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How Princess Diana helped end Michael Barrymore’s marriage to devastated wife Cheryl

For 21 years Michael Barrymore was married to devoted wife Cheryl, who quit her own thriving career as a dancer to serve as his manager.

But their union collapsed in a blaze of acrimony in 1995 when the Dancing On Ice star announced to the crowd at the White Swan gay bar in east London: "Start spreading the news, I'm gay today."

Cheryl had to be sedated, such was her devastation, and the shock plunged her into menopause.

But behind the scenes, there was more at play that just Barrymore's battle with his sexuality.

Then in the throes of alcoholism, the Strike It Lucky star claimed his rebellion was sparked by a need to break free of being a "clothes horse" and revealed that his number one backer was Princess Diana.

"Her original comment was that she was glad when I was in the papers because it kept her off the front page," he previously told the Guardian of their unlikely bonding.

He continued: "She was one who said you've got to stop being controlled. By that stage, I was just a clothes-horse. It got to the point where I would never look in the mirror even before I went out on stage - I just accepted what they had put on me."

The rebellion began with the once squeaky-clean star falling out of nightclubs drunk and getting smashed at award ceremonies.

He explained: "I had to be Mr Clean, right down to not a hair on my head being out of place, what jumper I wore, the way I walked. And eventually I just thought: I want to be naughty."

Diana is said to have been one of the first to know of Barrymore's true sexuality and encouraged him to come out.

When he was admitted to rehab in 1996, Diana apparently left a holiday early to return to London to comfort him.

But for Cheryl - who died from cancer in 2005 - their closeness was unnerving.

In her autobiography Catch a Falling Star she wrote: "[Diana] seemed to believe they could achieve something truly great and immortal together because they had the key to weeping massive public affection."

And when Diana was killed in a car accident in Paris in 1997, a distraught Barrymore called his wife from a Brixton gay club begging her to tell him it wasn't true.

“I went round there in the afternoon and she was seeing Dodi [Fayed] at the time and she said, ‘I’m going to Paris tonight. I’ll see you and the boys on Wednesday,'" he recently told Piers Morgan's Life Stories of their last ever meeting.

“And that never happened. She died."

The entertainer - whose career was derailed when factory worker Stuart Lubbock was found dead in his pool with severe anal injuries in 2001 - also believes Diana could have saved him from his drink and drug demons.

He explained: "I have a feeling that if she was around it wouldn’t have been so bad... she would have helped me through it.”

Barrymore was due to compete in Dancing On Ice this year but was forced to step down after breaking his wrist during rehearsals for the show.

He will, however, feature in the opening of the 2020 series which airs Sunday, January 5 on ITV at 7pm.

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