Alex Scott was a former footballer, who went on to become a TV presenter and sports commentator. She took four weeks off to go to Portugal for a three-day juice retreat. She returns twice per year.

‘Not to lose weight or do juices,’ she says. ‘I go to detox from life. It’s a way for me to get out and hike every day in the mountains, as well as listen to podcasts. This allows me to just be there. I go when I’m in a red zone.

‘That’s when I’m totally tired. I reach a place where I need to escape from life and feel safe – safe and just free,’ she explains. 

‘Either that or I’m just burnt out. My spark is completely gone and then I’m struggling. The retreat is what I need to recharge my brain and switch off. I don’t know how to describe it. I just sometimes need to get rid of the noise.’

Alex Scott, 37, (pictured) from London, began to be bombarded with vile online abuse after her television career exploded in 2018

Alex Scott (pictured), 37-year-old Londoner, was subject to vile online abuses after she had her TV career explode in 2018. 

Alex turned 37 in a month last month. This marks the first time Alex has spoken out about her mental illness. She is, after all, a girl from the sort of tough estate in the East End of London where, as she says, ‘I had to hold my own – be like, “I’m all right. No one’s going to mess with me.” 

“It was an environment where everybody tried to be strong. It was the only way to survive. You couldn’t rely on other people for finances or relationships. You had to find your own way.’

Two years ago the former Arsenal women’s captain who won 140 caps for England began to stumble when she was bombarded by death threats and vile abuse on social media. 

‘I was drinking most nights. It was easy for me to go through bottles just to get off the couch. This was my only way to get some sleep. 

‘I found myself pulling away from everyone around me, not wanting to talk to anyone.’ Her huge soulful eyes begin to swim with tears. He takes a deep, controlled breath.

The vile trolling began when her television career exploded after she became the BBC’s first female football pundit at a World Cup in 2018. It intensified when she joined the Sky Sports Super Sunday team and speculation grew that she was to replace Sue Barker on the BBC’s A Question Of Sport. 

‘I started to feel unsafe but I was in a place that was lonely because I was on my own and I didn’t want to put my stuff on anyone. I don’t want to put it on my mum in case she worried about me every single day of her life and had panic attacks.’

Her anguish remains so raw that she, unwittingly, slips into the present tense, ‘Who am I turning to? I’m dealing with all that on my own. Then, also, I’m going into a new job so I don’t want to be like that person – a female who can’t handle herself. 

Alex with Alan Shearer, Gary Lineker, Thierry Henry and Gaby Logan at Euro 2020

Alex and Gary Lineker at Euro 2020, Alex with Alex Shearer, Gary Lineker Thierry Henry, Gaby Logan

‘So I’m having to turn to drink to switch off and sleep, and that’s not me. I’d been hiding it and hiding it until it got to the stage where I thought, “I can’t take this any more.”’

Alex began therapy two years ago. It has proven to be a lifesaver. ‘It’s a safe place where I’m allowed to let go of all my emotion and actually talk things through,’ she says. 

‘It’s just that weight off your shoulders.’ Nonetheless, it’s hard not to be touched by her pain. So much so that you want to ram Lord Digby Jones’s criticism of her London accent during this year’s Olympics coverage down his throat (tweeting about her ‘inability to pronounce her ‘G’s at the end of a word’, the portly peer continued, ‘Can’t someone give these people elocution lessons?’).

All I can be is myself, I won’t shy away from that 

‘All I can be is myself,’ says Alex. ‘I’m never going to shy away from that. My reply to him is Michelle Obama’s, “When they go low, you go high.”’

Alex’s path is exactly that. Within four short years of retiring from football to concentrate on broadcasting, she became the first permanent female to present the BBC’s Football Focus in May and is now hosting a brand new BBC daytime game show The Tournament, which will be broadcast on weekdays from Monday. 

There are eight competitors who take part in this fast-paced competition called Tournament Run. In a tight, tension-filled atmosphere, each contestant in a quiz match chooses an opponent and takes their prize money. 

If a player makes it all the way to the finish, they have the opportunity to win a second round of the Golden Run.

‘The game really begins after the first round of eight general knowledge questions,’ Alex explains, her eyes lighting up now as she talks about the show. 

Alex said the new weekday show she is hosting gives the winner an opportunity to double their money. Pictured: Alex hosting new game show The Tournament

Alex stated that the weekday program she hosts gives winners the chance to win twice their winnings. Pictured: Alex hosting new game show The Tournament

‘If you get most of the questions right and you’re at the top of the leader board with say, £500, you choose who to play against in a head-to-head. You might choose the person who has struggled so is down at the bottom with £10, or go for someone in the middle who has more money but could be a tougher opponent.

‘If you win you go through to the semi-final and that person goes home. If you lose you go home. Two players will advance to the final if they win the semifinals. 

“The Golden Run winner will receive double the amount they have earned. It’s such a simple format but it works because you have these tense moments. You might be favourite but it’s actually about how you deal with things under pressure.’

Alex is the host of this show and makes it so much more watchable. Alex has a light humour, and an innate sense of compassion.

‘I’m a sucker for emotions,’ she says. ‘That’s what I really love about the show. We had one guy who had Asperger’s. After reaching the final, he began to cry because he had lost. He said, “I was homeless a month ago. People don’t see people like me on TV.” I was nearly in tears and having to hold it together.

Football was my favorite pastime 

‘If you don’t win you get the chance to come back the next day and try again. The guy with Asperger’s came back, won, then got to the Golden Run and doubled his money. 

‘I think he won £5,000 or something. He was probably our largest one to date. He was like…’ She finishes the sentence with a huge smile that speaks more than words.

