I reckon Peter Barlow is by far and away the most convincing alcoholic on prime time television at the moment. But he has nothing on a New Zealand woman called Charlene.

Coronation Street's Peter Barlow is a troubled alcoholic played to perfection by Chris Gascoyne. The role, which he's had since 2000 - he's the fifth actor to play Barlow - has garnered nominations from various soap awards and has even drawn comparisons to The Sopranos' Christopher Moltisanti.

The character is one very troubled puppy. His falls from the wagon have also given the soap - which all too often veers into pantomime - some rock solid drama. His battle with the bottle seems to be just that, although add the word epic to that mix to get a sense of the power of the addiction that's been so effectively portrayed.

Add a love triangle and some sordid secrets to the mix, and you have a hell of a storyline, which is due to come to a head on Friday in a traditionally disastrous Coronation Street wedding.


Meanwhile in the real world, Charlene's battle was just as captivating, and not just because it's real. The story, which ran on Campbell Live last week, was also epic in scale - by Campbell Live standards - as it ran over all three parts of the programme.

Reporter Natasha Utting followed the woman, known only as 'Charlene', as she attempted to stop drinking herself to death. Her doctor explained that she had tried everything but just couldn't kick it. She'd done treatment programmes, taken medication, nothing worked. She also tried AA but decided it wasn't for her.

Charlene contacted the show and said she was going to detox at home and invited them to film her attempt, by way of explaining the terrible pull that booze has on people. It was an astonishing offer, which was handled with care, and a remarkable amount of understated flair.

Utting delivered something not often seen at this time of night, a programme of refreshing simplicity and brutal honesty. It was also an enterprise that came with a considerable amount of risk.

Much as they do in Celebrity Rehab, the programme began with Charlene using a video camera to film the "before", which in her case involved a midnight trip to the supermarket to buy the cheapest booze she could find. We saw her basket filled with what looked to be half a dozen bottles of Chardonnay, a snip at $8.99.

She also filmed some workers restocking the shelves. "Is this 24 hour availability part of the problem? Charlene thinks so." But that was the only time the story strayed into the cause rather the effect. That's another story. We didn't see Charlene necking the booze she bought at the supermarket but the next images were from inside a cubicle in hospital looking out through the grey curtains. It was 4.30am.

The next day she began to detox in her own home with the help of an addiction nurse, Annette, who had been brought in by the show. The first hurdle was getting rid of the booze that Charlene had hidden in her house. There was a full glass of wine next to her bed and there was a bottle at the bottom of a laundry basket.

She was so on edge when the nurse arrived that it seemed like she might just shut the whole thing down. Clearly she had to dig very deep indeed. Her last drink was just a few minutes ago. Even after a night in hospital she couldn't control herself. But with an "okay let's do this" she finally pulled herself together.

Twenty-four hours after stopping she seemed like a different person but was still spending most of the day in bed. She was also sweating bullets and dealing with shocking headaches: "Feels like the worse dose of flu you can have."

The final part dealt with the pain of coming to the end of a detox. Her medication was reduced, and she wasn't happy. She tried to override the nurse's call and convince her doctor to keep the pills coming, but he wasn't keen to replace the booze addiction with a Diazepam habit. Charlene went back to bed. With rock bottom achieved we started to see the light.

By day four she was looking and feeling better, Annette the nurse left after six days of detox watch. Without her presence it was almost certain that Charlene's story would have barely filled an ad-break let alone the entire show. But there was no happy ending, just yet. Not even a cautiously optimistic one.

Annette, the nurse, was not convinced that she would be able to stay dry. But Charlene seemed determined: "I really want this, I want to wake up and feel healthy in the morning and not wake up and dread the day."

Her doctor, who had been through the ups and downs before, was more hopeful, though realistic, concluding that success in this field was somewhat of a lottery, possibly with similar odds: "It's serendipity as much as anything else."

Sadly such serendipity was to remain elusive, and the very next night we learnt that Charlene had relapsed only three days after the detox. It was heartbreaking to watch.

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