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06/03/2015
BBC Radio 5 live
The 5 live blog

We have some very, very sad news to share with you. 'Rachel', our dear friend, a doctor, and an alcoholic in recovery, died several weeks ago. Rachel (not her real name) last appeared on our programme in March. She sounded so well. Before Easter, she began drinking again, briefly, before stopping. Just under 48 hours later, she died in her sleep, on Easter weekend. She was 45 and leaves her partner and her young daughter. Her family understandably wanted time to grieve privately but have now given us permission to let you know of her death.

Rachel first contacted our programme in February 2011- it was a frank and searing call. She explained that she was about to check into a rehabilitation clinic, that she spent "every waking hour thinking about drinking" and remembered that she’d been drinking heavily for about ten years.

She sounded so fragile. While on air she quietly asked her partner to bring her a drink; we heard a can of Guinness fizz as it was opened before being slowly poured into a glass. It was a shocking illustration of the nature of addiction but it did so much to educate all of about alcoholism. Our education continued with every appearance Rachel made on our programme.

That call prompted the most incredible reaction we've ever had from our listeners here on 5 live. These are some of your messages from back then:

George in St Albans: "What radio that was. I have been trying to fight alcoholism for years and sad as it was to hear, it was also refreshing. Alcoholism is too often thought of as lazy or irresponsible or idiotic. I want those not suffering from it to understand that it IS an illness. Thank you".

@AlHop on Twitter posted: "I daren't move, this show is riveting. Rachel and Diane are amazing. Diane is an inspiration".

Another listener texted to say, "Please tell Rachel we're rooting for her. Listening to her has made me cry. I wish her so much luck in getting well"; and this, "Please tell Rachel that she may have saved my life today".

Since that call we kept in touch with Rachel. After just over a year of us emailing and texting, she replied: "Sorry to be slow to respond - it's not rudeness - I was always going to get in touch once I had some positive news”. The positive news was that after some ups and downs, Rachel had stopped drinking. We also discovered she was in fact a consultant anaesthetist, and when she called our programme she'd already been suspended from her job and was under investigation by the General Medical Council.

In three years Rachel appeared on our programme four times - and each time you told us she had an astonishing effect on you. Last March I went to visit her at home and she took me to a recovery project called the Basement Project in Halifax which helped her hugely in trying to cope with recovering from alcoholism. She also made some good friends there.

In March 2014, on the 20th anniversary of 5 live, Rachel came on the programme again to share the news that she had earned back her registration to practise in the medical profession. She’d been back to work in a hospital, although had been turned down to retrain as a GP and was trying to decide whether to reapply.

On that day, Jill, a lawyer, contacted us from Yorkshire. She wanted to speak to Rachel to tell her that it was because of hearing Rachel’s very first call to the programme that Jill decided to seek treatment for her own alcoholism. Others told us that they charted their own recovery through Rachel’s.

We will miss Rachel so very much. She was clever, eloquent, unsentimental, impatient, stubborn and loyal – her life and her death have had a remarkable impact on many people.

Her partner John wanted me to pass on this message to you: “We are, of course, shocked and desperately saddened by Rachel's death. She touched the lives of many people and will be sorely missed. We would like to express our sincere thanks to all those who expressed support and encouragement to Rachel since she first called into Victoria's programme in early 2011. We would like to pass on our best wishes to all those affected by the disease of addiction and hope this issue continues to be discussed more widely, as Rachel would have wished."

Find some of my interviews with Rachel here in podcast form.

If you're affected by any of the issues Rachel's story raises, go to my page on the 5 live website at for a whole list of organisations that can help.

Comments

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  • Comment number 7. Posted by MsHarmony1

    on 16 Jun 2014 08:07

    I have only found this Blog dedicated to Rachel. Last Tuesday, (10.6.2014), I was in a shop in Fareham listening to my Radio, on headphones, and heard you, and Rachel talking. Then I heard you say you had been to her funeral a few weeks ago.I stood still and thought you were talking about someone else.In short, I felt utterly moved, having listened, over the years to her on your programme.RIP Rachel.

