Charlie Webster on managing trauma, confronting abuse and being given 24 hours to live

May 9, 2024. Series 7. Episode 88

The award-winning broadcaster, journalist, author, documentary maker, producer and campaigner Charlie Webster is a woman with a turbo-charged work ethic. Though perhaps her greatest superpower is her resilience. A resilience that has seen her achieve all this whilst carrying the weight of so much personal trauma.

Charlie was verbally and physically abused by her stepfather and as a teenager she was sexually abused, along with a number of other girls, by her running coach…a truly tragic story that she told she brilliantly in the BBC documentary, Nowhere to Run. Then, in 2016, after completing a 3,000-mile bike ride to Rio, Charlie contracted a rare strain of malaria and was put into a coma with doctors fearing that she may not last the night.

How she managed these crises is now the subject of Charlie’s brilliant new book ‘Why it’s Okay to Talk About Trauma’ – a manual for anyone facing personal challenge.



Why it’s OK to Talk About Trauma, 2024.



Charlie’s Podcasts: Undiscussable, Surviving El Chapo, Scamanda

Charlie’s Documentary: Nowhere to Run – Abused by our Coach


Stream/buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning:

Some Velvet Morning Website:

Your Daily Practice: Sleep by Myndstream:

Photo Copyright: Laura Ribatallada


Host – Andy Coulson

CWC team: Jane Sankey, Louise Difford, Mabel Pickering

With special thanks to Ioana Barbu and the brilliant people at Global


For all PR and guest approaches please contact – [email protected]


Full transcript:

Andy Coulson:                    Welcome back to Crisis What Crisis, the podcast that aims to guide you towards a more resilient life and whatever it might throw at you. If this is your first time with us, then please do hit subscribe wherever you’re watching or listening, it really does help make sure that these I hope useful conversations are shared as widely as possible.

Joining me today is the award-winning broadcaster, journalist, author, documentary-maker, producer, athlete and campaigner, Charlie Webster.

Charlie is a woman with a turbo-charged work ethic, Olympian levels of focus, and who is also a storyteller supreme. Not least in the world of podcasts where she has created some of the world’s most listened-to content.

But perhaps Charlie’s greatest superpower is her resilience. A resilience that has seen her achieve all this whilst carrying the weight of so much personal trauma.

Charlie was verbally and physically abused by her stepfather, and as a teenager she was sexually abused by her running coach. A truly tragic story that she told so brilliantly in the BBC documentary Nowhere to Run: Abused by Our Coach.

In 2016 after completing a 3,000 mile bike ride to Rio, Charlie contracted a rare strain of malaria and was put into a coma, doctors fearing that she may not last the night.

Now, how she managed these crises is the subject of Charlie’s brilliant new book, Why it’s OK to Talk About Trauma, a detailed guide for anyone who has suffered serious personal difficulty.

So we are now in the company of a woman with that resilience, with courage and with a determination to draw and share positives from the darkest of places.

Charlie Webster, welcome to Crisis What Crisis.

Charlie Webster:                  Thank you so much for having me.

Andy Coulson:                    How are you doing?

Charlie Webster:                  I’m really good, thank you. It’s interesting listening to your introduction, because firstly that’s the first time I’ve heard ‘author’ so I’m like, “Woo yay! I’m an author now,”

Andy Coulson:                    It’s all true Charlie, it’s all true.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes I know, trust me, I know.

Andy Coulson:                    No, I mean the achievements.

Charlie Webster:                  Thank you.

Andy Coulson:                    I mean, it’s an astonishing kind of work ethic that sits behind it, and I definitely want to talk about that. But let’s start specifically with this brilliant piece of work, your book. Which is part memoir but much more, as I say, a manual for anyone who has suffered trauma or who wants to support or better understand someone who has been in real difficulty.

Now, you could of course have written a very different book, right? You could have written your memoir, which would have been a compelling read, fully justified as a standalone piece. But you chose not to, so tell me why. Tell me why you decided to do it this way?

Charlie Webster:                  I firstly love that you’ve asked me that question, and it’s really interesting because that’s exactly the process that I went through in my head. I feel like I’ve been through a lot, and I have, and I’ve also done a lot of battles within that.

I wanted it to be a book that isn’t just a book that you’re going to read, but a book you can constantly pick up and refer to in different places. And that’s how I’ve written it.


But also I didn’t want it to just be this- not just be, because they’re really powerful, but like- so let’s use the words ‘self-help’ because that’s the generic word, a self-help book. Because sometimes I feel like you can’t quite relate to them, or, “Well, how does that apply to me?” And I feel like sometimes you have to connect to the reality of the story to then understand the psychology and the behaviour around it. And so that’s what I started to form.

And also some of the process of my own work through trauma is intertwined basically with some of the stories of what’s happened to me, to help you understand how you can relate to that and how you can take those things on for yourself to look at how your own trauma has affected you.

And even with that word, you know, I was even cautious to use that word because I wouldn’t have looked at my life and gone, “Oh, I’ve been through trauma.” But I thought it was really important to say it on the nose, which is why it’s called Why It’s OK to Talk About Trauma, and not dance around it either.

Andy Coulson:                    This is I think what sits behind the motivation for the book, is that there has got to be a conversation, a broader conversation, and more than a conversation. Things have got to happen-

Charlie Webster:                  Because it does impact us.

Andy Coulson:                    That changes our- the sort of viewpoint on this, and that the conversation that we need to have after people have been through trauma is as important as the trauma itself.

