Opera singer Alfie Boe on finding the tools to deal with depression and loneliness

Musical star Alfie Boe talks about finding the road to recovery after the breakdown of his marriage. Hannah Stephenson speaks to him about his new candid new memoir.

Opera singer Alfie Boe has been on a journey of recovery – and discovery – since the breakdown of his marriage to Sarah, his wife of 16 years, in 2020.

He’s been through rehab, sold the lavish country mansion in the Cotswolds that had been the family home, and tried to find tools to deal with depression and loneliness, including briefly dabbling with the psychedelic drug ayahuasca, to help him move on.

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“It (ayahuasca) crossed my path at what I felt was the right time. I was in a difficult place, the loneliness had kicked in, I was trying to find my tool bag of things to help me through my day and get me through life at the time,” the celebrity tenor explains.

Alfie Boe. (Picture credit: Pal Hansen/PA.)Alfie Boe. (Picture credit: Pal Hansen/PA.)
Alfie Boe. (Picture credit: Pal Hansen/PA.)

The plant-based psychedelic drug with hallucinogenic properties, usually brewed as a tea, is native to the Amazon, with a history among indigenous people who take it ceremonially as medicine. A friend in the US was hosting an ayahuasca ceremony in his home and invited Boe along.

“I thought, well, at this point in time, I will try anything that helps. And I did it. The first time I did it, it was a very positive feelings, a positive result. And then, it has different effects on you, it sort of brings up things that you need to address. Sometimes it can be a hard journey.

“It’s not something I do daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly. It’s something that I haven’t done for a very long time. And at the time that I did it, I felt it helped. But it is an alternative medicine that’s not been recognised.”

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The Blackpool-born musical star talks about his experiences with ayahuasca in his new memoir, Face The Music, which charts the highs and lows of his career and his personal life – performing for the Queen at the Diamond Jubilee and at her 90th birthday, playing Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, forming a partnership with fellow singer, presenter and pal Michael Ball and counting Gary Barlow and comedian Jason Manford among his close friends.

“It just seemed like an opportunity to get a lot off my chest and face the music,” he says.

A significant part of the memoir centres on the trauma of his marriage break-up and how he has endeavoured to find ways to move forward. Boe, 49, says he is stronger now and has spent much time trying to be a better man.

“I think recovery is something that is an ongoing process. We don’t say ‘OK, I’m recovered now, it’s all in the past, I’m good, I can carry on with the rest of my life’.

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“Recovery is something that is ongoing. You have to keep on top of it. You have to constantly address yourself and constantly maintain yourself.

“It’s been a time when I’ve gone through a lot of time on my own, contemplating the past and my new direction in life.”

Last year he opened up emotionally in the Freeze The Fear with Wim Hof series, when he admitted that after his marriage breakdown he “went into a real dark place” that “resulted in a foolish act of throwing some pills down my throat” and that he wanted to become a better person and learn from the past.

Ball, with whom he has collaborated on numerous tours and hit albums including their fifth studio album, Together In Vegas, has been extremely supportive over this difficult period, he says.

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“When you work closely with somebody like Michael, it becomes more than just a partnership, it becomes a strong rock for you to cling to sometimes.

“When he’s going through troubles and upsets I’m there to put my arm around him and help him through it and that sort of thing. And he was definitely there for me as well.”

The book details his experiences during a five-week stay in a rehab facility in Wiltshire to detox, as he battled alcohol and mental health issues.

At the facility, he took part in a recovery regime based on the 12-step programme, had group and individual therapy and slept in a single bunk, sharing a room with another person. There were no phones, no electronics, no TV, no music.

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Now, he reflects that those five weeks really helped his mental health. “It’s about finding those tools, something you can lean on and work towards, helping you address and deal with the stresses of life.

“It can be as simple as making a coffee for yourself, of getting out and going for a walk in the park, talking to a stranger, making a phone call to a friend or family or a professional that can help you deal with your issues. That’s important to recognise.”

When Covid hit and he found himself without work, he felt lost again, although writing songs proved a great tonic, he recalls. But when restrictions relaxed and he returned to travelling for work, the cracks in the marriage reappeared.

“Mistakes were made, resulting in my looking for support elsewhere and telling my troubles to someone I shouldn’t have instead of talking to Sarah. Hurting her like that broke my heart, but it resulted in us separating,” he reveals in the book.

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Today, he spends his time between the US and the UK. Sarah and their two children, Grace and Alfie, relocated back to Sarah’s home town of Salt Lake City, Utah, where he sees them as often as he can, and he has a residency in Las Vegas. But he calls London his home now.

“Music for me is the love of my life right now,” he continues. “It’s what gets me through my day. I wake up in the morning and put music on, pick up my guitar, start playing melodies and it really does help me. Loneliness is something that everybody has to deal with, but it’s an emotion we all have.”

Face The Music: My Story by Alfie Boe is published by Ebury Spotlight on September 7, priced £20.

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