Matt Willis is preparing for a new tour with his band Busted – and he’s terrified. The bassist and singer, 40, has battled with alcohol and drugs for as long as he can remember, and fears another relapse would end his marriage to his TV star wife Emma – and his life.
“Over the last two decades, I’ve relapsed repeatedly and been to rehab four times. I’m terrified of relapsing again,” admits Matt. “The thought of it is constantly in my head. I don’t know if I have it in me to get out of it again.”
Busted last toured in 2017, when Matt had been happily clean and sober for eight years and Emma was at home with their three children Isabelle, Ace and Trixie, who was just eight months old at the time.
“After one of our shows someone offered me a line of coke, and I was like, ‘Oh, cocaine wasn’t a problem for me, alcohol was my downfall,’” explains Matt. “Within a month I was doing six grams on my own every f**king day and not coming home until three in the morning pretending I was working on an album, which I wasn’t really writing, I was making s**t music in the studio doing coke.”
Now Matt is exploring what makes him an addict in a new documentary Matt Willis: Fighting Addiction and investigating how to avoid another crisis.
Emma and Matt married in 2008, soon after his visit to rehab. Emma, 47, says, “We’ve been together for 18 years. Sometimes I feel like I’ve got four kids instead of three. There’s been a lot of joy but equally it’s been incredibly heavy at times.”
Marriages are based on trust and Emma’s proud of Matt for everything he does to stay sober. But she admits the new tour is a huge worry. “Matt’s always had issues, but they seem to really kick in when he’s on tour,” says Emma. “I know he doesn’t want to be that person, but is his brain going to trick him and go ‘one more time’? That’s the worry.”
Matt’s addictions meant he couldn’t function, his health deteriorated and he feared he would die. He also spent his life apologising.
“I knew I was an addict long before I got clean,” says Matt. “I just tried to hide it, and then it was unhideable, thenit was just about saying ‘sorry’ every five minutes, but still doing it, and then those sorrys mean nothing.”
Things came to a head when Matt began to fear he would lose Emma and his life.
“I was going to lose everything. I wanted to stay alive,” explains Matt. “I didn’t want to die and at that point it was very clear that
if I carried on the way I was gonna go, I was gonna die. It was very much life or death.”
Matt credits Emma with helping him through his darkest days. Now, he’s determined to make it up to her by not relapsing, rather than with romantic gestures or endless apologies.
“I said ‘sorry’ so many f**king times that I don’t think that’s good enough,” explains Matt. “I make amends daily by not being that guy. Every time my head hits the pillow and I haven’t done something outrageous, I’m making amends in a way.”
In the documentary, Matt explores his difficult childhood and meets up with his brother Darren to discuss their upbringing and their “heated relationship” with their stepdad.
Matt started drinking so young he can’t remember when he had his first drink and spent much of his youth boozing in parks and smoking cannabis.
Matt also sees a therapist, who explains why he can’t remember large chunks of his early years, and has committed to more therapy to try to tackle his demons and avoid a relapse.
The documentary is unflinching and it means Matt is due to have some difficult conversations with his eldest daughter Isabelle, who is 13.
“My kids know I don’t drink and I’ve been kind of as open as you can with kids about that,” says Matt. “I’ve said it doesn’t work for me, but words like ‘addiction’ and ‘addict’ and stuff are quite scary words. My eldest is almost 14, we’re gonna watch it [together]. Her friends might watch it and I want to prepare her for that. She’s a clever kid. She gets it and she knows who I am now. It will be hard for her to see. I don’t feel like hiding kids away from anything is a good idea.”
Matt and Emma adore their children and they make sure they can talk to them about anything. Matt’s bringing them up very differently to how he was raised. “Me and my eldest talk openly and honestly,” says Matt proudly. “I’m bewildered, I didn’t have that relationship. I’m really f**king amazed that we talk about this stuff. It’s so cool we have that relationship.”
One of the things Matt does to stay sober is to start every day with a gratitude journal and his love for his family features heavily.
He has every reason to stay sober for the rest of his life but he still fears a single moment of weakness could be his undoing – especially on tour.
Coming offstage is a dangerous moment for Matt. He says, “That’s always the hardest part. The party afterwards used to be just as good as being on the stage.”
This tour will see Matt get more support from his colleagues, including bandmates Charlie Simpson, 37, and James Bourne, 39, who are committed to keeping him clean. “Two of the people I work with every day love me,” says Matt. “And I love them.”
Emma, Isabelle, Ace, 11, and Trixie, seven, will also play their part in supporting him. “I am going to travel a lot with my family, they’re going to come as much as they can,” explains Matt. “And I have very different parameters which I live by now. The morning is really important for me. I want to go to bed because I want to get that part of my day, which I really cherish. When I come offstage, I hang out for half an hour, then I go back to my room, watch something, put a sleep story on and I’m gone.”
So why doesn’t he just cancel the tour? That would be letting his family and his bandmates down. “It is a job, I have to turn up,” says Matt. “Everyone’s got a financial interest for me to be straight.”
As scared as he is, it means a great deal to Matt that he has Emma in his corner. “She’s an absolutely unbelievable woman,” says Matt. “We move forward together as a couple.”
- Matt Willis: Fighting Addiction airs on Wednesday 17 May, 9pm, BBC One
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