Loyal Cheryl Tweedy fought an incredible secret battle to get her closest friend off heroin, the Sunday Mirror can reveal.
X Factor queen Cheryl’s best pal Katherine Tait become a drug addict aged just 17 on the council estate where they both grew up.
And today Katherine, 28, who says she’s now clean of drugs, tells how it was Cheryl who forced her to confront her £150-a-day addiction.
She says Cheryl, now a multi-millionaire and one of the biggest names in showbiz, took time out from her rise to fame with Girls Aloud to try to nurse her away from drugs.
“If I’d have carried on with the drugs I would be dead now,” she said. “I owe my life to Cheryl.
“The pair of us were like sisters. Cheryl was the person who told my mum what I’d got into and ultimately it was th at which saved my life.”
Cheryl was in tears when she first discovered Katherine, her neighbour five doors away on Newcastle’s Heaton Estate and who she’d known since the age of four, was dabbling in heroin.
She was even angrier when she discovered that Katherine was smoking the drug with Cheryl’s then boyfriend Jason Mack.
There’s a LOT of text but it’s really worth a read.
Katherine said: “Me and Jason were mates and both into the gear. I used to go round to his house and we’d smoke it together. It was 2001 and Cheryl had been seeing Jason for about a year.
“She found us together at his house one day and went ballistic. She was screaming at both of us. She said we’d broken her heart.”
Anti-drugs campaigner Cheryl has spoken in the past about the effect Jason’s heroin abuse had on her, saying: “It makes me sick. Heroin is Devil’s dust. It ruins lives and families and everything it touches.”
But until now the astonishing story of her fight to help Katherine – whose house was a second home to her and where she lived for weeks on end – has gone untold.
“Cheryl would cry and beg me to stop using heroin”, says Katherine, who in contrast to Cheryl’s jetset lifestyle still lives in Heaton, with her ten-year-old son.
“Cheryl would say, ‘You’re too good for this. You’re from a good family, you have a little boy. Please, please stop’.
“Lots of our friends fell into the druggie lifestyle and Cheryl’s brother got badly into glue-sniffing and crime. But Cheryl never touched drugs.”
Katherine, whose parents ran pubs and by comparison to dirt-poor Cheryl’s family were relatively well-off, said: “For a long time, I wouldn’t admit to Cheryl that I was using heroin. I was ashamed.
“Cheryl begged and begged me to get help. When that didn’t work she told my mum what was going on.
“It must have been really difficult for Cheryl to say to my mum , ‘Your daughter is hooked on heroin’, but that’s exactly what she did.
“My mum sent me to a private drugs counsellor. I got clean for a while, but then I relapsed.”
Even after Cheryl won her place in Girls Aloud in 2002, she didn’t give up on her friend.
“By this point I’d been using heroin for about two years,” says Katherine. “She would call and say, ‘Katherine, I want to help you. I want you to get better’.”
And it wasn’t just Katherine who Cheryl tried to help. She managed to get boyfriend Jason to stop smoking heroin – even nursing him for a week as he suffered terrible “cold turkey” withdrawal symptoms.
Katherine recalls: “One day at Jason’s Cheryl came round and started banging on the door. She was going mental shouting, ‘I know you’re in there, let me in’.
“As soon as he did, she drew her fist back and hit him hard, right in the face. She bust his nose and burst his lip – there was blood everywhere. She was screaming, ‘You’ve been smoking that s**t again – I can smell it. How could you both do this to me?’ After that Jason went cold turkey.
“She lay in bed with him and stroked his arms and legs when he got the shakes. She tried to do the same for me, but I always relapsed.”
Katherine and Cheryl’s friendship dates back to 1987, when Cheryl’s mother Joan moved to Katherine’s street. Cheryl was four and Katherine was five.
Katherine says: “We were inseparable from the first day. I remember, she really stood out. She had curly dark hair, dark skin and these beautiful big brown eyes. She was lush.
“Cheryl was like my little sister. We used to have baths together, do each other’s make-up and get ready to go out.
“I remember the first time I straightened her hair. It is really curly naturally. She hated it.
“I straightened it and she said, ‘I can’t believe I’ve been going to school for so long looking the way I have’. After that I had to straighten her hair every morning before school. Cheryl hated her legs and used to say she wanted mine. She hated her knees and her thighs and would never wear a short skirt … now look at her
She had really hairy arms too. She would sit with a cigarette lighter and singe the hairs on her arms and brush them off.”
