“I’m frightened of men.” It’s a brave admission. But then, as one of TV’s award-winning Loose Women, Sherrie Hewson is used to baring her soul.
For public consumption; mass consolation, viewing figures, call it what you will. It’s all part and parcel of the multi-award-winning daytime gossip-fest which has made her and the posse household names.
Sherrie and the rest of the sassy, liberated female panellists are paid for their wit, their bawdy banter and their willingness not just to speak their minds on anything from porn to politics, but to share the ins and outs, the ups and the downs of their own life-shaping experiences.
In the process, they have often been accused of being bitter, cynical man-haters - mainly, it has to be said, by men. Which makes Sherrie’s revelation all the more surprising - and touching.
As she reveals it, the delightfully ditzy persona daytime viewers have loved her for over the last eight years has suddenly quieted.
This isn’t a time for tizz and fizz; for Sherrie trifle, everyone’s party favourite. This is obviously how she really feels underneath the glam, confident exterior. And how probably thousands of Loose Women fans also feel, if their truth was ever to be told.
When Sherrie says: “I’ve been single for ten years because what I’ve been through with men - I can’t face a relationship,” you know it will resonate with many of those middle-aged and female daytime viewers.
She elaborates carefully, searching for the right words: “I think I’m terrified of men’s physicality. Of them invading my space,” she says. “Losing my independence and my identity – that’s what I fear.”
Obviously, it’s also a fear of getting hurt again, and of having her trust thrown back in her face.
So would you if one of your first relationships turned out to be with a jealous and possessive man who beat you black and blue. And then, after 30 years of marriage, you discovered your husband had conducted affair after affair and squandered all your money.
That’s what Sherrie finally had to face nine years ago, when she finally left Ken Boyd, father of her only child, Keeley. She had to sell her home and, in 2007, declare herself bankrupt. It all left her on the brink of an alcohol problem and suicidal - but she found the strength to survive.
“Loose Women has been like therapy for me,” she readily admits. “Its got me through some very difficult times. When I started on the show I was just starting out on my own and I was so stressed I lost my hair twice.”
She had to put on a brave face and a wig and go out and smile. “And through it all, I had the girls from the show. I don’t know what I’d have done without them,” she says.
“They could pull me out moments of despair in a way that I couldn’t have let family and very close friends do, because it would have got too emotional and upsetting for them. They are all very strong - and survivors of their own relationship sagas. I could tell them things that I couldn’t tell anyone else.
“You know, the power of women together is quite extraordinary.”
Sherrie, though, hadn’t realised how sad and eventful her private life had actually been until she started penning her just-released autobiography, Behind The Laughter.
“As I was writing, it was dawning on me how bad it had been. That I’d lived in a parallel universe; I’d got a great career, better than most people could ever wish for. But the life I led at home was so very different. That one actually read more like the script of a soap opera than real life.”
To outsiders it did indeed look like bubbly Sherrie had it all. RADA-trained, she was one of Britain’s best loved TV stars. She got her big break in the Carry On films at the age of 25 and became known to millions as Maureen Holdsworth, wife of Reg in Coronation Street.
Ken Morley, who played Reg, is still one of her best friends to this day. She has lots of male friends, most of whom are gay (“not Ken though, he’s totally red-blooded,“ she’s quick to stress).
“I do love the company of men - all that about Loose Women panellists putting men down is just ridiculous. We talk about what’s happened to us - about the men who have hurt us, not men in general. But people read into that what they want,” she shrugs.
The first man who hurt her, if you discount actor Robert Lindsay, her RADA sweetheart who jilted her when he got cold feet just weeks before their teen wedding, was charming lover John Rowlands, whom she met while working at the Nottingham Playhouse while in her twenties. According to Sherrie, he turned violent.
‘John would hit me until I was bruised and battered. After one row he knocked me from one side of the front room to the other for an hour,’ she claims.
Then she met womanising doorman Ken Boyd while filming the TV series Love for Lydia and married in 1983.
“It was early on that I discovered he was having affairs, but like so many women decide to do, I stayed with him for our daughter’s sake. I didn’t realise that what I thought was the right thing to do – to stay, and show a stiff upper lip - was the wrong thing.
“I look back now and think: I should have left when I first realised he was being unfaithful.
“I could have given myself and our daughter a happier life; eventually met someone else, got married and had more children, who would have been brothers and sisters for her.
“But then, hindsight is a wonderful thing,” says Sherrie, now 60.
She is now finally divorcing the man who cheated on her and squandered all her money her career had earned her.
She tried hard to manage her debts, but in the end, felt she had no alternative but to file for bankruptcy - “an awful experience; one I would tell anyone contemplating it to think very carefully about,” she warns. An even worse ordeal, though, was being lambasted in the press by Ken once her book had hit the shelves.
“He had the nerve to blame me for the debt,” she says, disgust rising in her voice.
“He sold his side of the story, if you can call it that. He said I was a spend-thrift who once spent £10,000 on a party; what he neglected to mention was that it was his 40th birthday party.
“But that’s him all over; as far as he’s concerned, everything that went wrong in his life was my fault.”
“After all that, I don’t regret marrying him - it produced my daughter and my two grandchildren, who are the loves of my life and the reason I breathe every morning.
“And as Carol McGiffin always says, there are no bad decisions, only decisions. Sherrie’s warmth and good humour had won her a place in the hearts of Loose Women viewers, but the tales of her relationship disasters has actually made her feel closer to feel closer to them: “It’s a two-way thing.
“I’ve had a lot of feedback from viewers, telling me they sympathise with me because they have been there.
And that has really helped me. You do tend to think you’re the only one going through something so bad.”
Sherrie will be at WH Smith in Meadowhall signing copies of her book Behind the Laughter, published by HarperCollins, this Saturday at 3pm.