Now, saying all that, because this is a podcast I’ve got to set some context, so I’ve you ask you questions about what happened so that we can move onto the second, and in a way- I know from your point of view the more important part of the conversation, which is what we now do about trauma, about PTSD specifically as well, and some of the other elements of it.

So let’s go right to the beginning if that’s alright, Charlie. Your mum was just 16 when she had you. She was still at school, in fact I think she had to leave school when she fell pregnant-

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, which is awful.

Andy Coulson:                    Which is just appalling.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, they kicked her out when they found out she was pregnant, so she couldn’t sit her exams. So it’s like, great, there you go. What chance are you giving her?

Andy Coulson:                    Just appalling. And the knock-on effect of that obviously is…

She married but divorced your dad soon after and it was just the two of you, homeless I think as well in Sheffield for a while.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes.

Andy Coulson:                    Really, really tough start. And then she meets the man who becomes your step-father. How old are you at this point?

Charlie Webster:                  Seven or eight, seven when they met.

Andy Coulson:                    So in the years that follow, your stepfather abused you emotionally and physically. You were, it seems from his perspective, someone who was getting in the way of his relationship with your mum.

We touched on it earlier, you write about elements of that abuse in the book, but it sort of strikes me that you were having to live a lie as well, I assume. Because although there’s those visceral moments, you’re then going to school, you’re living your life, you’re growing up. Life was kind of a lie in some ways, is that how you look at it?

Charlie Webster:                  It’s an interesting perspective, because you are right. It wasn’t a choice that I feel like I consciously made. You know, if you look at my school days I don’t think I even really understood. I knew it wasn’t normal because I went to other people’s houses and was like, “Oh wow, they’re nice to people and they’re nice to me,”

But I don’t think it’s like I consciously felt it was a lie, but I knew that it was a fearful situation, but at the same time I was like crying out for help at the same time, not because- I also then felt that it was my fault, which I was made to feel and that was actually told to me as a child.

Andy Coulson:                    By ‘lie’ what I mean is that you were at such a young age having to be probably a number of different people.

Charlie Webster:                  Absolutely. And that carried on for a long time, right up until recently. Which is interesting, because I look back now and there’s time where I’ve been on television and I’ve gone back into that situation as an adult, because this carried on as an adult. You know, even you talked about- I’ve never really told anybody this and it’s not in the book, but when I was critically ill, which you mentioned at the top of the show, this situation still existed.

I was thinking about that just the other day, funnily enough, where my stepdad was trying to get my mum to come home from my bedside because he was jealous of that. And I was in a coma.

Andy Coulson:                    Whilst you were in a coma.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes. So this actually went on for a long time. And you are absolutely right, because I did put on a big smile, even in my own head, so I tried to create this life for myself and run away from it, but it was always there and it was always inside of me. And that- you said lie, but that façade was like a protective mechanism but that also isolated me and made me feel very lonely.

Because you sit there with a smile on your face where deep inside you just feel hurt and sad and different.

But that’s I suppose- a lot of what I talk about in the book is the reason why we need to talk is because I felt like I was two people, and I was always arguing with myself. So the smiley person that say is sat in front of you now, this is genuinely me but you know, in the past was always in conflict with the other part of me that would still walk into that situation. And then I would argue with myself even about that.

But it’s very complex, and this is what people sometimes maybe don’t understand about say abusive relationships, is it’s extremely complex and complicated why people stay in the situation and how hard it is to actually leave. And actually when you leave it’s the most dangerous point. And family dynamics, as I’m sure everybody can relate to, are complicated because for me I stayed in that situation.

I feel like I’m dancing around it, so I hope that doesn’t come across, but basically my mum was in this relationship for twenty-nine years, so it didn’t just end just when I turned eighteen. So this carried on, and-

Andy Coulson:                    It’s created all sorts of difficult dynamics.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, it really did. But there was no way. I made a choice that I would stay in it so that I could have a relationship with my mum and that I could in some way protect her, it made me feel like I was, and give her some kind of happiness in moments. And also I’ve got younger brothers and I was fiercely, and am still fiercely protective of them. A few of my friends used to question you know, why I didn’t cut myself off from family, and there’s no way in a million years that I would ever do that, you know?

Andy Coulson:                    I hope this isn’t a question too far. If it is, just tell me. But have you been able to confront him?

Charlie Webster:                  God. No, and yes. No, and I’ve got absolutely no interest in doing that because he is a narcissist so he will never be able to take accountability for himself, and that’s okay because that’s not remotely what I need anyway. I can’t speak for the rest of my family but I don’t need that. I needed to be away from him and I needed for him not to be in my life or be anywhere near my mum or my family.

But there’s times, especially when it kind of came to a head, where I tried to stick up for myself and speak up, which is very hard. And again it’s this- you know, it’s really interesting what you’ve touched upon because it’s this irony that like, you know, I would stick up for myself in a work situation, say, sometimes, and I put myself in these kind of fierce situations sometimes, where you mentioned the word courage, where it would seem like I had a lot of courage and nothing would stand in my way. But I couldn’t remotely stand up to my stepdad.

Andy Coulson:                    But isn’t the truth Charlie that you have, and if we- you know, standing up to someone comes in many forms. Those that are listening rather than watching this, I’m now holding up your book. This is standing up, right?

