Former S Clubber, Jo O’Meara, whom released her second album “With Love” last year has opened up regarding her gambling addiction that the press ran wild with in the early 2000’s.
To the outside world S Club 7 was the picture of pop band perfection – but away from the cameras, one of its stars was harbouring a dark secret.
Now for the first time, Jo O’Meara is speaking out about her gambling addiction after denying she had a problem for years.
She got hooked on “the thrill of the chase” while playing fruit machines ahead of S Club 7 performances and used it as a way to escape “the bad stuff” in her life.
“I don’t think it was even about the money side of it for me,” Jo, now 43, tells The Sun.
“It was just getting the three sevens or leprechauns up on the fruit machine and the buzz that would give to me when it went up the top and the lights flashing.
“All I could think about was what was going on right there and not having to worry about the stresses of the bad stuff, you know.”
Gambling became part of a pre-show ritual for Jo while waiting to catch the train to different venues.
It spiralled out of control to the point where Jo would arrive early so she could get her fix.
“I used to use it as my way out of stress and being in the band,” Jo explained.
“I’d just forget about everything when I was playing those fruit machines.
“I would always get to the station an hour, two hours before.
“The press and the band would know where to find me because I’d be playing the scene in the station.
“But I didn’t think anything of that at all. I was just like, I got there early, put a pound in, put another pound in.
“Then you try to get £4 out and before you know it, you’re thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve done more money than I should have done here.’”
As her gambling spiralled from a pastime to something she would do regularly between gigs, Jo’s bandmates became concerned.
“When we used to travel around the country, it was like, ‘Where’s Jo?’ and everyone would know, ‘Oh, she’s on the fruit machines’ but it was just what I did,” she told ITV’s Lorraine today.
Jo bravely decided to speak out to mark the 25th anniversary GamCare – a charity that helps people with gambling problems.
The Don’t Stop Moving singer talked candidly alongside former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, who battled addiction for 45 years, and his wife Steph.
Jo admitted it was “the thrill of the chase” that led her to keep playing slot machines and when reports emerged about her problem, she was in denial.
“I was so annoyed, I was like, ‘How dare they say I’ve got an addiction’,” she said.
When asked if she recognised her gambling addiction at its height, the star replied: “I don’t think I ever did really and probably not until quite recently if I’m being honest.”
Now, Jo accepts the pastime that she thought was “just a bit of fun” was a problem and knows she “shouldn’t really have been doing that”.
She told Lorraine: “It was about beating the machine, getting the three sevens, the excitement of that was making me want to do it even more.
“But what you learn as you get older is you never win and that’s why I’m here today to highlight it because it’s everywhere.”
Jo has opened up in the hope it helps to raise awareness about this invisible addiction and how common it is.
She said: “This will be the first time that I’m speaking about my past gambling issues.
“Gambling issues don’t discriminate, anyone can be affected regardless of age, gender or background.
“The problems are only bound to increase with the use of smartphones and the rise of the cost of living.”
Fortunately for Jo, she claims to have been able to stop relatively easily, but is fully aware of how different life could have been.
She explained: “I was very lucky, I just said, ‘No more’ and I haven’t looked at a machine once.
“I was lucky enough that I was able to stop… but I understand it’s not like that for everybody. You do get caught up in it but there’s help there.”
For those who are concerned about gambling, Jo has a simple message: “Give yourself a break.”
She adds: “There’s no shame in picking up that phone and saying, ‘Please help me!’ There is no shame in asking for help.”
She hopes others who have overcome the addiction will come out of the shadows to highlight that there is a way out.
Jo said: “If people like ourselves can just hold our hands up and say, ‘Look, it’s going to be okay, there is help out there,’ then that’s only a positive thing to do.”