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5 live contributor 'Rachel' dies

Victoria Derbyshire


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.


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