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, true. But that’s not to do with him. So for me it’s like it is standing up and it is having a voice,

Andy Coulson:                    let’s move forward to when you are 15. You’re a talented young athlete and you decide to join the local running club where there’s a group of equally talented girls. At first I guess this club was a release for you, somewhere-

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, and I actually joined that club at 11.

Andy Coulson:                    You joined at 11, right okay.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes. So I was there from a young age, as soon as I started secondary school.

Andy Coulson:                    Right, okay. Somewhere away from the wretched situation at home, then.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes. Oh God, I loved it.

Andy Coulson:                    It starts as an escape.

Charlie Webster:                  It was the best thing ever. I mean, I’m even smiling now. If you’re listening, I’ve got a massive smile on my face because it was an escapism, I just could be a different person again. It just brings me back to one of your earlier questions about living a lie or living these two different people, is you know, at school I was the same. I school I was kind of like quite outgoing, quite funny, quite bolshy in a way, and at the running club I was similar, I had a big personality. But at home I was quiet as a mouse. Like, I literally wouldn’t say anything, and I would never speak up by myself, ever. So it’s really interesting how- which one of these am I? Who actually am I?

But when I got to the running club it was something that I was good at, so I was like, “Oh my God, I’m not actually-” excuse me for swearing but, “I’m not actually a piece of shit on somebody’s shoe,” which is what I thought I was. You know, “I actually can do something, and these people like me and they’re kind to me.” It was an all-girls running club and we used to have a right laugh.

It was like a release but the running was a way that- oh my God, I had so much pent up emotion of this massive ball of pain, but I didn’t quite realise it at the time, and anger, and destruction inside of me, that when I’d run it would like- I’d be able to breathe. Like, I’m kind of almost acting it out because it’s hard to almost put words to it, because I’d run and I’d just be able to go, “Oh my God, I can breathe for a moment. Because I’d hold onto everything, you know? Even at home I’d hold my breath because my breath would make a sound, right?

So being able to run and just be physical, oh God, it gave so much to my life. It gave me family, a sense of belonging, an emotional release, you know, it gave me a little tiny bit of self-worth. So yes, it was everything to me.

Andy Coulson:                    What’s interesting Charlie, one element that interests me about this is that so often with trauma and with crisis, obviously a word we use a lot on this podcast, is that when you have a situation that is ultimately traumatic, which of course this situation was for you, the running club, the whole lot ends up in a dark place. The whole lot can kind of end up in the bin if you’re not careful.

And yet you seem to have- your immediate reaction when I mentioned an environment that in the end became very traumatic for you, you smile.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, that’s a good point.

Andy Coulson:                    You’re able to kind of say, “No, I’m not going to let the behaviour of this appalling individual infect every single bit of my memory around those times. There was a lot of positive.”

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, but that’s taken time. I really want to say that because it’s irresponsible if I don’t, it’s not like I was able to just do that. So that has taken time.

Andy Coulson:                    And that’s been important to you, right? To be able to smile now after being in that club is important to you.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, and I think part of- for those that didn’t watch the BBC Documentary Nowhere to Run, some of that was connecting with those- we’re all now women, but girls at the time, has definitely helped.

I absolutely love running even to this day and I still run, but there are certain things that definitely bring in memories and flashbacks. You know, I couldn’t run on a track for a long time, so I’d run out in the woods and on the pavement and in the streets.

Because it immediately just puts you in those moments. And ironically I wasn’t even abused at a running track. I was never sexually abused at a running track, but I was definitely emotionally abused there, and we were groomed at a running track. But just being on that running track, any running track, even talking to you now I can feel things and I can see things.

You could argue all day long when we were actually groomed, because you could say it was the moment I walked in the door at 11 years old, right? But I wasn’t actually physically sexually abused until I was 15, by him, and then he actually went to prison when I was 19.

Andy Coulson:                    Let’s use his name, shall we? Paul North.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, if you’d like to. I find that very difficult to, but you can.

Andy Coulson:                    Do you?

Andy Coulson:                    Let’s talk about the documentary a little bit more. It’s an important bit of television. And in it you return to Sheffield, as you say, you go back to the school in fact where your coach abused you. A very emotional scene of you standing outside that building.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, it was the first time I’d been back. And that school was- I didn’t actually go to that school, just to give a bit of context for people that haven’t seen it. So I wasn’t abused in a school environment, I was abused in a school setting. Because he was the caretake of a primary school. I know, it’s awful. But he was our running coach but he would use the school hall after hours to do gym and weight sessions. So that’s why I was abused in a school, just because I don’t want it to get confusing.

Andy Coulson:                    Yes. It’s an incredibly powerful scene. There was some debate as to whether or not that should be include, you were telling me.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes. I have to say that the BBC were hugely supportive, and I’m not just giving that line just because people hear those lines, they really were. And so much so that they- they have this thing called Editorial policy and safeguarding and after I helped them advise more on how they could help and protect people in terms of storytelling, because that’s really important. Because it is quite distressing. I think for that whole time I was filming I had nightmares every night.

Andy Coulson:                    Did you really?

Charlie Webster:                  And that scene outside the school, it was actually a longer scene which wasn’t all included. And there was some debate because the BBC were concerned that, was it too upsetting for people to see me upset? And my argument throughout that, and honestly I would have- maybe this is wrong for me to say this, but I probably would have said, “You know what? It’s not going out then, unless that scene is included.” Because it’s so irresponsible if I’d have gone and done that documentary with a shiny, polished smiley face. I mean, I look like crap sometimes in it, because that’s the reality of it, because it’s not a smiley, shiny face. And for every victim and survivor, or anybody who has even remotely been through any kind of, you know, whether it’s physical, sexual, or it’s emotional abuse, knows that that’s not that. So if I don’t reflect that on television then I’m isolating victims and survivors even more.

