Photo credit: BBC
You often hear American actresses mentioning God, but I was surprised to hear former EastEnder Danniella Westbrook talking about her new-found faith.
The actress, who is sadly better known for her nose-destroying coke habit than her acting skills, has turned her back on the drug that cost her £250,000 and almost killed her.
And, while Gucci and Prada used to be her only ‘gods’, Danniella says she is now a born-again Christian. “If you had told me two years ago that I was going to be Christian, I would have laughed. I used to tell people, ‘I’m way past saving’,” she claims.
Her mind was changed after a visit to the Sanctuary Church in California; a church pastored by former drug addict Jay Haizlip.
During her first visit two years ago, she recalls feeling “something so spiritual and amazing” that she felt like crying. “After a few visits I found myself walking up to the altar to ask the Lord for forgiveness for my sins,” she explains.
Danniella’s previous experience of church was being told ‘thou shalt not do this’, at which point she would start thinking about what she needed in Tesco! But she was overwhelmed by the fact people at the Sanctuary were so alive – and that they were there of their own volition. “The worship started and I thought it was amazing,” she says.
“Being English, I wanted to get up and dance but I was too embarrassed. I didn’t know God; I didn’t have a relationship with God. Jay started preaching and it was like he was speaking right at us.”
The former Dancing On Ice contestant has now been clean for ten years and she, Kevin and their two children regularly attend the church, where Katy Perry’s parents have been known to preach. And when they’re not at church, they often pray and read the Bible together.
“People are so cynical about religion in the UK. Before I came to the States, I had never seen a church like this. Here, people don’t just pray – they call out to God and sing and cry.
“People tell us, ‘Oh no, you’re in the God squad now.’ But they don’t get it. I have no interest in being famous any more unless it can help me to spread God’s word. I really think I have been put in this position to help people.
“God speaks to me in so many ways. I talk to him and it is definitely a two-way conversation.”
Although she hasn’t ruled out another return to EastEnders in the future, she has certainly turned her back on the shallow life she was living.
The actress is now looking to return to the UK to share her new beliefs in a nation that seems to have forgotten about God.
“I feel that me working on EastEnders and becoming a Christian might be God’s way of leading people to the Lord,” she reveals.
Her priorities are very different now. “Fame and celebrity are false idols, says Danniella. “Too many people today worship at the altar of celebrity but there is a spiritual vacuum inside them. That hole can only be filled by God.
“Fame and money mean nothing without a solid spiritual foundation. I know because I had everything, and it meant nothing. I realise some people will be shocked by how much my life has changed, but I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life. The most important thing in my life now is family and God.
“I truly believe God has saved my life and I want to bring the message back to England and open a church there. The whole point about this church is that it is fun. There is no reason why religion has to be boring. I believe there is a gap in the UK and we can fill that gap.”