SATURDAYS singer Frankie Bridge looks the picture of confidence when she is performing on stage or holding forth on TV’s Loose Women.
But now she has opened up with brutal honesty about her daily battles with crippling insecurities and the inner turmoil she faced as a first-time mum.
And that includes the harrowing time she convinced herself she had killed her elder son Parker, now seven, when he was just a baby.
Recalling the incident in her new book Grow: Motherhood, Mental Health & Me, Frankie, 32, explains how she had taken him to get his chickenpox vaccine before his first birthday after she was advised to do so by a medical professional.
However afterwards she was told by her paediatrician she should have waited until he turned 12 months, and Frankie — also mum to Carter, six — writes: “The guilt and fear I had felt throughout the day spiralled. And it resulted in a complete meltdown.
My paranoia kicked into overdrive too and I became convinced I had killed my child, before he’d even really got the chance to live.
“My paranoia kicked into overdrive too and I became convinced I had killed my child, before he’d even really got the chance to live.”
In reality, although having the vaccine before Parker was less than a year old was not advised, it simply meant it would not work, rather than causing him any harm.
But the incident left a distraught Frankie feeling she was a “failure” of a mother who was “a waste of space, bound to let my kids down”.
In the book, which is aimed at helping others who are going through similar experiences, she also opens up about suffering from separation anxiety. Frankie, who married former Chelsea star Wayne Bridge in 2014, says that leaving Parker to go on honeymoon led to another breakdown.
The couple tied the knot at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, nine months after Parker was born, but when they were about to jet off after the ceremony, Frankie said she started to panic.
She then broke down in tears over worries that she or Wayne could die while they were abroad, leaving Parker with no-one to care for him.
And just minutes before boarding the plane, Frankie says she demanded that Wayne change their wills before leaving the UK.
She recalls: “This type of crisis moment is something I had dealt with throughout my life, but I had never been responsible for someone else, and this compounded my paranoia and exacerbated my fears.
“I made Wayne call his lawyer and discuss it with him so there was some form of plan in place.”
Frankie says her mental health struggles flared up during both her pregnancies, and like many new mums she found it hard to come to terms with her changing body.
She writes: “On one hand I felt immense pride in the fact that my body was growing another human.
“On the other hand I also carried the immense weight of underlying shame. I was so ashamed and if I’m honest, shocked that I wasn’t a gorgeous, glowing, neat and tidy pregnant woman.
“My bum was bigger than my bump most of the time.”
Comments from strangers didn’t help, and Frankie adds: “People often thought I was carrying twins.” The result of her battle with her looks led to Frankie believing she had “failed at pregnancy” and even before she had given birth she said she was terrified she “wasn’t the right kind of mother”.
Her career as a pop star had begun when she was picked to be a singer in youth group S Club Juniors when she was just 12.
She was part of the group for three years before she was picked to join girl band The Saturdays, alongside Una Healy, Rochelle Humes, Mollie King and Vanessa White, in 2004.
Being in the spotlight as one of the UK’s best-known all-female groups worsened Frankie’s troubles.
During their seven-year reign in the charts, they scored 13 Top Ten hits and one No1 album, until they announced they were going on hiatus in 2014. While the band were riding high, Frankie says her self-confidence plummeted.
And being a child star, she recalls, left her believing from an early age that “beauty was the only power I had while never really feeling or believing I was actually beautiful”.
Frankie sought professional help but says despite years of counselling she still can’t understand why she feels and acts as she does.
She writes: “My looks got me things that I wanted but never believed I deserved to have. I felt my body was my only asset.
“So I began to restrict my food intake, feeling worthy and excited if my bones were jutting out and believing that going to bed hungry was a huge accomplishment.”
Frankie’s use of antidepressants also saw her battle with her body image worsen. During her first pregnancy, she put on four stone because of a side effect of the tablets she was taking.
Feeling pressured to maintain her pop star image, she says she would come home from work sobbing after having to keep up a pretence in front of those she worked with.
Writing about hiding her emotions, Frankie says the process left her feeling mentally and physically exhausted.
After tiring of keeping her feelings hidden, in 2012 — two years before The Saturdays split — she decided to speak publicly about her struggles with panic attacks.
Since then she has used her platform to speak out for others who may be going through similar experiences. Frankie’s decision to open up was praised by a number of mental health organisations and saw her become an ambassador for the charity Mind.
As a regular panellist on Loose Women she regularly leads discussions about depression and anxiety on the ITV show.
But while she has learned to deal with her problems, she says she understands it will be a life-long battle. And for Frankie, a huge part of her anxiety is centred around the welfare of her children.
In the book she says that although both her boys are now at primary school, she still insists on keeping a baby monitor in their rooms.
In part, this helps her keep tabs on Parker, who suffers from asthma attacks which can come on suddenly at night. Earlier this year Frankie had to rush him to hospital when he began to suffer with breathing difficulties.
She writes: “We still have a monitor in the boys’ room and if I’m honest, I’m not sure when I’ll ever feel comfortable enough to get rid of it.”
Despite her troubles, Frankie says she now tries to focus on the positives every day and says she understands that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to motherhood.
After seven years of devoting herself to being a mum and raising her family, she now feels ready to share her experiences, warts and all, to help others avoid falling into the same traps she did.
Frankie says: “My depression has improved mostly because I am not preoccupied by it and don’t have to think too much about it and am physically unable to spend too many days in bed crying. We have to learn not to be too hard on ourselves. One thing I have learned is that ‘perfect’ is a useless model that sets you up to fail. It isn’t reality.
“What matters is that you find a way to be you while supporting your children in all the strange and beautiful ways they will need you over the years.”
- Grow: Motherhood, Mental Health & Me, by Frankie Bridge (Brazen, £18.99), is out now and available to buy in all good bookshops and online.
HOW TO PACIFY YOUR PANIC
By Dr Carol Cooper
IT’S totally normal to have feelings of anxiety before a driving test or job interview or at other stressful times.
But some people find it hard to control their worries and become anxious far more often. This can seriously interfere with life.
Physical symptoms of anxiety are due to an increase in stress hormones from the adrenal glands.
They include a racing heart, dry mouth, shaking, weak legs, feeling sick and trouble breathing. Some of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so you may need to seek medical advice.
Anxiety can bring on a full-blown panic attack, where there’s usually all these symptoms, plus shortness of breath, rapid, shallow breathing and often tingling hands, too.
A panic attack is unpleasant and often scary for the victi and for those around them. Even so, the attack isn’t dangerous. It usually lasts from five minutes to an hour.
During an attack, breathing exercises can help. Breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose and out through the mouth. Close your eyes as you do it, and try counting to five for each in-breath and another five for each out-breath.
Long-term relief for anxiety should start with self-help, such as exercising regularly, not smoking and not drinking too much caffeine or booze. There are also several useful apps for mental health in the NHS Apps Library.
Some people need more specific treatment, such as CBT or other psychological treatments. There are also medicines your GP can prescribe if needed.
For help and more info visit mind.org.uk