Vicki Michelle on how she’s learning to tune out her tinnitus
The ‘Allo ‘Allo actress talks about the impact tinnitus had on her life and how acting has helped.
She found fame as sexy waitress Yvette in Eighties comedy, ‘Allo ‘Allo, but today Vicki Michelle’s passion for performing is even more intense because it provides the only respite from a distressing condition.
The glamorous 65-year-old actress – known for a host of appearances on TV including Emmerdale, Celebrity Masterchef and in 2014 toughing it out in the jungle in I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! – reveals for the first time the distress she’s suffering because of tinnitus.
“I continually hear an incessant, loud ‘white noise’ sound in my ears – a bit like the buzzing noise a television or radio makes when there’s interference or its badly tuned. Depressingly, it seems to be getting louder as time goes on,” explains Essex-born Michelle, who’s had the problem for nine months.
“Every couple of days I also experience a sudden high-pitched howling noise which lasts around a minute and is loud enough to wake me when I’m asleep. I then struggle to drop off again.
“The problem is debilitating and torture at times because it’s so distracting. In desperation, I sometimes put my hands over my ears and say, ‘Please God, stop!’. Although I’ve always been known for being full of energy, months of disturbed nights have really sapped me.”
Michelle, who’s currently touring in comedy play, The Naked Truth, with her actress daughter, Louise, 27, says: “The only time I seem able to literally ‘tune out’ and get away from it is when I’m performing. It’s such a huge relief to be able to do that and I think my actor’s instincts – the show must go on attitude – just over-rides the problem.”
Tinnitus is common with most people experiencing an occasional episode after a loud concert or disco, while one in 10 people have it mildly.
However, one in 100 people endure severe persistent tinnitus, which adversely affects the quality of their life. In many cases, the cause of the symptom – which affects the nerve pathway between the ear and the brain – is unknown, but it can develop after experiencing excessive noise levels over a period, following a head or ear injury, as a result of taking certain medications, or accompanying age-related hearing loss.
“I can definitely say it’s affected my life – it’s reduced me to tears on occasions in private. I’m a hugely positive, optimistic person though and I’m 100% determined that this isn’t going to beat me.
Listen very carefully
“I’m just hoping one day I’ll wake up and it will have disappeared – although that’s looking increasingly unlikely – or someone will invent a successful treatment,” says this warm, vivacious woman, who says fans still approach her and ask her to reprise Yvette Carte-Blanche’s famous catchphrase from ‘Allo ‘Allo: “Listen very carefully… I shall say this only once” and “oooh Rene”.
“I’ve always looked after my hearing and never exposed myself to loud noise or listened to music on headphones. As a performer, I knew how important it was to preserve my hearing,” says Michelle, who was awarded an MBE in 2010 for her services to charity.
“Unfortunately the problem isn’t confined to the constant buzzing. I’ve also become much more sensitive to loud noise and have problems with the way I perceive the location of an outside noise.
“I may think it’s coming from the left of me and it will turn out to be the right, which is disorientating. It makes me a bit nervous sometimes when I’m out and especially when crossing roads.”