is worried too.

But as far as I’m concerned, when your time is up it’s up. Plus, at least I’ll look good in my coffin!

I would be absolutely devastated if I got cancer, and only had myself to blame. But I just keep telling myself that it won’t happen to me.

I’d rather risk cancer and look fab at 40.

Aimi
Aimi
Aimi knew her use of beauty jabs despite the potentially deadly consequences was controversial but she wanted to speak out to say as far as she’s concerned, it’s worth the risk. We helped her sell her story to Woman’s Own magazine. If you have an extreme beauty regime and have thought about selling your story, complete the form on the right and one of our experienced team will call you to talk you through the process.

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Chantelle sold her story to The Sun
Chantelle sold her story to The Sun

 

Lots of people love Star Wars but I wish it would disappear to a galaxy far, far away…
By Chantelle Burpitt, 25, from Trowbridge

As fans around the world gear up for another round of Star Wars mania, Chantelle Burpitt can only brace herself.

The latest Star Wars film, which cost $200 million to make, is expected to smash box office records this December when fans will queue up in droves to see their heroes back in action. The love of cinemagoers for the out-of-this world series has earned filmmakers $27 billion since the first film was released in 1977.

But the growing hype will leave former cinema usher Chantelle, 25, fighting to control a completely different kind of Star Wars hysteria — she’s absolutely terrified of the film’s science fiction characters.

Her fears have their roots from an experience when she was four years old, caused by an innocent gift given to her by her aunt. Her reaction developed an intense anxiety which has only got worse in adulthood.

 

Today Chantelle, a receptionist, of Trowbridge can’t stand to be surprised by robots or robotic-looking characters. She has a particular loathing for the fearsome Storm Troopers which have already featured prominently in the new film’s promotional materials.

She said: “My worst fear is bumping into someone in costume. Although that sounds like it would be a rare occurrence, it’s happened to me more times than I like to remember. It always seems to be happening to me.

“I fill with panic and have to run away. There’s nothing I can do – I just completely break down. I know it’s irrational but I have an intense physical reaction.”

Chantelle said one of her earliest memories was being given a talking doll by her aunt Teresa Rossi, 61.

She said: “My family liked to treat me to gifts and toys.

Chantelle as a child
Chantelle as a child

“I was given a little talking doll – and for some reason I was absolutely scared to death of it. My parents have told me that I cried my eyes out and pushed it away from me straight away. Apparently I couldn’t bear to look at it, let alone play with it.  

“Ever since then I’ve had a deep-rooted suspicion of robots – things which aren’t human but pretend that they are. Unfortunately those types of characters are really popular with everyone else.”

 

Her fear grew during childhood until she was taken aged eight to the Bath and West Show by her grandmother Pat Burpitt, who died in 2012 aged 81.

She said: “The show had a man in a robot suit moving through the crowd, greeting people and posing for photographs. I had no idea it was going to be there, and when I turned a corner to see the character standing there I almost jumped out of my skin.

“Actually, I jumped straight onto my gran’s back. She was only a little lady, but she was obviously strong enough to cope with me clambering around all over her. I didn’t really know what I was doing.

“All I could do was hang on long enough, with my eyes tightly shut, until she was able to take me away from it. She was always very protective over me. I’ve been back since.”

Chantelle with her gran
Chantelle with her gran

Three Star Wars films were released in the early 2000s and at the peak of the hype, hundreds of billboards, adverts and shop displays were covered in likenesses of Storm Troopers and droids.

Chantelle said: “If I have a bit of warning I can prepare myself, but if I see the images unexpectedly, I’ll always jump.

“The absolute worst-case scenario is seeing someone in costume. Then I just couldn’t control myself.”

 

In her late teens Chantelle got a job at Cineworld Yeovil, where there were frequent promotional events involving Star Wars fans in costume.

She said: “The manager announced one day that there was a group of Storm Troopers coming in and we were to make them welcome. Everyone else was quite excited about it, but my heart just sank.  

