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Emmerdale’s Liam Fox on dad’s two vodka bottles a day 40-year booze hell

Emmerdale star Liam Fox has opened up for the first time about his dad’s 40-year alcohol battle, which eventually killed him and caused decades of family pain.

The 51-year-old actor – who has played the soap’s Dan Spencer for nearly a decade – has always kept his secret heartache private

But now wants to share his devastating experience in the hope it will help thousands of other families facing a similar situation.

Liam’s dad, Billy, sadly died on February 21 at the age of 73 from pneumonia but it was, explains the star, ultimately caused by his two-bottles-a-day vodka habit.

“Dad struggled with alcoholism for nearly 40 years of my life and it was absolutely horrendous for us to watch him get so regularly drunk knowing that one day he would die from the demon drink,” says Liam.

Emmerdale star Liam Fox has opened up for the first time about his dad’s 40-year alcohol battle

“Even though we repeatedly warned him if he didn’t stop drinking he would die, he couldn’t help himself. If by me talking about what happened can help others, then that has to be a positive thing. Nobody should have to suffer in silence.”

Problems

Liam was just 13 when his dad, a builder, began boozing more and more, returning to the family home in South Manchester so drunk he could barely string a sentence together.

“Dad had such a harsh childhood that I’m convinced his problems stemmed from there,” says Liam.

“His mum left him and his siblings with their grandparents in a remote area of Ireland in the 1950s, when she left for a new life in Manchester and because of the shame that the children had been fathered by different men.

Emmerdale's Liam Fox on dad's two vodka bottles a day 40-year booze hell
Liam’s dad, Billy, sadly died on February 21 at the age of 73

Emmerdale's Liam Fox on dad's two vodka bottles a day 40-year booze hell
He died from pneumonia but it was, explains the star, ultimately caused by his two-bottles-a-day vodka habit

“He was never allowed to be known as his mother’s son when he eventually followed her to England. He had to refer to her as his aunt and he felt worthless.

“When I think back, I realise Dad was using drink to block out his emotions.

“Up until I was 13, he was great and life felt good. Dad worked and played hard, he was always there. He was as fit as a fiddle and looked good, too. People used to jokingly call him the Roger Moore of Wilmslow!

“But in my teens, he started to get drunk on a regular basis. He would get home later and later and we used to absolutely dread it. He wouldn’t ever use physical violence but he would talk absolute c**p, blaming anyone but himself for his erratic behaviour.

“Each time this happened, Dad would promise he wouldn’t drink again and for six months or so, he wouldn’t but then he would predictably start again.”

Emmerdale's Liam Fox on dad's two vodka bottles a day 40-year booze hell
Liam was just 13 when his dad, a builder, began boozing more and more

Emmerdale's Liam Fox on dad's two vodka bottles a day 40-year booze hell
Liam has never shared on the heartache before

In 1995, after 12 years of his heavy drinking, Liam’s mum, Ann, could no longer cope with Billy so she told him to leave. Soon after he met a pub landlady, Jackie, and they set up home together.

By then, Liam had married his first wife, Nicole Barber-Lane, who plays Myra McQueen in Hollyoaks.

Happy, Billy started to cut down on his drinking and by 1999 when Liam and Nicole had a son, Ben, he vowed to become a new man.

“I was 29 by then and we went to tell him he was going to be a granddad,” says Liam.

“Nicole made it quite clear that if he carried on drinking – and by now it was vodka rather than beer – then he wouldn’t see his grandson. By and large up until 2016, Billy didn’t let the drinking get out of control. He was happy and he and Jackie loved each other.”

In 2015, Liam’s own marriage to Nicole ended after the couple drifted apart. Now, Liam thinks his dad’s drinking was partly to blame.

“I think I wanted my own family” says Liam who has remained friends with his first wife. “I became a stepdad to Jemma and we had Ben. It felt safe. That marriage failed as Nicole and I should have probably stayed friends but I wanted that unit and that goes back to Dad.”

Unfortunately, tragedy struck again a year later in 2016 when Billy’s partner, Jackie, died leaving him completely devastated.

“He fell apart and we knew he couldn’t cope,” admits Liam. “He started drinking heavily again and he was on a self-destruct button.”

Over the course of the next four years, Billy’s drinking got so bad; he was withdrawing up to £100 a day to pay for alcohol. He would then binge on booze for two weeks, cutting out food too, before collapsing and being rushed to hospital.

Promise

Then when he was released he would promise not to touch a drop of alcohol only for the cycle to start again a few months later.

“When dad was on a mission, he would start drinking in the morning and drink every day,” reveals Liam.

“The trigger would be Jackie. He would tell me ‘I miss Jackie so much’.

“I tried to tell him that he would always miss Jackie and maybe he could join a gym, make some new friends or even take up guitar lessons but he never did. I offered to take him to his hero Elvis’ home at Graceland, but he didn’t want to go. He was lost in his own pain.

Emmerdale's Liam Fox on dad's two vodka bottles a day 40-year booze hell
Billy’s drinking got bad again when his partner, Jackie, died leaving him completely devastated

“He would get so legless my sister, Michelle, his neighbour or I would regularly find him on the floor collapsed. We would then have to call an ambulance. It was horrendous and we must have done this at least 15 times. Once I got a call to say he was in a police cell after crashing his motability car into a taxi.

“We would all tell him he was going to die if he didn’t stop. He promised he would but then it would start again.”

One of the saddest parts of his dad’s battle with booze, Liam says, was the inability to get the help he desperately needed.

The actor says: “Dad was so lonely, but would never leave his house.

“He cried all the time but the problem is though that when we managed to get social workers to visit him, he wasn’t drinking and so he was deemed to have capacity.

“It was impossible to get him the help he really needed to deal with the route of his depression rather than the alcohol, which was a result of his inner pain.

Emmerdale's Liam Fox on dad's two vodka bottles a day 40-year booze hell
Liam and his wife Jojo

“It’s an area of mental health support that needs addressing. Surely dealing with the cause of the alcoholism is more important than the drinking itself? It was an absolute nightmare but I know we couldn’t have done any more.”

In November last year, Billy caught Covid during one of his alcohol collapse hospital visits.

Miraculously he didn’t suffer bad symptoms but the virus caused scarring on his lungs. A few months later, he got a bug that led to pneumonia and his death.

Recalling his dad’s final few days, Liam – who married his second wife Joanna (Jojo) Hudson in February 2020 – says quietly: “I was at first so angry with him. My sister was going, ‘Tell him you love him’. But I couldn’t. I kept thinking, ‘You stupid man, this is what you have done’. But I went to visit again and I made my peace with him.”

Emmerdale's Liam Fox on dad's two vodka bottles a day 40-year booze hell
Liam has played the soap’s Dan Spencer for nearly a decade on Emmerdale

Five months on and reluctantly Liam admits he now feels relieved his dad is no longer battling his demons and the family’s devastation watching him self-destruct is over.

Relief

“It is a relief now and sometimes I feel guilty that I think that,” admits Liam, who is also writing a film about his dad’s childhood in Ireland. “But I am happy our pain is over.”

Now Liam and his wife, Jojo, are considering becoming foster parents.

He reveals: “My dad would have been better off if he was adopted instead of being kept in that world where he couldn’t reveal he was his mother’s son.”

Liam smiles as he then declares: “It would be nice to help other children and I want to be the best dad I can be to Ben, Jemma and any future grandchildren I have.”

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