Saved: Football legend Peter Shilton and wife Steph talk about addiction and their home on Mersea Island
- Credit: Paul Cudmore Photography
By Holly Louise Eells
I believe it has been more than six years since I last had a chat with one of England’s greatest goalkeepers, Peter Shilton OBE, and his charming wife, Steph. It felt like no time had passed, in fact, talking to the Shiltons was like we were distant friends having a good old catch up.
‘How are you, Holly?’ says Steph whilst making a cup of tea in their Mersea Island home before our interview. This time around, I am here to talk about their book, Saved. A powerful, thought-provoking memoir yet a self-help book, which reveals how Peter’s 45-year addiction to gambling nearly destroyed him, his wealth and his happiness. Nevertheless, the endless love and committed support of Steph enabled him to turn his life around and fight back.
Since the book release, ‘We have had a lot of people coming forward and reaching out, including loved ones and two young men who were at a suicidal point,’ Steph explains. ‘But, as a result of listening to Pete talk about his story on TV, they have opened up to their loved ones and they are no longer in that place. This was the ultimate thing for me.’
‘That was the ultimate thing for me too,’ Peter adds. ‘Hearing about suicide and the recent stories of how many people were taking their lives because they didn’t think they could stop.’
Peter boasts a 30-year professional football career, including playing for Leicester City, England, and Nottingham Forest. He currently holds the record for playing the most games for the England men’s team and received an OBE for his contribution to football.
‘With this book, I felt I had to be brutally honest,’ Peter says. ‘Gambling takes over your life. I feel better that the story is out there and I hope I can help people.' Steph adds, ‘We both knew this book needed to be out there. Pete felt there was nothing for addicts and there is certainly nothing I could get support from.’
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Opening up the discussion of gambling, they both have bravely shared their journeys in two halves, offering advice and hope to not only those affected by gambling but sufferers of other chronic addictions. ‘We wrote our parts of the book separately,’ explains Steph. ‘We hadn’t properly talked about it in five years as I just wanted to move forward, but this gave us an opportunity to look back and understand Peter’s addiction far more.’
Born and bred in Essex, Steph worked as a manager for the NHS for more than 20 years and is also an accomplished blues and jazz singer. ‘I just remember Pete opening the bottle of champagne as we had finished writing the book, and I looked at him and burst into tears,’ she says. ‘I said to him, “what an amazing couple we are to go through that.” It gave me the opportunity to realise what a fantastic thing we have both done.’
She adds, ‘I am not going to lie, it was hard. I struggled as I’m quite private and this is my life that I desperately wanted to move forward from.’ As mentioned in the book, the UK is entering into a gambling epidemic. ‘It is an illness, a disease, and needs to be recognised as such,’ Steph explains. ‘It is an addiction, just like alcohol or drug addiction, there is no difference.’
Now the Shiltons are calling for an end to gambling advertising and sponsorship in football. To raise awareness of the issues with gambling, they support and work with The Big Step, a campaign founded by a recovering gambling addict, and Gambling with Lives, which tackles football's relationship with gambling. It aims to bring in stricter advertising controls and team kit sponsorship rules.
‘The white paper is out in December,’ says Steph. ‘We went to Downing Street on September 14 with a petition and a personal letter from Peter outlining the reasons he feels gambling advertising must be restricted, particularly for the vulnerable and children.’ Peter adds, ‘Football advertising has taken over from horse racing. Now you have a casino in your pocket. There are a lot more youngsters that are getting involved in it too. Back in the day, you had betting shops that were hidden, blacked out and protected children.’
As it states in their book, Saved, ‘We are not anti-gambling. Gambling sensibly, moderately and for fun is fine. There are many who can bet reasonably and within their limits. However, regrettably, more and more are betting outside of their limits.’
Saved is not just about gambling and football, but a love story too. Married in 2016, Steph met Peter at the beginning of 2012 purely by chance at the Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf & Spa near Colchester. ‘Saved is something completely different from memoirs that have come before; it has a purpose, a vision and an important message – a potentially life-saving message.’
Enjoying the quiet life in Mersea in their dream home is something that Peter has always desired. ‘Living by the sea is something I have always wanted. You can have a private life here,’ he says. A proud Essex girl, Steph adds, ‘We bought our bungalow here a couple of years ago, it is our forever home, we are really rooted here now. We love the sea and the healthy lifestyle, and like walking on the beach with our dog, Charlie.’
Saved by Steph and Peter Shilton is out now in hardback, published by Ad Lib (RRP £20.) Available at all good bookshops and online.