Single mother Joan was so hard-up then that Cheryl would wear Katherine’s hand-me-down clothes.
Katherine says: “I always had tons of new clothes, the latest pair of trainers and lots of toys and things. Cheryl was the exact opposite. Her family had nothing. They didn’t even get Christmas presents, they were so poor.
“When we were really little, my mum used to bag up our clothes once every six months and give them to Joan for Cheryl and her sister Gillian.
“When I first saw her walking down the street in my cast-offs, I laughed, which wasn’t very nice, but I didn’t know any better.
“As I got older, I’d give Cheryl clothes and shoes myself. Cheryl had no idea how to put an outfit together back then. She wasn’t stylish like now.
“When we were going out, I’d put little outfits together for her and lend her some jewellery.
“It’s amazing today to see her in all her designer dresses worth thousands of pounds.
“She might not have had much, but her mum treated her like a queen. Cheryl would sit in her chair with her dog on her lap and say, ‘Ma, run me a bath. Ma, get me a cup of tea’, and Joan would do it for her. But Cheryl always said she was going to be famous.
“When she was 16. She was always off singing, dancing and performing. When she was about 14 she got a job as a backing dancer for the pop group Ultimate
Chaos. She loved it, but she reckoned she couldn’t sing.
“After she made it into Girls Aloud, she said to me, ‘Katherine, can you remember when you used to ask me to sing and I’d say ‘no, because I can’t’ – how funny is it I’m in a band now’?”
“The pair shared secrets – from their first kiss, to their first drink. Cheryl’s first kiss was with a boy called Hayden, who she met at dancing. She was about 11 and fancied him like mad. She used to doodle her name and his in love hearts over her school books.
“She came back from dance class one day and said he’d walked her home and kissed her.
“She thought she was in love. She was always a little romantic – when she fell for someone, she fell hard.
“When we got a bit older we started experimenting with other things. We became more interested in boys and Cheryl started seeing a lad called Stephen. He was a DJ and we used to hang around at his house.
“We’d sit and listen to tunes, drink vodka and smoke cigarettes. Cheryl always smoked and drank. She was just like the rest of us. We’d sit there all night until Stephen’s mum came home, then we’d leg it to my house.
“In the end Cheryl pretty much lived at our house. I had a big room and we used to share the double bed. My mum would get us up for school and cook us our tea when we got home.
There was a time when Cheryl didn’t go home once in two months. We were about 14. Her bedroom was awful and I think she just wanted to have nice things around her.
“Cheryl shared her room with her sister Gillian. There was no wallpaper on the walls or paint, so they covered the whole room with posters. There wasn’t an inch of space left, but it was still pretty grim.”
When Cheryl entered Pop Stars: The Rivals in 2002 – the TV talent show which catapulted her to fame – Katherine had already begun taking heroin.
She said: “We plastered ‘vote Cheryl’ posters over the whole estate. Even after she moved to London she’d come back to visit. She’d pick me up in her brand new Jeep and drive me around saying, ‘Can you believe I’m a singer? Can you believe I’m driving a Jeep’?”
And Katherine still remembers when Cheryl first met her future husband Ashley Cole in 2004. “She had no idea who he was. Cheryl told me she’d met a really fit guy, but she wasn’t interested because she was concentrating on her career.
“After a while Cheryl rang me and told me he was a footballer. She said, ‘Katherine, as soon as I found out who he was I snapped him up’.
“And I can remember the first time he came to visit her family. Cheryl bought her mum a new kitchen, to make their house seem nicer. Then, when he arrived, she invited him in, but kept him downstairs. She wouldn’t let him go upstairs.”
It was around the time Ashley came on the scene that Katherine lost touch with Cheryl for good.
As Cheryl went on to bigger things Katherine’s life deteriorated further, partly brought on by the death of her father.
She was jailed for six months for a credit card fraud to fund her addiction.
“I didn’t want to tell Cheryl I was going to prison. And when I got out I didn’t get back in touch, I felt I’d let her down.”
Katherine says she has now been clean for three years, but still considers herself an addict. “It will always hang over my head – it never goes away.
“Cheryl might not realise this – but telling my mum was the best thing she could have done.
“I never thanked her for it at the time, but I couldn’t have stayed clean for as long as I have without the support of my family – and Cheryl was the one who helped me get that.
“I’m really happy she’s done so well, and I’m proud to call her my friend.”