“I didn’t want to let the cinema down, but at the same time I realised I couldn’t be there when they arrived because I couldn’t predict how I would react. Even the thought of it was enough to make me nervous

“I plucked up the courage and asked my manager whether I could swap shifts to allow me to avoid them. He thought it was a bit strange, but he could see I was upset, so he agreed.”

Unfortunately, a diary mix-up meant that when Chantelle arrived for her agreed shift, she encountered a lot more than she bargained for.

She said: “I walked into the break room and encountered a sight I will never forget – a room packed full of Storm Troopers all getting ready to head out into the lobby for a live appearance.

“They were in full costume, with their helmets on, and as I walked in they all turned to face me.

 

“My first instinct was to freeze on the spot. I could feel panic rising in me and I was struggling to breathe.

“A moment later instinct took over and I found myself in floods of tears, experiencing a full-blown panic attack. All I could do to help myself was to get out of there as quickly as I could. It’s no exaggeration to say I ran screaming from the building.”

She phoned her mother, Sharon Pond, 56, in floods of tears after the harrowing experience.

She said: “She was surprised to hear me so upset, because she thought I’d outgrown my fear.

“Later the manager came up to me and apologised profusely. It was fine – I knew it was an irrational reaction, but I couldn’t help it.”

She said her strange phobia has caused some problems to her social life, although her fiance Wesley Mead, 24, is understanding and supportive.

Chantelle with her chinchilla
Chantelle with her chinchilla

She said: “There’s always a risk when we’re on a night out in town that a stag do will come through in fancy dress. In those situations I tend to ask Welsey to see if any of them are dressed up like Storm Troopers, Darth Vader or C3PO.

 

 

“We’ve been to Glastonbury Festival a few times where there are often people in costume, but over time I’ve learned which areas of the site to avoid and which ones are safe for me.

“We’ve had to cut dates short before. Once we were walking towards our local bowling alley and I saw from a distance that there were some Star Wars fans in costume milling around. All I could do was ask Wesley to take me home early.

“We try to go to the cinema at least once a week and there have been a few occasions where there have been Storm Troopers roaming about. It’s obviously something the management enjoy doing from time to time.

“If I see them from the outside, I put my foot down and just refuse to go in, which has ruined the evening.

“Wesley’s as understanding as he can be, but there are obviously limits to what he should put up with. The strange thing is that I know it’s irrational, but as things are there’s not a huge amount I can do about it.”

The new film, entitled The Force Awakens, stars franchise favourites Harrison Ford who returns as Han Solo, Mark Hamill who reprises his role as Jedi hero Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fisher who will once again play Princess Leia.

It also introduces a cast of new characters including a Storm Trooper named Finn, played by British Attack The Block star John Boyega, and a new droid character, named BB8, which was reportedly inspired by early designs for R2D2.

 

Chantelle said: “I know everyone says R2D2 is cute. I’ve never met one in real life, thank goodness. I know that if I did I would freak out.”

Chantelle said she was willing to give the new film a go to see if it has any effect in helping her to conquer her worries.

She said: “Everyone will be getting into the spirit and I expect Wesley will be keen to go and see it. It’s not as if I can hide from it forever – it’s the biggest film release for a long time.

“I think I’ll be OK in the cinema with Wesley there.

“But if there are Storm Troopers in the lobby as people are queueing up, that might be a different matter. I just wish they’d disappear to a galaxy far, far away!”

When Chantelle decided to sell her story about her unusual phobia she came to us at Sell My Story. We helped negotiate the best price for Chantelle, selling her story to The Sun. If you have a weird or wacky phobia why not contact us via the form on the right and we’ll talk you through publishing your story too.

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Tina sold her story to Take a Break
Tina sold her story to Take a Break
I thought my husband would protect me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong…
By Tina Roper, 56, from Brighton

 

The engine revved, and I climbed into the back seat of the limo. Aged 14, this was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I felt like royalty!

“This is the life, hey Tina?” my Uncle Robert said.

“It’s amazing,” I replied.

He got behind the wheel and we set off on the long drive home from Bolton.

Uncle Robert owned a limo company, and I was keeping him company while he picked up the car from a specialist garage up north.

Sitting in the back of the gorgeous black stretch limousine, I could almost imagine I was a famous princess being chauffeured back to my palace.