So it was really important that I show how this has affected me and still affects me. Because I want to show victims and survivors that that is normal for you to feel like that. Look at what you’ve just been through, or look at what you went through twenty years ago. How can you not have those feelings? So..

We drove up there and I was getting cold sweats, I was getting anxious, I was rubbing my hands, and even so much so that I was with two other people, two women, one who was the director and one was like a kind of assistant producer, researcher. They’re both amazing, and they were like, “Are you sure you’re okay doing this?” And I was like, “No, let’s do it, let’s do it.” And then I got out of the car and I was sick. Which obviously wasn’t on the thing. I was literally- that’s how reactive it was.

Andy Coulson:                    Physically sick.

Charlie Webster:                  Physically sick. I was like gagging, and it was really upsetting. I thought it was really important that that scene stayed in the documentary because that is real life. I’m not making a documentary to, “Oh, look at what I’ve been through,” the documentary was to help people understand the grooming process of sexual abuse, help people understand the impact that it has. And of course, saying all this, you can live well. No matter what you’ve been through, you can live well as a survivor. I’m sat here and I’m so proud of everything that I’ve been through. Even that, I got through that. That wasn’t my fault. But we have to talk about it, we have to show the impact it has.


Andy Coulson:                    You did that in that scene. There are a couple of other moments as well, actually there are several moments, but there are two others. One is a conversation with your mother.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes.

Andy Coulson:                    A very difficult conversation, that’s there on camera. It’s brave of both of you, actually.

Charlie Webster:                  That conversation was- and again, I said to my mum, “Look, if you don’t want to do it, it’s not-” I asked her and that was it, I left her to decide. It was up to her, there was no pressure. But I thought it was a powerful conversation because you know, we’re talking specifically about sexual abuse now so I’ll stay there, because parents are groomed too. And that’s important to acknowledge that.

Part of the process, my mum was groomed. She thought that I was going to a safe place that actually was away from the unsafe place at home, and she knew that. She thought that this was something that would be positive for me, and he helped. He took me to races, he picked me up from training sometimes, and so you know, she thought he was helping. But you know, she was also a victim of domestic abuse at the time so it was very hard for her to see because she was also just in survival mode, right?

Andy Coulson:                    Because her life was in- yes.

Charlie Webster:                  But it was important that we had that conversation, because it is something that people ask. But that was hard for me, because also I’m very protective over my mum, so I find it hard sometimes to ask my mum those questions because I don’t want to hurt her, because it’s not about that.

But you know, I know for a fact that every single parent of that group felt guilty, but the guilt wasn’t theirs at all.

Andy Coulson:                    No exactly. There’s another scene where you kind of confront your own misplaced guilt, because there’s a conversation with girl who was abused some time after you were abused. We should explain by the way that this person was abusing girls over quite a long period of time, both before you and after you. And indeed some of the girls that you were with at the same time, some contemporaries of yours, that each of you didn’t know that that was happening.

Charlie Webster:                  Exactly. That’s really important for you to point out. We didn’t know.

Andy Coulson:                    You didn’t know at all.

Charlie Webster:                  No, and we all thought it was ourselves, and that-

Andy Coulson:                    Yes, and he obviously worked pretty hard to put up barriers between you, right?

Charlie Webster:                  He 100% did that. He did that, he manipulated us within that group. So you know, again, this is why it’s important to understand grooming. There is absolutely zero point in talking about sexual abuse if we don’t talk about grooming and understand how it’s done. Otherwise we’re never going to change anything.

Andy Coulson:                    The conversation where you confront your own, as I say, misplaced guilt, is you I think meeting for the first time, another girl who was abused some time after you. And in fact she was one of the people I think that was involved in driving the court case forward and gave evidence. And you apologise to her. It’s a very moving scene. It is totally misplaced guilt, and in fact one of the reasons it’s so moving is because that’s immediately her reaction, is to say, “What on earth do you mean? There’s only one person to blame.”

Charlie Webster:                  It makes me a bit upset now actually, talking about it.

Andy Coulson:                    But there’s only one person to blame for all of this.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes. But the thing about- it’s bringing tears to my eyes. Because the thing that’s so awful about being abused is that you do feel like- it’s a misplaced shame, or feeling of like, “Was it me?” And part of that is because society gives messaging, sometimes subliminal messaging, that makes you feel like that. But also that’s also the tool of an abuser, because that’s how they keep you quiet. Right?

So for me, I felt like I was the first one, and I wasn’t, but I didn’t know that until I made the documentary. Years later.

Andy Coulson:                    Yes.

Charlie Webster:                  The documentary only came out three years ago. I didn’t know. That’s how long I lived my life thinking that it was me, it started with me, if I’d have said something I would have prevented the other girls that came after me. So I did feel guilty, and it makes me upset thinking about it, because I felt ashamed for a long time about what happened to me. And then sitting there listening to- she’s called Rosie, and it’s okay for me to say her name, she’s given permission. But like, speaking to Rosie and knowing, I know how it’s impacted her life. I wish I could have done something to stop it.

