AS a bubbly CBeebies TV presenter once idolised by millions of young kids, Sarah-Jane Honeywell had the world at her feet.
But after appearing in a series of sexy photo shoots, she was axed from the job she adored, and spiralled into a crippling depression that almost saw her take her own life.
Mum-of-two Sarah-Jane, 47, first began hosting CBeebies shows like Higgledy House and Mighty Mites in 2002, alongside co-star Justin Fletcher, AKA Mr Tumble.
“It was the job of my dreams,” she says. “I had so much fun every day, just trying to make kids laugh.”
But in November 2011, she took part in a promo campaign for PETA, which saw her posing topless on a huge plate of food in London’s Trafalgar Square.
“At the time, I was on a filming break from CBeebies, so didn’t think I needed to clear it with them. It was just a bit of fun – and I wasn’t even paid to do it.”
But the resulting photo caused a stir, and when further shots of her wearing a skimpy vest and pouring Diet Coke over her boobs appeared in the press, she discovered she’d been sacked.
“The BBC was asked to comment on the pictures, and they simply said I no longer worked for them. That was how I found out.
"There was never a phone call or a single conversation with my bosses – despite me having worked there for 10 years. I was completely devastated that the career I loved was over.”
Even Sarah-Jane’s co-star Justin froze her out. “I called and left him a message but to this day he’s never responded.
"We were the best of mates, so that really hurt. I do understand it though, because as a children’s presenter he needs to protect his own image.”
Sarah-Jane also got bombarded with online abuse. “There was even a Facebook group called ‘I hate Sarah-Jane Honeywell.’ Dads tended to be quite supportive, but mums were cruel.”
She was also vilified over a story which reported her occasional use of cocaine in her youth – well before her TV days.
“I basically spoke out to warn kids not to do drugs, but it led to more people sticking the knife in.”
As work dried up, Sarah-Jane fell into debt and over the next three years, racked up £100,000 on her credit card.
The BBC was asked to comment on the pictures, and they simply said I no longer worked for them. That was how I found out.
“I had to move into my parents’ garage, and was at my wits end. I woke up most days feeling like I couldn’t breathe.”
One bright spot came when she met former Hollyoaks actor Ayden Callaghan, 39, on the set of a minor British film in early 2013. But when the pair got engaged in late 2014, the trolling intensified.
“I’m seven years older than Ayden, and his fans on social media called me a skanky old druggie, questioning why he was with me. It was hateful.”
In March 2015, Sarah-Jane finally hit rock bottom.
“I was three months’ pregnant so had recently come off Prozac, which gave me horrendous withdrawal symptoms. I was crying all the time – often in my sleep.
"While Ayden was working I’d get in the car, drive somewhere and just sob for hours.”
One day, while waiting to take a train into Liverpool, she considered ending it all.
“As I stood on the platform, I felt really dizzy and my legs were shaking. I had a really strong compulsion to jump in front of an oncoming train. It was that kind of urge you sometimes get with vertigo, and I thought that if I jumped, all the pain would stop.
"I wasn’t thinking logically about the effect it would have on Ayden or my family – I just wanted to stop feeling as if my heart was being ripped out.”
Crucially, it was Sarah-Jane’s pregnancy that drew her back from the edge.
“I’d only had a scan a few days before, and the thought of the life inside me saved me,” she says. “I went and sat on a wall and calmed myself down, and then walked home. I was badly shaken, but I decided to start counselling and get myself well.”
Her and Ayden’s first son, Phoenix, now five, was born in August 2015, and the pair married in September 2016.
“Ayden is amazing, and was such a rock throughout everything. He helped me clear my debts, and put up with all the times I was a total psychopath. I definitely wouldn’t have survived without him.”
In January 2018, they welcomed the arrival of their second son, Indiana, now three.
The family live in Lincoln, where Sarah-Jane runs the Curious Theatre School.
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn't discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it's rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let's all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You're Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
She is also planning to launch a charity to help underprivileged kids attend drama school, and eventually hopes to get back into TV.
“I’d love to do more acting or presenting – or take part in Dancing on Ice. Our kids don’t watch CBeebies though – they don’t even know it exists!”
In an age of escalating online abuse and cancel culture, Sarah-Jane still believes she was treated unfairly – but when approached by The Sun, the BBC declined to comment.
“I don’t understand why, as a woman, you can lose your job for posing in your knickers,” Sarah-Jane says. “How many male stars have abused their partners or taken drugs, but are still presenting? The world can be very unforgiving if you’re a female in the public eye.”
Despite this, she has no regrets. “Looking back, I’m so much wiser, and I’m happy at last.
"Though I made loads of mistakes and have only myself to blame, my husband and kids are all that matter to me these days.”
Follow @sjhoneywell, @curious_theatre and visit curioustheatreschool.com/ for more information
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