I drifted off to sleep, my fantasy playing out in my dreams. It must have been hours later that I woke with a jolt.

 

Bleary eyed, I sat up and looked around to see where we were. I caught Uncle Robert’s eye in the mirror, looking back at me.

“What do you think you’re looking at?” I asked, jokily.

“I’m looking at you, you’re beautiful,” he said.

He’d never complimented me before, and it made me feel uneasy. I didn’t understand what he meant.

Then, instead of driving me home he pulled over in a secluded spot at the Epsom Downs.  I froze in fear as he turned off the engine, and stepped out of the car.

He climbed in the back, beside me.

I pressed myself up against the far side of the car, but Uncle Robert inched closer and closer. He started pulling at my clothes, before undoing his trousers.

 

That’s when he raped me, as I sobbed for him to stop.

Afterwards, he tugged his trousers back up and fixed me with a steely stare.

“Don’t you dare tell anyone,” he said.

“I won’t,” I replied.

“If you do, I’ll make sure you don’t see your grandparents again,” he said.

I was staying at my godmother’s house, and he drove me back there in silence. My mind was reeling. I’d gone from feeling on top of the world to worthless and dirty.

One thing was for sure though, I had to keep Uncle Robert’s sick secret.

Over the next few months my bright and bubbly personality vanished.

 

I became quiet and withdrawn. I tried to push the ordeal to the back of my mind… yet it was Uncle Robert who wouldn’t let me forget it.

Every time I saw him at a family party he’d corner me.

“You’ve not forgotten your promise, have you?” he’d ask, drink in hand like we were having a friendly chat.

I’d be shaking as I answered that his secret was still safe. I couldn’t imagine ever speaking the words to describe what he did.

That’s until, aged 17, I met Michael.

Me and my friends had decided we wanted to go to a party, but it was a little way out of town.

That’s when someone suggested we phone Michael, who was a few years older than us and could drive.

It turned out he lived just a few streets away from me.I actually had a boyfriend at the time, but Michael made a really big impression on me that night.

Tina and Michael
Tina and Michael

Then, a few months later, I came home from work to find my mum grinning at me.

“This nice boy came looking for you,” she said.

“Was it Michael?” I asked.

It turned out that it was, and that’s when we started dating. I was never confident around men, after what happened with my uncle.

But somehow, with Michael things seemed different. I knew I could trust him. So, not long into our relationship I decided to confide in him about my past.

“Something happened with my uncle, he raped me,” I said.

It felt like a weight was lifted off my chest.

“I’m furious. That shouldn’t have happened to you,” Michael said.

 

He was angry on my behalf, and so sympathetic. I felt safe with him. From then on, he always had my back at family parties.

If he saw Uncle Robert sidling over to me for one of our chats, he’d step in and steer me away. I knew Michael would always look after me.

Aged 20, I fell pregnant with our daughter, Claire. Michael came round to speak to my mum and dad.

“I’m going to do the right thing and marry Tina,” he said. It was hardly romantic! But, in April 1980, we tied the knot.

At first, married life was idyllic. It wasn’t long before my illusion was shattered though.

Tina and Michael wedding
Tina and Michael wedding

I suddenly couldn’t seem to put a foot right in Michael’s eyes. He’d fly of the handle if I hadn’t dusted properly, or made his tea to his satisfaction.

One evening, when I was eight months pregnant with Claire, he came home from work in a terrible mood.

 

I could tell he was spoiling for a fight.

“You’re a useless wife,” he raged at me.

That’s when he grabbed me, punching me in the head.

“Please don’t Michael, what about the baby?” I said.

I fell down beside our corner sofa, and he carried on punching blows down upon my face. Eventually he stepped back, looking down at my face battered black and blue.

“You’ll have to say you were carrying laundry when you fell down the stairs,” he said.

I couldn’t even squeak a reply, as the intense pain throbbed through my cheeks. But when I went to the doctors the next day, that was the story I stuck to.

He’d broken my nose, but I convinced myself that it was a one off. Back home, Michael couldn’t apologise enough.