And sadly another person who was abused after me is now not even here any more because of what happened.

Andy Coulson:                    I wanted to mention- it’s important I think that we touch on that. Because this is a story of trauma but it is also a story of tragedy.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, it really is.

Andy Coulson:                    Because indeed there are two people I think, one that you knew about, one that only happened in 2023 last year. Two girls who took their own lives.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes. Georgina and Katie.

Andy Coulson:                    As a result of the abuse that they suffered.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes. And that’s why I’ve written a book, because you know, we’ve got to understand that this stuff does impact us. It’s a part of our lives because it’s happened to us. Everything that’s happened to us, it’s part of our lives. Whether it’s something that’s horrible and distressing or whether it’s something that’s good. And it’s really important that we acknowledge that, because otherwise we can’t understand or help people to work through the aftermath of it.

And I 100% with all my heart believe that if we’d have been helped and supported, Georgina who took her life at 19 years old, so shortly after the court case, because she was a little bit younger than me, would still be here. And Katie took her life last year, last January, because it was still there for her. It didn’t go, because she didn’t get help.

Because we talk about adversity, we talk about people coming through these things, but we also have to acknowledge the people that haven’t got through these things.

Andy Coulson:                    Yes.

Charlie Webster:                  You know.

Andy Coulson:                    Charlie, you were 19 as you say when North was eventually convicted and sentenced to ten years. Did that give you any kind of resolution at all?

Charlie Webster:                  No. No it didn’t.

Andy Coulson:                    Not a bit of it.

Charlie Webster:                  No. And I’m actually really glad you asked that, because we use the word ‘justice’ and we have to be really careful with that. Because I’m so glad that he got convicted because it stopped with us, right? It stopped with our group, and so nobody else would carry on getting abused. And there’s justice in that, but there wasn’t justice for us. It had already happened to us; the only justice we could have got is we should have got helped. That was more important for us.

So when we talk about, you know, I want to make sure that- bringing somebody to justice is also important because you’re holding them accountable, right? Which is important for a victim and survivor, and it’s like, “You are valid, this did happen to you.” That’s important. But I suppose what I mean is like, he goes to prison and then the next day I wake up and I’m like, so what am I left with?

Andy Coulson:                    My life is the same.

Charlie Webster:                  What’s Katie left with? What’s Georgina left with? What’s all these- Rosie left with?

Andy Coulson:                    And not at any point did anyone reach out to you and say, “Look, there’s stuff you’re going to need to deal with here”?

Charlie Webster:                  No. No, no, no. And nobody ever has, still now.

Andy Coulson:                    But this is the point. At this juncture of the story though, this is the point. Is that we don’t think about- there’s a lot of discussion around the victim. We have some good things in the system now like victim impact statements I think are a great introduction into the system.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, absolutely.

Andy Coulson:                    But we still don’t have that net that sits around the victim that says, “You have been damaged, this is going to stay with you, you are going to need help.”

Charlie Webster:                  And that’s what- there’s a victims bill that’s going to be passed shortly, and that’s something I campaigned around with the victims bill is you can’t- to me, you can’t ask victims of any crime, especially domestic and sexual abuse, to put yourself through that, to come forward, to be part of the justice system, the criminal justice system, and then just dump them and leave them once you’ve got your conviction. Because again, I go back to the justice; it’s really important we do that, by the way, because abusers are repetitive so they’ll keep on going, so it’s important we stop them. So there’s the prevention element.

But then this person here, that’s the victim, needs then specialist help, because trauma and well, sexual abuse, has a long-term impact

Andy Coulson:                    In 2014 you give an interview, so this is some time later. You give an interview to Radio 5 and reveal that you were abused as a teenager. A huge decision for you.

Charlie Webster:                  Gosh, yes.

Andy Coulson:                    And then in sort of parallel to having taken that decision, your TV career is motoring, you’re in a very competitive, very challenging work environment if I can put it that way, in and around sport, certain types of characters, a certain type of environment. And yet you are thriving. And you’re also running marathons, you do the final three stages of the Tour de France, Iron Mans, it’s astonishing. These two things that are kind of running in your life.

Andy Coulson:                    But you are also privately struggling. Self-harming, you mentioned drinking in the book, difficult and failed relationships also, one of which I think was abusive. And then in September 2016 you embark on the epic challenge of a 3,000 mile charity cycle from London to Rio.

Before we get to what happened immediately after, your illness, give me an idea of what your state of mind is. Because it strikes me that you’ve got all this difficulty still in your mind and yet you get on a bike and choose to ride 3,000 miles. One might say that there is a connection between those two things. Tell me.

Charlie Webster:                  It’s a good question, actually. My state of mind was probably very determined. There’s an element of- we could go really deep into this, but there’s probably an element when I look back now of like, well I cycled 3,000 miles, probably very little care really about myself. So I would push myself to the limit.

Andy Coulson:                    So it was risk?

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, risky behaviour is also a kind of consequence of trauma. You know, I’d literally- one of the things the psychologist I work with said to me is like, which we can get on to, is that I had very little self-care. I’d just do whatever and just feel that I could push myself to the limit and that was that.

I feel that so much of my life has just been in a lot of emotional pain and I really feel that from other people. So I feel like if I’m in a position then I’ll do whatever I can to try and ease that for other people.


Andy Coulson:                    You complete the ride, in fact.

