Online gambler who inspired Sheridan Smith’s TV role was suicidal over debts

The gambling addict who Sheridan Smith based her ­performance on in Cleaning Up has told how she became ­suicidal with debts of £70,000.

Kelly Field helped writers and ­producers develop Sheridan’s ­character in the ITV drama, which started on Wednesday night.

Viewers saw cleaner Sam, played by Sheridan, 37, bet at online casinos while struggling with a messy break-up, looking after two kids and her zero-hours contract job.

Her story echoes that of mum-of-one Kelly, who had a flutter to escape her own stress, after a grievance at her former job in a residential care home led to a period of sickness.

Five years into recovery, Kelly, 36, is delighted Sheridan is helping ­highlight the issue of female gambling addiction. And she has hit out at the glossy celebrity-endorsed ads used to attract women.

She said: “I almost lost my life to my gambling addiction. At its height, it left me feeling suicidal. I wanted to drive my car into a tree and end it all. It was the only way out I could see.

“I was so addicted to playing online fruit machines and bingo I wouldn’t eat, I wouldn’t drink. I would even take my laptop to the toilet with me so I could keep on spinning.

“I hit rock bottom after blowing a £1,600 overdraft in under an hour. I was already thousands of pounds in debt and the frustration, anger, upset and shame overwhelmed me.

“I snapped up the bank card and started scratching away at my wrists with it. The emotions all came to the surface and I just crumbled.

“I was self-harming with the card I’d just used to get myself further into debt. I was at rock bottom of a very steep spiral and I wanted out.

“Luckily I was able to find the help I needed, but many don’t.

“Gambling kills. I know of people who have taken their own life when they couldn’t see any other way out.”

With debt collectors at her door, Sheridan’s character turns to illegal insider trading to try to win back the money she’s lost to gambling.

Kelly said: “I funded my addiction by taking out credit card after credit card and maxing them all out. I got overdrafts and spent all our savings.

“But people do turn to criminality. I see it all the time. 

“You’re so stuck in the debt and so filled with shame, you feel you can’t speak to anyone or tell anyone.

“You can see why lots of people decide suicide is the best option.

“When you’re in that state of ­absolute turmoil you just can’t see how you’ll ever get help and break the ­vicious cycle.”

Kelly, a waitress from St Helens, Merseyside, first logged on to an ­online casino when she was off work with stress in 2010.

She saw an advert for online bingo while watching TV and, after a friend told her about a different online ­casino, decided to give it a go.

She said: “It was fun at first, and a great escape from the reality of what was going on around me.

“It wasn’t about money or winning. If you do win, it feels good, so you go back on. It’s the buzz and the thrill and the bright lights, the music and the fast spin of the slots.”

Despite hearing of others who had got into debt playing online casinos and bingo, Kelly thought her new hobby was just harmless fun.

But she was soon addicted and hiding her habit from her partner, son and everyone around her.

She said: “There are chatrooms on the sites. A message popped up from one player which read, ‘I can’t believe I’m £13,000 in debt.’ I was reading it, thinking, ‘How on earth do you get 13 grand in debt doing this?’

“But it quickly takes hold. Not even six months after my first spin I was £10,000 in debt and had maxed out my first credit card. Looking back, I can’t believe my bank let me keep going.

“I was playing for eight hours a day, every day – hiding it from everyone – and could easily lose £100 in just five seconds. It only takes a second to click, spin and lose it.

“It doesn’t feel like real money. It felt like playing Sonic the Hedgehog when I was a kid, with the lives and top score at the top of the screen.

“I would be losing more than £500 every day, easily – sometimes more.

“I’d get up in a morning and, as soon as my partner went to work and my son went to school I’d sit all day on my laptop just spinning on the fruit machines.

“I’d max out one card, then I’d apply for another one. Then another. I got so desperate I used to get into my car and think, ‘I’ll wrap myself around a tree and end it. Then it’s only me and the tree who would get hurt.’”

Kelly eventually told her ­partner and found the help she needed.

Since 2014, she has been paying back her debt at £300 a month and has helped other addicts recover.

She said: “For someone like Sheridan Smith to portray what I’ve been through and for it to be seen on ­television is a huge deal. It will reach millions. She is such an icon.”

Speaking about online gambling sites, Sheridan said: “A lot of gambling adverts are aimed at females in the daytime. They are pink and glossy.”

Kelly agrees. She said: “I hate the adverts featuring trusted celebrities like Paddy McGuinness, who does Jackpotjoy, or the Gala Bingo one with The Chasers from the quiz show.

“Plus the Tombola one, which makes it look like everyone is happy and having a nice time on a farm, drinking tea and ­eating cake.

“The reality is people are sitting at home, alone, losing their money and sometimes their life to gambling.”

For confidential support the Samaritans can be contacted for free around the clock 365 days a year on 116 123.

To donate or learn more about volunteering go to www.samaritans.org .

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