 

He’s not a monster, I told myself.

It wasn’t the end of it though. Another time he punched me in his work van, giving me a black eye and breaking his fancy Rolex watch.

Of course I got the blame for that. He really went to town on me that night.

Life was miserable, but even I couldn’t predict just how depraved Michael’s actions would become.

One night, I was woken in bed to find Michael on top of me. To my disgust, I realised he was having sex with me while I slept.

I froze in horror. I didn’t dare push him away for fear of inviting another beating. Instead I pretended I was still asleep.

This must be what happens in a marriage, I told myself.

 

I was so naive. In time, I fell pregnant again. I was desperate for Claire to have a sibling. But after Karl was born I ended up with postnatal depression.

I was at my lowest ebb, and Michael was determined to chip away at my confidence even further.

Michael mugshot
Michael mugshot

Once he’d seemed like my knight in shining armour. Now he was my tormentor.

“You’re an unfit mother,” he said.

He seemed to hate me, but it didn’t stop him wanting to have sex with me.

I began to dread going to bed, not knowing what I’d wake up to.

Other times he’d watch porn right in front of me, drooling over the women that I knew I’d never live up to.

Then, he’d come to bed and force himself on me. He knew about what my uncle had done to me – I couldn’t believe that now my own husband was raping me too.

 

Eventually he stopped me seeing my family and my friends. He banned me from watching the news too.

Then, when my dad passed away in 1996 Michael even banned me from going to the funeral. I was completely isolated, with no-where to turn.

But then, a blessing came in an unusual form. We moved house to a lovely little bungalow, and Michael started an affair with one of our neighbours.

Most wives would be devastated, but instead I seized my chance to escape. I got hold of a phone number for a solicitor, and they took control of things from there.

Michael was removed from the house, and given a legal order not to even enter the road. For the first time in years, I was free.

At first it was hard. I’d been married for 18 years, and I wasn’t used to standing on my own two feet.

Suddenly I didn’t have to ask for permission to go out, or to turn on the telly. It felt really strange.

 

But, in time, me and the kids muddled along, and I got used to being liberated from the shackles of my miserable marriage.

It felt as if I had almost put the past behind me.

Then, in 2013, I was being interviewed by the police as a witness to an unrelated matter.

We ended up talking about the past, and suddenly everything I’d been through came tumbling out.

“Sorry to burden you with all that,” I said to the female police officer, over a cuppa in my front room.

“You know, it would have come out eventually,” she said. “I think I ought to send someone round to interview you about this properly.”

Not long later I gave a full statement, followed by a four hour video interview down at the station.

Then, both Uncle Robert and Michael were arrested. I was scared but exhilarated at the same time. Finally I wasn’t keeping their sick secrets.

Eventually the cases came to court. I gave evidence against both my rapists from behind a screen, in two trials just a fortnight apart.

First my uncle was found guilty of the rape in 1973, and I was over the moon when the police phoned from court to give me the news.

Then, my son Karl was at Lewes Crown Court on March 6 to see Michael Sicklemore, 60, found guilty of what he put me through.

This time, I couldn’t hold my emotions in any longer. I screamed and shouted down the phone with utter relief as I heard he’d been sentenced to eight years and two months in prison for GBH and multiple counts of rape.

Tina now
Tina now

My uncle, Robert Parr, 81, wasn’t sentenced until March 26. The judge at Lewes Crown Court gave him an 18 month probation order.

I was disappointed that he didn’t get a prison sentence too. But he’s an old man now, and I’m a strong woman. I don’t need to be afraid of him anymore.

 

Now, with the help of my children and my close friends Tracey and Joy, I’m rebuilding my life.

I owe huge thanks to the Survivors Network in Brighton too.

I want other women to know it’s never too late to get justice. I waited decades, and endured 20 years of hell.

Trust me, this feeling of freedom is worth fighting for.

After Tina’s horrendous ordeal she bravely decided to speak out to support other victims and to also let women know it’s never too late to get justice. The team at Sell My Story helped Tina place her story with Take a Break, negotiating the best price and also reaching a wide readership of women.  If you have a story you’d like to share, have a read through out ‘how to’ guides and fill in the form on the right.