Andy Coulson:                    And then tell us what happens then

Charlie Webster:                  It’s so crazy, because there’s a video of me at the top of Christ the Redeemer, because I actually did some radio interviews at the top, and then I did some social things, and I did this video that I think went on 5 Live. And 24 hours later I was in hospital struggling to breathe, 24 hours after that I was put on life support and in a coma. So it happened so quick.

Andy Coulson:                    So you contracted this rare strain of-

Charlie Webster:                  Of malaria. So I had malaria and I had three other things as well; I had shigella, haemolytic uremic syndrome and chikungunya, which are a mixture of parasite and bacterial things. But the malaria was the big-

Andy Coulson:                    Presumably you’d been carrying these things for a while during the trip?

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, so malaria actually doesn’t really show its symptoms until I think two weeks after,

But it happened very quickly and again, this is a super-long story so I’ll try and do it quick. But I was actually meant to be presenting the Games, so I did actually go on camera I think once or maybe twice, but the camera went on my face and then as soon as the camera turned off me I was bent over. I was starting to get stomach ache and I was having to run to the toilet.

I went to the Opening Ceremony of the games, and I went to the toilet and literally collapsed in the toilets. But instead of asking for help, and again this is to do with my trauma in my past, I didn’t ask for help because I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed.

So there were so many things that went on in my head. I’m not going to be able to turn up for- people are going to wonder where I am. I need to work. All these things. So I’m just going to take myself to where I was staying in Rio and I’ll be fine the next day.

Charlie Webster:                  The next thing I know is I’m lying in a hospital bed, actually phoning my agent going, “Tell them I’ll be there tomorrow. It’s fine, just get somebody to cover for me today.” And as I was telling my agent, “I’m fine, I’m fine, don’t tell anyone, don’t tell anyone. Just tell them I’ll be at work tomorrow,” the doctor walks in and tells me that I’m dying.  

Charlie Webster:                  Exact words, “You are dying. Organ failure.” So in broken English, “You are dying. Organ failure.” He even wrote it down on a bit of paper, which I make a joke about in the book. It’s kind of obviously not funny, but he actually wrote it on a bit of paper so I would understand. And that was it.

I just was panicking about this big contract I’d got to present the Games, right? So I was trying to- but then at the same time I was trying to get hold of my mum, and then I’ve also- they wouldn’t put me in intensive care without my insurance kicking in, my travel insurance.

So everybody please get travel insurance, my God. If I hadn’t got travel insurance I would be- I would be in so much debt. I’d be bankrupt, I’d be in debt, my whole family- I can’t even tell you how the fact that I had travel insurance- but it took a while to kick in and they wouldn’t move me to intensive care without my travel insurance kicking in. This is like another crazy story that not a lot of people know.

Andy Coulson:                    So you are put into a coma, the decision is made, a chain of events a bit further down the road that that’s what’s needed.

Charlie Webster:                  Well, literally within that 24 hours, otherwise I was going to die.

Andy Coulson:                    Yes. But then you are aggressively resuscitated, aren’t you?

Charlie Webster:                  Yes.

Andy Coulson:                    Because they are concerned actually that you’re deteriorating whilst you’re in the coma rather than showing signs of recovery.

Charlie Webster:                  It was, they were like, “She’s going to die in 24 hours,” basically. My mum was flown over, and it was not come and see me, it was come and see me in time before I die. That’s basically what she was told.

Andy Coulson:                    That’s what the doctors said to her?

Charlie Webster:                  Yes. And that the chance of me surviving was like 0.000001% or something stupid, and if I did survive I would be severely disabled. That’s what my mum was told. So it wasn’t- there was no- and they didn’t even know what was wrong with me at that point. Obviously, I know now that it was malaria and these other things that I mentioned, but they didn’t know that. They were just trying to keep me alive.

I was on dialysis, I’d got multiple organ failure, I’d got a breathing tube in because I couldn’t breathe for myself, I’d got all these tubes in. I’d got electrode things on my head because they thought I was brain-damaged because there were problems with the signals coming from my brain. It was all sorts.

Andy Coulson:                    So what was the turning point? When did the recovery start? Presumably not long after you were brought out of the coma?

Charlie Webster:                  Yes. So I was in a coma for two weeks and it was pretty much touch and go, and then there was another point I think which was when I was resuscitated because my heart stopped, which was at the end. And then I took a good turn. But it was because they found I’d got malaria and started treating me, pretty much. I’ve made it quite basic, but it is complicated.

Andy Coulson:                    And you stayed in hospital for how long?

Charlie Webster:                  I stayed in hospital in Rio for like two months until I was well enough to be repatriated, and then I was repatriated on a medical plane with two doctors, a nurse and a doctor, and flown on a tiny medical plane which took 22 hours because they had to stop five times. And then I was taken to St James’s Hospital in Leeds, which I’m so grateful for them, everybody at St James’s, if there’s anybody listening. Then I was in hospital there for I think another six plus weeks.

Andy Coulson:                    It’s just layer after layer. But I hope I’ve understood this correctly. Whilst in a coma you are- you’ve described it as being trapped with your past, if you like. You’ve got that constant track being played, and you remember that still quite viscerally.

Charlie Webster:                  Oh my God, yes.