Alex is a whatever-hand-you’re-dealt-bounce-back-and-head-for-the-golden-run sort of person. A fortnight ago she went down with the so-called ‘super cold’ that’s kept many of us in bed for a week. 

Alex winning the women’s FA Cup with Arsenal in 2008

 Alex winning the women’s FA Cup with Arsenal in 2008

She felt awful on Saturday, but she continued to host Football Focus. By Sunday she was ‘on the sofa’ and forced to drop out of her guest slot on Monday’s The One Show. 

It’s the first day she has ever taken off work ill. By Wednesday she’s at our photoshoot painting on a confidence that she’s never really felt.

‘I think from the outside people look at you and assume because you’re on TV and talk to millions of people, you’re confident, but the people around me who know me would not describe me as that. 

‘I’m always scared all this could end tomorrow so I always turn up at any job and do the best I can. Even with football I knew I wasn’t the most talented. Nobody ever imagined that I’d play for Arsenal and England. What got me there was hard work.’

A lover can’t take on my job because it is difficult 

Alex has been single ‘for a while now’. Much as the therapy she’s been having is helping her, she still finds it hard to let people in. ‘It’s trust, isn’t it?’ she says. 

Pictured: Alex as a child with brother Ronnie

Pictured: Alex as a child with brother Ronnie

‘I’ve been in love. I suppose through my 20s I was with my first love – my most intense love. When the time is right I’ll speak about it. It’s not that I’m trying to hide anything, it’s just that I’ve always been on to the next chapter. I don’t really dwell on things.

‘I’ve been in relationships where at the start it’s all great, but to take on the job I do is a lot. They can’t take it because of the pressure or because I’m not home at a certain time.’ She shrugs.

‘Should I be in a relationship that I’m unhappy with? Growing up, I was exposed to my dad and mum. That’s why they split, because obviously they weren’t happy. I never want to be that person.’

Alex and her brother Ronnie started football together at the street’s end near their Poplar home, in east London. Although the community was close knit, it was also a difficult one.

‘A fight would break out or a car would be on fire,’ she says. ‘You’d have sirens constantly or the police entering someone’s home. It was never quiet. On a council estate in that area it’s easy to find trouble.

‘I was lucky, we had a concrete football pitch with fencing around it. It was the beginning of my escape. This was the place where I began to see a future beyond what was contained within that four-footed football cage. 

“It was the only place I felt happy. Football was pure joy. I was the only one who spoke to me. That football cage was my comfort blanket.’

Alex is one of two mixed-race children. Her Jamaican father left her when she was seven to take the television and radio with him. 

Her Irish mother was a single parent and struggled to find work that would take care of Alex and Ronnie. 

‘Once Dad left I’d hear comments about my mum like, “I told you so.” She was a white woman raising black kids, single and struggling. My brother and I were fortunate to have her work at various places. The mother-daughter bond was different.

‘I’ve got Afro hair and my mum didn’t know how to do Afro hair so I’d go down to my nan’s every week in Wapping and sit for hours for her to do my hair and teach me about it. 

‘Every single time I was there we’d watch Oprah Winfrey. I suppose watching that show, hearing about her struggles and how she spoke with other people, it made you think, “Wow, there’s something else out there.”’

Alex loved her maternal grandmother. When she was awarded an MBE for services to football in the 2017 New Year’s Honours she invited her grandmother there along with her mother. She organised tea at The Ritz, she says, ‘to make them feel special. 

“My Nan and mum had never visited a place as fancy. This was my best and most joyful time. But I remember coming away from that day and saying to my mum, “I don’t think I’ve got long with Nan any more.” I knew that day was it.’

Alex was heartbroken when her grandmother suddenly died. She’s in tears now as she talks about it. ‘I didn’t go to my nan’s funeral because I couldn’t, I was too upset. I was super-close to her.’

Alex (pictured) said experiencing Jamaica for BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? gave her a strong sense of belonging

Alex (pictured) said experiencing Jamaica for BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? She felt a sense of belonging after she visited Jamaica for BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? 

Alex has seen her dad ‘a few times’ since he left her mother, but not for a long time. She sends Christmas cards and asks her brother ‘to check in on him’ but doesn’t speak to him. 

‘My dad wouldn’t be able to describe my personality like my friends do. You can take from that the level of involvement he’s had in my life.’

Recently she visited her father’s native Jamaica to film the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? Her maternal great-grandfather, a Jew, opposed fascism in East London. She also discovered that her four-time great-grandfather, a black man, owned 26 slaves. This really shocked her. 

She also says she felt a sense of belonging after visiting Jamaica for the first-time.

Visiting Jamaica made me proud of where I’m from 

‘There was a distant cousin of mine on WDYTYA? who said something that stayed with me that I didn’t understand before going into the show, “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from.” 

‘That was so powerful because people were saying, yes, I’m doing great, aren’t I? I’ve got this job. Everyone sees me as successful – a girl who started playing football getting to where I am now.

‘But I don’t think I understood where I was from. I’d say, “I’m from the East End of London” because that’s all I knew. 

‘So going to Jamaica and experiencing my nan’s life there was the most emotional part of WDYTYA? for me – but not in a sad way. The colour of happiness, I saw it. The same as what I get from the juice retreat – just that feeling of being free.

‘You see, I’d never known anything about my roots. Now I have an understanding of who my family were and what they’ve been through. I’m actually proud I’m made up of all of that. I’m proud of who I am.’ 

You can watch the Tournament weekdays at 2.15pm on BBC1 & iPlayer