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Demi-Leigh sold her story to Take a Break
Demi-Leigh sold her story to Take a Break

 

I loved having a golden glow. But my tan came with a deadly cost…
By Demi-Leigh Saunders, 20, from Bolton

I rooted in my bag for some spare coins, fishing out a handful of silver.

“That’s just about enough for nine minutes,” I said, handing over the cash.

Soon I was lying under the bright UV glow of the sunbed, totally stripped off to get maximum exposure.

I loved being tanned. And, despite the fact I was only 14, I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.

When I was younger I lived with my grandparents in Spain.

My gran was always chasing me around with a bottle of sun lotion, determined that I’d take good care of my skin.

However, I soon built up a natural golden glow from long days playing out in the sunshine.

 

Then, when I was 14 we moved back to the UK. To my disappointment, my tan soon faded.

I was always moaning to my gran.

“I hate being pale,” I said.

“Get some fake tan then love, that will sort you out,” she said. “Look after your skin, don’t use sunbeds,” she added.

The fake stuff wasn’t as good though. I hated being streaky. For me, nothing could beat the buzz of seeing that natural deep brown.

Demi-Leigh loved a tan
Demi-Leigh loved a tan

So, I started saving up my pocket money to pop into the local tanning salons after school.

I looked older than my age, so I was never asked for ID. Salons were less strict back then.

Naively, the risks never even entered my mind. I’d heard tanning could give you skin cancer, but I assumed it was something that happened to older people.

All my friends were tanning too. so I convinced myself we’d be fine.

Then, when I was 16, my tanning obsession reached new heights.

My grandad was a sunbed sales rep, and my grandparents kept an old bed in their house.

They were planning to fit it with collagen bulbs for my gran. They’re supposed to reduce wrinkles, and they are safer as they don’t emit UV rays.

But, to my delight, they never got round to it. And the sunbed was even squeezed into my bedroom as there wasn’t space elsewhere.

My grandma said: “I don’t want you to go using it Demi-Leigh.”

 

“Of course I won’t, I promise,” I reassured her.

But, as soon as she went to sleep I’d sneak on under the warm glow of the UV lamps. I found the heat soothing… in fact a bit too soothing.

One night I dozed off under the lights. I woke up with a start, my face prickling with pain.

“Oh no!” I said, rushing over to the mirror. My face was bright red and badly burnt. To my horror, little blisters had even formed on my eyelids.

The next morning I plastered on layers of foundation to hide my mistake from my gran. I told myself: No harm done, I’ll be fine when the redness fades.

Nothing was going to stop me tanning, or so I thought. Then when I was 18 I discovered I was pregnant.

For the first time, I knew I had to keep away from the sunbeds. I never gave a second thought to the health risks to myself. I knew it wasn’t a good idea with a little one on the way though.

For those nine months I stuck religiously to tan from a bottle. After all, just because I was expecting didn’t mean I wanted to be pale!

But, after Eliza was born in March 2013, I was relieved to go back to my old obsession.

“I’ll do nine minutes please,” I said, handing over the cash to the sunbed shop receptionist.

My skin was delicate after having so long away from the sunbeds, but I wasn’t going to go easy on it.

I had months of abstinence to make up for.

Soon I was back under the lamps at least twice a week, plus I’d use fake tan to top up my glow. Seeing my dark reflection in the mirror gave me such a boost.

Demi-Leigh in hospital
Demi-Leigh in hospital

Then, one morning I was getting dressed when I noticed a fleshy lump on my inner right thigh. Curious rather than worried, I gave it a poke. It didn’t hurt.

I had a wart on my knee when I was younger, and I assumed it was the same thing. So I put it to the back of my mind.

 

Then, around three months later in March last year, I popped round to my gran’s for my weekly spray tan.

She loved giving me the treatment. “We’ll have you looking brown in no time,” she said.

I whipped my clothes off, and stood in the tanning tent ready to be sprayed.  “Ooh that’s cold,” I flinched, as my gran turned on the machine.

She started working her way across my body. But when she got to my thighs, she stopped.