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by carrie

    on 12 Jun 2014 10:40

    Don't get me wrong, it is sad. But the point is that people suffering from late stage addictions need tough love. They love drink (or drugs) more than anyone or anything else. They may yearn to be off whatever they are addicted to but they need to hit rock bottom before their love of the drug is overwhelmed. In the meantime the physical damage to themselves can often end their lives anyway.

    The noise of her husband opening that can just made me so furious. Colluding with her illness.

    I am still in touch with many of my former clients. Not so many drug addicts but quite a few alcoholics who still cope with their addictions well by attending AA regularly.

    Of course it can strike anyone, it is a disease. But the more you understand your condition, the more motivated and aware you should be of your illness, its risks and its definite end unless you take treatment seriously. Don't tell me that Rachel wasn't feckless. She was a senior medic for heaven's sake!

    Thousands of people will have heard her and I am pleased so many have felt that they should seek treatment for what they perceive is a drink problem; they won't all be alcoholics. When you hear Victoria challenging people and being on the verge of contemptuous sometimes, it seems to me she could have tried to be more challenging than sounding in awe of what Rachel was saying.

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by Sue Ryan

    on 11 Jun 2014 19:41

    I have some concern that someone engaged in addiction counselling can refer to "tiptoeing" and being "appalled". I would not be presumptive enough to state that I do not have a "damaged ego" as alas I am but human and thus flawed.
    Rachel and Victoria exposed alcoholism as not just being the arena for the "feckless" etc but something that can strike anyone regardless of gender, class etc. Well done both of you.
    I am so sad for Rachel's family, please feel some pride at what she achieved during her surrender into recovery and,albeit, temporary respite from this disease.
    Yours in fellowship
    Sue

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by Fedster

    on 11 Jun 2014 09:47

    Do not speak ill of the dead, springs to mind when reading post 2...........

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Suzie

    on 10 Jun 2014 18:05

    I am a recovering Alcoholic with nearly 3 years sobriety. Alcoholism took me to end-stage liver failure and subsequent palliative care from which I have miraculously survived. I was very sympathetic to Rachel's story, even though I listened to it for the first time this morning. Alcoholism is a really misunderstood disease and unless you have suffered from it yourself, one cannot really understand the dreadful nature of this illness. No-one sets out to become an Alcoholic. It certainly wasn't on my CV! It is also a family illness, as everyone around the active alcoholic suffers too. My sympathy to goes Rachel's family at this sad time.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by carrie

    on 10 Jun 2014 15:03

    Frankly I could not understand why Victoria's attitude in her interviews with Rachel was not more incisive in the questioning and more challenging in her style. Tiptoeing and over-sympathising round someone ON AIR is what I really felt offended by because Rachel wallowed in her alcoholism and Victoria behaved in such an accepting way. I did not feel she challenged Rachel or her husband. I was appalled by the Guinness moment. I know alcoholism is a disease and for many years I worked with addicts and am well aware of the problems they face. I am a supporter of AA and it was only today I really heard Victoria try to persuade callers to refer themselves there. Some of the people I know through AA have been dry over 20 years, they still attend AA groups wherever they happen to be for work. The fact Rachel had been cleared to practice again made me go cold.
    Of course it is not going to be acceptable to anyone on this blog to accept my point of view, I can see that by the selection of comments in Victoria's blog, but I can tell you that stroking the damaged ego of an alcoholic is not the way forward and I thought it was dumb editorial decision-making that exposed this alcoholic to this type of interview rather than as a magazine piece under editorial control.

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by Carol

    on 10 Jun 2014 10:43

    Rachel presented the human face of alcoholism, defying our stereotypes and searing us with her self knowledge and suffering. I'm grateful that she bulldozed through my prejudices, which were pretty much what you would expect and probably what the majority of us hold, or held, to some extent or other. I feel I'm a better, more perceptive person for having heard her on 5 live. But can I please beg all those who know they have a problem with alcohol not to drink and drive. Maiming or killing another human being while drunk at the wheel of a car is the one thing there is no recovery from or healing for.
    There is hope for everything else.

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