Live on Radiolive 8pm tonight
Born into white, middle-class Remuera, L’Estrange-Corbet talks clinically about how her alcoholic, philandering father beat her mother “to a pulp”. When she was three, her mother left him and moved with her two daughters and son to London, where they shared one room in the suburb of Tooting.
Her mother had a well-paid secretarial job that kept them comfortable enough, but she left her daughter in the care of her grandmother, who, in L’Estrange-Corbet’s view, would give Cruella de Vil a run for her money. She says she was treated worse than a dog, often being made to sit on the third step in the hallway without any books or toys and getting an occasional kick for good measure. School was her first salvation: her teacher encouraged her to read and gave her much-needed praise for being clever. She was an outsider – and says she spent a lot of time “in a world of my own”. L’Estrange-Corbet chose to get out by trying to commit suicide. Instead of treatment and support, she got shame and abuse. It was their dirty little secret.
“It was so f---ing stupid,” she says of the decision to keep it quiet. “I wasn’t doing it for attention. I did it because I didn’t want to be around any more.” In those days, she says, you were told to harden up and get over it. No one knew depression even existed, let alone that it might be linked to a chemical deficiency. For a long time, she just thought she was being soft.
The demons, she says, will never go away. Without medication and the support of Hooper and Pebbles, she doubts whether she’d be here today.
“It is an awful thing to live with,” she says. “I can go to bed fine and wake up with the black cloud hanging over my head and it takes every ounce of my being to get out of bed.”
Denise works with the "Books in Homes" project for lower socio-economic schools and speaks twice yearly to various schools on the importance of reading.
She has spoken to many business audiences including the 1999 APEC conference, the Peace Awards along with John Pilger and sat on the panel of Helen Clark’s 2000 Business Forum.