She asked: “What’s that lump on your leg?”

“Oh it’s nothing, it’s been there ages,” I said.

But my gran leant in for a closer look. “You can’t ignore things that like, I’m making you a doctor’s appointment,” she said.

Within ten minutes she was on the phone, booking me in. I rolled my eyes as she gave me the appointment details for a few days later.

I said: “If it makes you feel better, I’ll go.”

 

So, several days later I found myself taking off my jeans to show the GP. He shone a light over the lump, and peered at it through a magnifier.

“It looks like it has active skin cells. I think you’re better off popping down to the hospital,” he said.

I didn’t know what he meant by that, but stupidly I didn’t ask.

“Take this referral letter to the dermatology ward and they’ll sort you out with an appointment,” he added, handing me a folded print out.

With a free afternoon on my hands, I decided I’d go to the hospital there and then.

I was hoping I wouldn’t have to wait long for an appointment, so they could just remove the lump and my gran would stop fussing.

But, stood there in the queue for the dermatology reception, I unfolded the doctor’s letter and glanced over it.

What I read chilled me to the core.

Referral for possible skin cancer, the GP had typed.

Skin cancer hadn’t even crossed my mind. My heart was racing as I handed over the letter.

The receptionist told me: “We’ll book you in for an appointment and let you know when we need you back here.”

I was barely listening though. Worst case scenarios were racing through my mind.

Am I going to die?

Back home, I broke down as I told my grandma the devastating news.

She was shaking with worry. I tried to reassure her I’d be fine, but that night I spent hours on my phone checking out the disease online.

 

Skin cancer symptoms, I typed into the search engine.

To my horror, the photos that came up looked just like my lump.And when I read that tanning was a big risk factor, I knew I’d done this to myself.

Suddenly, being brown didn’t seem so important. Not long after, I was back at the hospital to see a dermatologist.

This time I had my grandma there for support.

“I’ll have a look at this lump, then I’ll check the rest of your body,” the doctor said.

My hands trembled as I pulled off my clothes.

“All done, take a seat,” she smiled, after going over every inch of my skin.

Demi-Leigh in hospital
Demi-Leigh in hospital

“The good news is I don’t think it’s cancer,” she said.

 

My grandma gasped with relief.

“Are you sure? How do you know?” I asked.

“I’m a consultant here, and I’ve seen skin cancer many times before,” she said, reassuringly.  “We’ll take a biopsy from the lump to get it checked just in case though.”

For the next week I relaxed, thanks to doctor’s certainty that I was safe.

Then, a week later I went back to the hospital for my results.

“Don’t worry gran, I’ll be fine on my own,” I told her. After all, the doctor said it was nothing.

The consultant called me back into her room, and shut the door behind me.

She said: “There’s no easy way to say this, but you have melanoma.”

“What do you mean? What’s that?” I asked.

 

“It’s a type of skin cancer,” she explained.

I was struck numb with shock. I managed to hold back the tears as she explained I’d have to have surgery.

Desperate for support, I called the one person who was always there for me. My gran. She was at the hospital within five minutes, holding my hand with tears running down her face.

I began to sob too.

If I die who will look after Eliza? I thought.

The next few weeks were a blur as I had yet more appointments with a surgeon to arrange the next step.

I went under general anaesthetic for the lump to be fully removed, and covered with a skin graft.

My gran even paid £6,000 for me to have a lymph node biopsy carried out privately, rather than see me join a six week waiting list.

When the news came back that the cancer had spread to the glands in my groin, I wondered how I’d have the strength left to fight.

Cancer scar
Cancer scar

But just one look at my daughter gave me the courage to be brave. I couldn’t leave my little girl without her mummy.

So I went back under the knife to have my glands removed, and woke up on the ward with a fluid drain hooked up to my wound.

I spent the next two weeks in and out of hospital as my body struggled to heal.

It was a dark time for me. Laid up in bed with nothing to take my mind of things, I started imagining my own funeral.

What flowers would I have? What songs would be played?

 

The morbid details swum through my brain.

In the meantime, my grandma was phoning the hospital every day to get my final results. Would I be cancer free?