Andy Coulson:                    And that in a way brings everything that we’ve been talking about to the surface. Not immediately, obviously this is a while later after you’ve come back, because you’re dealing with the physical difficulties of what’s happened to you. But then the PTSD kicks in.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes. So in a nutshell, what happened is that when I was in the coma, I remember being in the coma and- again, another message. Look, people can hear, so respect that. So if you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve got a loved one, or you’re a practitioner, people can hear, it’s not just a body lying there. So you know, I could hear what was going on, and it was very distressing but also reassuring because I knew my mum was there, and one of my brothers was there as well. And that also gave me so much to fight for.

Charlie Webster:                  But what also happened, which was your question is it was like all these things that I blocked, all these memories and feelings that I blocked just came smashing in from every direction. I was having flashbacks about what my coach did and having to be forced back to go and train with him. Like, all these things that started to happen. Things that happened with my stepdad, like sitting behind a door waiting to hear him come in. “Is he going to come and do something to me?” Like, I’m too scared to go to the toilet, you know, all these things started to like-

And I’m in a frigging coma fighting for my life and all these things that have happened to me are- and it is like I was trapped in my own head. It was the most- I can’t even describe how distressing it was. Never mind for the fact that I knew I was fighting for my life and I was also desperately- I keep using the word distressed because I can’t think of a better word. I was desperately distressed that that my mum was distressed, you know?

So all these things happened in the coma, believe it or not. And you know, a little thing I’d like to throw in just to kind of show, was whenever my mum came onto the ward, that’s when my- all the machines would go off. Because I could sense when she came onto the ward. How crazy is that?

Andy Coulson:                    Right.

Charlie Webster:                  And it was every single time. So the point where sometimes they’d stop her coming on, because then I would start fighting.

Andy Coulson:                    Right.

Charlie Webster:                  And I couldn’t see her, I’m in a coma.

Andy Coulson:                    God, the link between you and your mum.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, it’s crazy. So then, obviously you said the recovery, it was about physical recovery, so months, months, months, I had to re-learn how to walk again, all these things. And then it was like, “Oh. I’m not okay mentally or emotionally. How do I deal with the fact that I just died and I’m still here?” And what about all these things that just came in?

And I tried to get back into some kind of normality or normal life, and I just was not okay. All these things, all these thoughts that happened to me in the coma, I couldn’t- I didn’t feel like myself any more, I couldn’t come to grips with the fact that I just nearly wasn’t here any more. It’s so confusing, I can’t even begin to tell you.

Andy Coulson:                    Of course.

Charlie Webster:                  And you know, everybody was saying to me, “Oh my God, you look amazing. I can’t believe what you’ve gone through,” and inside I’m dying again.

Andy Coulson:                    You say in the book that people are saying to you, “You’re so lucky to be alive,” and yet the last thing you feel is lucky.

Charlie Webster:                  Lucky, yes.

Andy Coulson:                    Because of what it’s opened up.

Charlie Webster:                  But I’m grateful for all the support, I just want to get that out.

Andy Coulson:                    Of course, of course. You meet Dr Rachel O’Beney, have I pronounced her name correctly?

Charlie Webster:                  Yes.

Andy Coulson:                    She’s a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, and your recovery- that marks the start of your recovery.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes.

Andy Coulson:                    And what is it that she said, can I ask, that caused you to stop running, if you like?

Charlie Webster:                  I’m glad you asked that. Because also, getting help isn’t easy.

Charlie Webster:                  I kept saying I’m fine, and I also said that all I want to talk about is Rio. I call it Rio, by they way, the cycle ride and being ill. It’s nicknamed like that in our family now, when we refer to Rio, when we refer to what happened to me, the critical illness we call Rio.

Andy Coulson:                    You’ve personalised it.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, personalised it. I’m like, “Oh yes, was that before Rio or after?”

And I said I only want to talk about that. She was trying to talk about the past and my childhood, and how that interplayed. In the end she just went, “Well, if you’re fine what’s the point of you being here, then?” And I was like, “Excuse me? What do you mean?” And she was like, “Well, if you’re fine why are you even sat here then?”

And it was the best thing she did, because then I broke down. Because it was like this wall that was so strong that I’d put up for so long was really hard to start taking down, and you know, it just started to kind of come out then, and then that’s when the work started.

Andy Coulson:                    The core of the work is that she found ways for you to access and in a way sort of re-experience the past.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes.

Andy Coulson:                    So that you could begin to make sense of it.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes. Well done, you summed that up really well, I’m going to take that.

Andy Coulson:                    It’s only because I’ve read your book.

Charlie Webster:                  Oh right okay, that’s exactly- that’s summed it up exactly. Because look, it’s really really hard to overcome these things, but you know what’s even harder is staying in it. Staying in it is far harder, you know? So doing the work involved me having to bring up these emotions, I just desperately didn’t want to but they were there anyway. They were there anyway, and it was so much more exhausting trying to push them down all the time, then actually bringing them out.

But they are hard access because you know, we are amazing survivors, right? Human beings can survive anything. We can survive incredible crisis, you know?

Charlie Webster:                  But that doesn’t mean we survive. We can survive physically-

Andy Coulson:                    It doesn’t mean we thrive.

Charlie Webster:                  No, it doesn’t mean we thrive. And actually when it then becomes mental then that also can physically kill us.

Andy Coulson:                    Now Charlie, because of time I’m skimming through so much stuff. I wanted to talk about the work that you’ve done with malaria, you’ve spoken at the US Senate, the UN, our own Parliament. You’ve done, as I’ve said, you’ve hit the road again, more Iron Mans.

