The Rise And Fall Of Debbie Linden

The story of the iconic glamour model who lived fast and died young.

If we were to believe the claims of the moralisers, the prudes and the censorial, then the life of the Page 3 Girl – that fine tradition of innocent erotica that was finally hounded out of British newspapers a few years back – was always one of exploitation, misery and regret, the models seduced by shifty agents as teenagers, convinced to shed their clothes for the leering delectation of builders and Brexit voters, only for their brief flirtation with fame – or should that be infamy? – to come crashing down years later. Shame, homelessness, addiction, insanity and despair awaited. The truth, of course, was quite the opposite. Some Page 3 Girls went on to fame and… well, perhaps not fortune, but certainly decent careers as actors, pop stars, TV presenters and so on. Others faded back into the routine of ordinary life when they decided to pack in the modelling game. Whatever public disapproval and contempt they face comes from the finger-wagging puritans who claim to have their best interests at heart, but will only accept them if they publicly repent their lives of sin; for the rest of society, the fact that someone once posed topless in popular newspapers is neither here nor there, and it seems most former Page 3 Girls have slipped back into normality without incident.

But there are those who had their problems, and just as the handful of porn stars who have committed suicide or otherwise come to a bad end are held up as representative of the industry as a whole, so the handful of the models who have gone off the rails are seen as somehow being typical rather than exceptional. They make for better stories, of course, but the cause and effect suggestion is ludicrous – which industry hasn’t had a similar percentage of damaged, lost individuals among their number? If there is a ‘curse of Page 3’ – as one finger-wagging TV documentary with that title suggested – then surely it is the curse of fame – the same downfall that faces pop stars, footballers or anyone else who finds themselves propelled into a world of celebrity that they are unable to handle. Every industry has those who burn out – and those who are already on the slippery slope before they even enter the public eye.

The story of Debbie Linden, therefore, is not the story of a Page 3 Girl gone bad. It’s a cautionary tale of celebrity, ambition and too much, too young. It’s the story of a young woman who loved the bright lights of fame and succumbed all too quickly to the temptations that go along with it. For a while, she was one of the biggest names in the glamour girl scene, but it all fell apart as quickly as it arrived.

Debbie Linden was born in Glasgow on February 22 1961, the daughter of a cabaret entertainer. With the entertainment bug in the family, she went to stage school and had ambitions to be a dancer, studying both tap and ballroom. But by the age of thirteen, things were already starting to go wrong – she started taking slimming pills in the hope of maintaining a dancer’s figure as she grew into womanhood, according to her mother Rosemary, and from then on it was a downward spiral through drug and alcohol addiction. But for a while, it looked as though her career and life were very much on the up. In 1978, at the age of seventeen, she secured a small role in The Benny Hill Show, and a year later was in Pete Walker’s Home Before Midnight, playing a wayward schoolgirl. She played a more comedic schoolgirl in the 1980 film The Wildcats of St Trinians, and by this time, she was also getting much more attention as a Page 3 Girl, posing topless in The Sun and Daily Star. She seemed the perfect glamour girl – big-haired, big boobed and with a pouting sex appeal that was more openly provocative than most of her colleagues. Her star ascended quickly, driven by her obvious ambition and desire for fame. Small parts in The Professionals and The Jim Davidson Show led to bigger parts as glamorous secretaries in the sitcom Cowboys, and then her big break – becoming the latest bit of crumpet for Are You Being Served? viewers to leer at as she took over the role of Mr Grace’s saucy secretary. But the danger signs were apparent even then. As Molly Sugden told the Daily Mail in 1997, “I remember going home one day and saying to my sons that I was so upset because I thought the pretty little girl was on drugs. Then I burst into tears. She used to have a faraway look on her face some of the time and we all suspected something.” John Inman confirmed this for the same newspaper, saying “I suspected that she was ill while she was in the show. She was often poorly and very peaky when we were filming.”

The 1981 – 1983 period was probably Linden’s peak – as well as the aforementioned roles, she appeared with Kenny Everett and Kelly Montieth, and was in sitcom Spooner’s Patch, and if her characters were rarely named anything more than variations on ‘sexy blonde’, she did at least have her foot in the acting door; this and her continuing glamour modelling work – by now the cover girl for various international men’s magazines – gave her some sort of fame, even if most people probably didn’t know her actual name. She even became a hostess on popular game show 3-2-1. It was baby steps into celebrity, but the time was against her – as the 1980s progressed, sexy girls like Linden became more and more of an anachronism as Page 3  became under attack from feminists and politicians like Clare Short, and the sort of shows that demanded a bit of totty also fell out of favour. Linden suffered, ironically enough, from being too sexy for her own good – the Page 3 girls who achieved wider fame tended to be the more wholesome type – the Linda Lusardis and Samatha Foxs of that world. The sort of girls who might get their tits out for the camera but who were still the type you could introduce to your mother. Linden was too brazenly sexy for that. The drugs probably played their part in giving her an intense stare that seemed provocatively seductive, but Linden increasingly seemed like a girl out of time, a sex goddess in a time when sex goddesses were increasingly being seen as an archaic hangover of a sexist age.

Her film and TV career did continue longer than you might have expected. She reteamed with old chum Kenny Everett – who, gay or not, had an eye for a sexy woman – on his horror spoof Bloodbath at the House of Death and was in Eat The Rich in 1987. By this time, she’d had a relationship with Motörhead‘s Lemmy, boosting her rock ‘n’ roll bad girl credentials – but hanging with Lemmy and his circle was probably not the healthiest place for a young woman struggling with drug problems to be. By this time, her modelling career was over, and the acting career that she might have hoped would take over was also fizzling out; a small part in The Bill in 1994 was her last role.

After this, it was a rapid decline. There was a fraud case that saw her given a suspended prison sentence, and the drugs became harder and more all-consuming. In 1993, doctors told her that she had a month to live if she didn’t kick her addictions. They were wrong, but not by much in the grand scheme of things. By 1996, she was living in bread and breakfast accommodation on benefits, and in the final months of her life had twice slashed her wrists – a cry for help according to her mother. Attempts were being made to get her into treatment, but it was too late. On October 5th 1996, she was found slumped in a corridor of her local hospital, having overdosed on heroin. A day later, her life-support was switched off. Debbie Linden, once the most vivacious dolly bird in Britain, a sex symbol and glamour girl mixing with the stars, died in the most depressingly squalid way imaginable. Her boyfriend, Russell Ainsworth was charged with manslaughter after supplying her with the drugs that eventually killed her, though in truth she had been on that downward spiral for several years. In the end, he was acquitted, though still sentenced to two and a half years in prison for supplying drugs.

Today, Debbie Linden is almost forgotten. Her film and TV roles did not bring her lasting fame, and her time as a glamour girl was at just the wrong time, between the original era and the mid-Eighties revival, when the models really did become celebrities in their own rights for a few years. A few years earlier, and she might have been one of the stars of British sex comedies; a few years later and she might have had record deals, mainstream fame and – more importantly – the interventions that she needed before she went completely off the rails. Who can say? In any case, her death at such a young age seems a real tragedy.

DAVID FLINT

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