Then, one day I was lying in bed in my pyjamas when my mobile buzzed.

“You’ve got the all clear,” my gran shrieked down the phone.

I burst into tears with pure relief. I would survive.

That was in May last year, and now I’m making the most of life.

For the next five years I’ll have to have full body skin checks every three months and CT scans every six months. It’s a small price to pay though.

It’s like I’ve been given a second chance.

Demi-Leigh now
Demi-Leigh now

I want to tell other girls that if skin cancer can happen to me then it can happen to them too. It’s not worth risking the disease, just to be brown.

There’s only one way to tan safely… and that’s from a bottle.  

Demi-Leigh was devastated when her addiction to tanning led to deadly skin cancer and decided to speak out to warn other young women of the dangers of sunbeds. We helped Demi-Leigh sell her story to Take a Break magazine, the biggest women’s magazine in the country, reaching a wide readership. If you have a health story you’d like to sell, fill in the form on the right and we’ll be in touch to discuss the process.

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Mel sold her story to a newspaper and magazine
Mel sold her story to a newspaper and magazine
I was flattered when toyboy Ian took an interest in me. But our romance came at a price…
By Mel Langwade, 48, from Barnsley

Pulling a pint behind the bar where I worked, I couldn’t take my eyes off the handsome stranger in the corner of the room. He was years younger than me, but I could tell he was looking at me, too.

“Hi, I’m Ian,” he beamed. As he shook my hand, I thought actual sparks might fly!

Ian’s mum Teresa worked in the pub, too, so soon we were chatting every day. I had quite a long drive to work each day, so when a spare room became available in their house, they suggested I move in.

As the three of us laughed and chatted over a cuppa each night, I could feel Ian’s eyes on me. It felt a bit wrong, as he was only 21, but the chemistry was off the scale.

One night, Teresa popped out. We were left together on the couch, watching telly, when Ian grabbed me and kissed me.

 

“I’ve wanted to do that for ages,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.

Soon, we became a proper couple and Ian showered me with compliments and showed me off to his friends.

“You’re gorgeous,” he said, over and over again. “I’m so lucky.”

I’d seen Ian as a bit of a fling at first. After all, he was the same age as my son! But soon I started to wonder if I had a future with him.

Mel and Ian
Mel and Ian

That’s not to say he didn’t have a temper. He’d always accuse me of seeing other men, even though I only had eyes for him.

One night, after a blazing row, I packed my bags and went to stay with my sister in London. But soon, Ian was grovelling.

“I miss you,” he texted. “Please come back.”

But I’d just found a job and a flat and I was reluctant to leave, so I told Ian he could come and live with me in London.

At first, things were great and I was so glad Ian had given up his life in Leeds to be with me. I loved nothing better than snuggling up with him on the couch watching a film.

Soon, though, we started to get under each other’s feet. Ian didn’t have a job, so he spent most of the day moping around the house.

“You made me leave my family,” he said. “I hate it here.”

I felt a surge of guilt and I suggested inviting his family down for a holiday, but he just grunted. Over the next few days, he became even more moody and withdrawn.

I was walking on eggshells as he’d blow up at the slightest thing – but somehow I convinced myself it was my fault.

One day, I was driving when Ian called me an old witch. I was so stunned, I almost crashed the car.

“You’ve ruined my life,” he hissed. “I hate London.”

 

I could feel tears forming in my eyes, but I bit my lip. As soon as we got home, Ian was his usual, charming self.

“You look beautiful tonight,” he smiled, as we cuddled in bed.

But the next thing I knew, he was lying on top of me. I wasn’t in the mood for sex and I opened my mouth to protest but he pinned me down and forced himself inside me.

I was so numb, all I could do was lie and stare at the ceiling, waiting for it to be over. He was so rough I was left with bruises everywhere – but I was in so deep, I didn’t realise I’d been raped.

Once he had finished, he started punching and kicking me.

“Ian, please stop!” I wailed.

“Shut up,” he hissed. Then, he got a knife and slashed my arm.

The next week was a living nightmare. Ian punched and kicked me at every opportunity and he wouldn’t let me leave the house.

