Trisha Goddard: ‘I wasn’t there for her when she needed me’

Trisha Goddard was one of the highest-paid women in television, but behind the scenes her mental health struggles threatened to ruin her life – and her daughter Billie’s. They speak candidly about survival and the long road to forgiveness.

Trisha’s story

Trisha Goddard, 62, is a TV presenter best known for her morning talk show Trisha.

Motherhood wasn’t something I’d always wanted. I was focused on my career. It was only after my youngest half-sister killed herself in 1988, after struggling with mental illness, that I changed my mind. Suicides are like grenades thrown into a family – they set off so many emotions. Suddenly I had a desperate urge for a baby.

I was living in Sydney, Australia. My boyfriend wasn’t exactly supportive of my decision, but I was obsessed. I stopped drinking and working silly hours in my job on a nightly TV news show and came off the pill. I timed getting pregnant for exactly when I wanted but Billie arrived two weeks early after I had a fall. Thankfully, she came safely, and only a few hours after the birth I was back on screen.

Trisha and Billie
Trisha with Billie in 2017. Image: Philip Ide

Becoming a mother didn’t make me feel different, but I loved breastfeeding. It was the first time that I felt properly connected to another human being and it was the most powerful feeling in the world. I’d take Billie on work trips, sharing a bed in hotel rooms and letting my cameraman hold her while I was on screen.

I had my second daughter, Madison, in 1993 and wanted to instil in both daughters the same work ethic that I’d been brought up with. My mother always said that it was important for a woman to own her own house, her own car, et cetera, and I drummed that into my girls.

When Billie was about five, my marriage broke down and I could only work sporadically. Suddenly I was a single mum and money was tight. I’d scour local markets, asking for fish scraps ‘for the cat’ then make stew for the children. I often told Billie that mummy was trying to lose weight so I could skip meals to save money. I sold off designer items in order to pay the school fees as I wanted Billie to have some continuity in her life. One Chanel bag could keep us going for a month.

I struggled with depression and in 1994 I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after a breakdown. I felt ashamed and that I’d failed as a mother. Billie and Madi’s father would bring them to see me every day. One day Billie put a pea up her nose and my lovely psychiatric nurse allowed me to take both children to the local doctor’s to get it removed. I was classed as a high-risk patient so I was really grateful to her for trusting me with them. I kept thinking: ‘I have to get dressed and look good for the doctor, otherwise they’ll take my children from me.’ It makes me cry even thinking about it now. At the doctor’s the pea came out easily, and afterwards we wandered into a cemetery near the surgery. The girls were running around, the sunlight was glinting off the gravestones, and at that moment I thought, ‘I can do this. I have to get better and stay on this planet for my girls.’

Trisha and Billie as a newborn
On set with her as a newborn in 1989.

In 1998, we moved to the UK, where I’d been headhunted for a new talk show, Trisha, and the next few years are a blur. I was working up to 70 hours a week, paying the mortgage and school fees. I was in a new relationship but still doing 99 per cent of the parenting. I had stretched myself too thinly. I had no idea that Billie had started abusing drink around the age of 14. Looking back, I noticed clues such as empty bottles, but as a parent it’s hard to tell what is normal teenage behaviour and what isn’t. I was a wild child too and, from the outside, Billie was doing brilliantly. She was a star pupil, always getting the top grades, and she won lots of awards. If I’d known she was suffering so much, I’d have done more to help. I’ve since apologised to her for not being there for her when she needed me. But you can’t change the past. I’m not sure I could have done anything differently anyway. People say I could have given up work and downsized but that’s not my style. They always like to point the finger of blame at the mother but I believe in giving kids the tools and equipment to deal with problems in life. It makes them resilient.

When I discovered the extent of Billie’s problems, after she revealed them in an interview last year, I was shocked but not surprised. She’d never talked to me about them but I’m very glad it’s all out in the open. Since my second divorce in 2018 there are no secrets or lies between us and we’re much closer. While I’m really sad that she had to keep hold of all that pain, she’s come out on the other side.

Billie’s story

Billie Dee Gianfrancesco, 30, is an independent publicist

I’d be lying if I said the first eight years of my life in Australia weren’t traumatic. Mum and Dad argued a lot; my father left and Mum ended up in a psychiatric hospital. At five years old, I felt abandoned. I’m convinced it contributed to my mental illness later in life. Although we’ve never had what you’d call an affectionate relationship, we were close and when mum was in hospital I missed her terribly. I’d do things like shove peas up my nose, hoping that I would then be taken to hospital and could spend time with her.

Moving to the UK when I was eight was scary, and when Mum started working such long hours, I hardly saw her. We had the nice house with a pool and tennis courts, but I felt lost. I didn’t get on with my stepfather. I started stealing random things from shops to get Mum’s attention. When I got caught, I lied my way out of it. I was a good kid really, and intelligent; I just wanted my mum to listen to me. It’s ironic that her job was about listening to other people’s problems but she had no time for me. On the few occasions that I wanted to open up to her, I probably picked the wrong moment. It was usually just as she’d got in from work and was sitting down to some food. I’d say, ‘Mum, I need to tell you something,’ and she’d say, ‘Bills, I’ve had this all day, can it wait?’ I realise now that she needed to wind down, but I felt rejected.

Trisha with Billie as a young girl
Trisha with Billie as a young girl. Image: Alpha Photo Press Agency

By the age of 14 I was full of self-hatred and had started drinking. Our cleaner discovered empty bottles in my room and told my mum. She questioned me but I lied and told her they were from a party. I wanted her to have some compassion, perhaps offer me therapy, but she didn’t. By 16, I was smoking weed, taking pills and sleeping around. Mum had always taught me to respect my body but she’d never taught me about the emotional side of sex. When I was with a guy, I’d feel so special. But afterwards I felt worthless again. It was a vicious circle.

I struggled until 2016 when my relationship ended, I was made redundant from my job and I knew I didn’t want to live any more. I constantly thought of ways to kill myself. But then I started therapy, which made me see that my problems weren’t all down to me, that I had a right to be angry. I also reconnected with my birth father in 2018, which helped to heal some wounds. I had blamed him for leaving and wanted him to say sorry too. But now I understand that both Mum and Dad are just human beings. They did what they thought was their best at the time, and I’ve accepted that and forgiven them.

Trisha and Billie in four

Describe each other in three words.

Trisha: Resilient, inspirational, gorgeous.

Billie: Mad, tough, inspirational.

Their worst habit?

Trisha: Beating herself up.

Billie: She talks over people.

When you’re together…

Trisha: We connect – I love being around sassy, strong women who have really lived.

Billie: We roar with laughter.

Favourite memory of each other.

Trisha: Teaching her to ski when she was about four. She fell over at the top and I couldn’t get to her to help her up. But she did it and came skiing all the way down and looked so pleased with herself.

Billie: Working with mum on the Trisha show in America in my early 20s.

Billie and Trisha are ambassadors for Time to Change, and Billie features in its See the Bigger Picture campaign, which aims to dispel misconceptions around mental health problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. for more information, go to bit.ly/338d7fz.

As told to Jill Foster.