Oh, and by the way, you build from scratch one of the world’s most successful podcast companies; if it’s not already it’s certainly on track. You’ve just come in from Los Angeles where you picked up two Webbys. I’m envious and so admiring of what you’ve done, because the content is amazing.

Charlie Webster:                  Thank you.

Andy Coulson:                    Some of the content touches on your story, some of it doesn’t. Some of it is just brilliant storytelling of other people’s incredible tales. Some of it, tales of crisis, it’s just brilliant, brilliant work. So congratulations.

Charlie Webster:                  Thank you very much.

Andy Coulson:                    I want to ask you just one other question, because we’ve explained I think the importance of this discussion around PTSD, but one of the conversations that we’re also trying to have on this podcast is just around resilience and the need for us to be more resilient. And that does not run counter to what you’ve just said, that is not about putting things in a box or pushing the past away or denial, far from it.

But it is also about finding something in you and gripping that thing and putting it to work, to move forward in a positive way. And you have that in spades, right? The word resilience is not- I’m sensing even in the way you are looking at me now, is not necessarily the one that you sort of like.

Charlie Webster:                  Like. No.

Andy Coulson:                    Is it because you feel it has a sense of denial about it? Still upper lip stuff?

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, and it’s about endure. You have to endure. And I’m not-

Andy Coulson:                    But it is also important, isn’t it? It is a human attribute, you have it, and what’s interesting obviously about your story is how much of it is because of what’s happened to you and how much of it is just in you.

Because this drive that you have across everything that you do- and I know that it’s all associated, I know it’s all connected.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, it is.

Andy Coulson:                    But you do have an innate resilience and drive. Right or wrong?

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, so I think- look, it’s really important that we have resilience, right? But the reason why I slightly have a problem with the word is probably the way it’s sometimes used. So for me when I was younger, I didn’t have a choice, right? It’s not like I chose to be resilient. I didn’t chose to be resilient; I didn’t have a choice, I was just surviving. So it’s important that we don’t put that word on-

Andy Coulson:                    I suppose what I’m saying is that all of your achievements are not all- I’m asking the question. Do you attribute them all to the person you had to be to survive?

Charlie Webster:                  No. No, because that’s hopefully who I am anyway. And you know, one of the most recent achievements, it was only yesterday as we are recording this, that I found out I’ve won two Webby awards. You know, that’s- well, part of it is obviously because that’s just who I am, so part of it is attributed to my life. But at the same time yes, that’s not because of this child that kind of had to be resilient.

I suppose, look. My slight problem with the word is I was so resilient that I didn’t deal with the pain inside. That’s my point I want to get across, in a very-

Andy Coulson:                    There’s a danger in resilience.

Charlie Webster:                  Exactly. So we have to be careful that we don’t band around resilience as, “Build more resilience, build more resilience,” where it then becomes, “Just endure things.” Because people actually stay in abusive relationships because they are so resilient, right? So we have to also- there’s a fine line.


I’m probably more resilient than I’ve ever been, even though I was so resilient. And the reason why is because I can sit here and have a conversation about this to you now. I can be vulnerable. The amount of times I’ve probably nearly cried in our conversation, I would never have done that before. I can attach to emotions, I can connect, I can love, I can receive love, okay?

So sometimes when you become so resilient, which I’ve definitely been in the past, I had no self-care. Look at the cycle ride. I was so resilient: I can cycle 3,000 miles, I could have carried on, I could have done it through the night. That’s so resilient, but that’s dangerous.

You know, Dr Rachel who you’ve mentioned, said to me that the one thing she was so concerned about with me is that the next time I will die. Because she was like, “If you don’t get help, you will go and do the next extreme thing and you won’t be here any more.” She was scared for my life because of my- because of how resilient I was.

Andy Coulson:                    I get it, I get it. But this is why this stuff is so tricky, because you know, everything that you’ve told us, this entire conversation, I don’t think there’s anybody who is watching or listening who would not agree that it absolutely should be described in the way that you’ve described it in your book, as trauma. It is extreme crisis and trauma, without any shadow of a doubt.

But there’s also an awful lot that happens in life that requires resilience-

Charlie Webster:                  It does.

Andy Coulson:                    And that isn’t trauma. And one of the other problems that we’ve got, you mentioned the importance of using the right word, we apply those words in the-

Charlie Webster:                  To everything.

Andy Coulson:                    We apply the word trauma in the wrong way. We say that something is traumatic when it absolutely isn’t, it doesn’t get anywhere near.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, or depressed. We use the word depression the same.

Andy Coulson:                    Exactly.

Charlie Webster:                  Yes, and trauma, triggers, all these words. It’s like, “Oh my God, that meeting triggered me,” and it’s like, “Mm,” you know.

Andy Coulson:                    Exactly right. I speak as someone who has got a podcast called Crisis What Crisis where I use the word twice; we’ve got to be super careful about the words we use.

Andy Coulson:                    And you are such an unbelievable example to people of how to deal with the most difficult of stuff.

The fact that you sit here and talk to me about it in the way that you have, first of all thank you-

Charlie Webster:                  Thank you for having me.

Andy Coulson:                    For doing that. But you are the most incredible example Charlie, and your book is the latest manifestation of it, but I suspect it will not be the last.

Charlie Webster:                  Hopefully.

Andy Coulson:                    I suspect it will not be the last. So thank you for coming on, thank you for telling us this incredible story.

Charlie Webster:                  Thank you.

Andy Coulson:                    And long may your work continue.