Mel's injuries
Mel’s injuries

He was so twisted he’d sometimes pretend he was asleep and I’d try to sneak out the front door – but before I could make my escape he opened his eyes and started raining punches down on me.

After a few days, I stopped fighting.

I was sure Ian would kill me, so I prayed it would happen quickly.

How had it come to this?

A few months ago, I’d been a strong, independent woman with a good job and loads of mates.

Now, I was a quivering wreck, as the man I loved held me hostage in my own home.

But then, something strange happened. Ian started to act normally again.

“Why don’t we have an early night and watch a film?” he said, putting his arm around me. I was so black and blue that I winced in pain when he touched me, but I tried my best to smile.

“Okay,” I agreed.

But I’d barely turned the TV on when Ian lost interest and fell asleep. I continued to watch the film on my own and when it was finished, I turned it off.

Suddenly, Ian was bolt upright.

“Why the hell did you turn the film off?” he thundered.

“It was finished!” I protested, but he’d already kicked me out of the bed. I cowered on the floor, desperately trying to protect myself from the blows.

Eventually, Ian got bored and went to bed again. Hearing him snoring, I sensed he’d dozed off for real.

Mel's injuries
Mel’s injuries

I knew I had to seize my chance. I was in agony from all of my injuries, but I grabbed my car keys and limped out of the front door.

Somehow, I managed to drive to my niece Joni’s house. It was only five minutes away, but I was in so much pain it took all the strength I had to concentrate on the road.

Joni gasped when she saw me.

“Did Ian do this to you?” she asked.

I nodded weakly. Joni insisted on taking me to hospital. I needed stitches on my arms where Ian had attacked me with the knife.

I also had a broken nose, two black eyes, a blood clot behind my ear and lots of lumps and

scratches all over my body.

“What has he done to you?” Joni said, fighting back tears as the doctors examined me.

I knew it was only a matter of time before Ian noticed I was gone. Soon, my phone began to buzz.

“Where are you?” his voice boomed down the line.

“I’ve left,” I replied, hoarsely.

 

“Well I’ll find you,” he said. “And I’ll finish what I started.”

Ian’s words chilled me to the bone. There was no mistaking what he meant.

He wanted to find me and kill me.

My family persuaded me to speak to the police, who tracked Ian down and arrested him. I was terrified, but it seemed like the only way of getting him off the streets.

In time, Ian Mark Harrington appeared at Snaresbrook Crown Court, charged with rape and actual bodily harm.

He denied everything, which meant I had to give evidence against him. I couldn’t face him, so the judge let me give my testimony from behind a screen.

After three long weeks, the jury returned its verdict. I couldn’t bear to be in court so I stayed in a witness room while Joni sat in the public gallery.

 

When she burst through the door, the relief was written all over her face.

“He’s been found guilty!” she said. I collapsed in her arms as tears rolled down my cheeks.

The judge called Ian a “violent bully”. Ian was sentenced to eight years in prison but he was given an indeterminate sentence – meaning it’s up to a parole board when he gets out.

In other words, the judge thought he was such a big risk to the public that he shouldn’t be released automatically when his jail term ends.

This summer, it will be eight years since Ian was locked up. As yet, I have no idea whether or not he’ll be getting out.

I can only hope the parole board see him for what he is: a sick monster.

Every day, his words ring in my ears and I’m terrified he’ll hunt me down and finish the job he started.

I don’t want to live in fear but sometimes it feels like I have no choice. I know better than anyone what Ian is capable of.

And I’m not just worried about myself. What if another woman falls for his charms? I refuse to believe he wouldn’t do the same to her.

But I’ve got to stay strong. Ian has already stolen enough of my past – he’s not getting my future, too.

At first, Mel was flattered when toyboy Ian took an interest in her but gradually he revealed he was nothing more than a violent bully. When Mel secured a conviction against him she bravely decided to sell her story to That’s Life! magazine and The Sun newspaper, as support to other women, encouraging them to speak out against their abusers. If you have a crime story to share, fill in the form here on the right and one of our team will give you a call to gently explain how it works.