v 7.00.00
23 Jan 2024
updated 23 Jan 2024

Actress Hetty Baynes: Hypnotherapy taught me how to conquer my demons

Actress and former wife of film director Ken Russell, Hetty Baynes, has suffered from crippling anxiety, eating disorders and depression since her childhood. She explains how she turned her life around.

Thu, November 28, 2013
By Lucy Benyon


Hetty Baynes had a passionate but stormy relationship
with ex-husband Ken Russell

AS A glamorous actress who has enjoyed roles in major TV shows from Footballers' Wives to A Touch Of Frost and stage shows as diverse as Othello and Women Laughing, you might expect Hetty Baynes to be confident and fearless.

Yet since childhood the actress and painter has been blighted by anxiety and remembers feelings of fear and sadness from a young age.

"I would have this churning sensation in my stomach and my heart would beat really fast," recalls Hetty, 57. "Nobody talked about their emotions back then so I never really knew whether it was normal."

The talented painter, who last year opened an autobiographical exhibition entitled Betsy And Blapsy – Life And Times at the Strand Gallery in Covent Garden, has spent her entire adult life battling anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

"Mine was a creative, artistic and highly strung kind of family," says Hetty, who believes many of her problems are genetic and took root in her childhood.

"My mother had terrible mood swings and I believe she probably suffered from anxiety and depression too but in those days these things weren't really understood."

As the youngest of five children Hetty's formative years were unconventional.

While her father, aircraft designer Leslie Baynes, spent every weekend at the Dorset estate where they lived, her mother Margot was involved in an increasingly intense friendship with her godmother, the sculptress Mary Spencer Watson, who owned the estate and shared their home.


Hetty Baynes says hypnotherapy has helped her
overcome eating disorders and depression

Hetty's father eventually moved out. "It was confusing for a child to not understand what was going on," says Hetty, who at the age of 10 won a place at the Royal Ballet School.

Two years later she performed at the Royal Opera House alongside Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty.

Margot had dreamed of becoming a ballerina herself and Hetty became a dancing protégée at the age of three. "I was a talented dancer but I felt this incredible pressure to be the best," she explains.

"As dancing students, we were weighed and measured regularly and the staff would talk about us as if we weren't there. Not surprisingly, I became obsessed with my body."

Hetty stopped eating and when her weight fell to under 6 stone she was diagnosed with clinical depression. The doctor wanted to put her in a psychiatric unit but her mother refused. Instead she went home to recover and was later diagnosed with anorexia and prescribed tranquillisers.

Hetty decided that she wanted to become an actress and at the age of 16 she won her first role as Princess Tatiana in the TV series Fall Of Eagles. Over those next few years she gained numerous acting roles. Yet she couldn't shake off the feeling that she'd failed her mother by not becoming a ballerina. By then her anorexia had become bulimia and she suffered panic attacks.

At 23, after a complicated relationship ended, she suffered a breakdown and spent the next nine years in therapy. "I kind of cracked up for a while," recalls Hetty. "I couldn't sleep and I suffered from awful night terrors. My self-esteem was at an absolute low even though the acting was going so well."

Hetty did learn to make sense of her childhood and rebuilt her relationship with her father but she was never completely free from depression.

Then in 1992 she fell in love with Ken Russell, the controversial film director famed for his films Women In Love, Tommy and The Devils. The couple met on the set of Secret Life Of Sir Arnold Bax, which Ken, then 65, was directing.

In spite of the 30-year age gap and the fact Ken was twice divorced and had seven children, they quickly became an item.

"I'd never met anyone as talented or as unusual," says Hetty. "He was so much fun and creatively we just gelled. I knew I'd met my kindred spirit."

Within 12 months she and Ken were married and parents to son Rex, now 20. However the marriage became so stormy Hetty's bulimia and anxiety were increasingly difficult to manage.

"Ours was a passionate relationship but it was impossible for us to stay together," says Hetty of her five-year marriage to Ken, which ended in 1997.

She needed medication and counselling to deal with the depression that followed. Five years later Ken married an American actress called Lisi Tribble. Nevertheless Hetty and Rex continued to see him regularly.

"The love I felt for him never went away," says Hetty, who was devastated by his death in 2011. At the time, she was in a difficult relationship with an alcoholic producer. "I was consumed by grief and obsessed with making my relationship work."

Fearing she was about to unravel again, she sought help from hypnotherapist Ailsa Frank whom she discovered by chance online.

"When I met Ailsa I was a complete mess. I wasn't sleeping and was barely eating," says Hetty. "I couldn't make the most basic decisions and I was struggling to function."

Yet two years on Hetty says that the hypnotherapy has completely turned her life around. When she began the sessions her anxiety levels concerning her relationship were all-consuming.

Before the hypnosis Ailsa spoke to Hetty about her boyfriend. "She suggested that as he liked spending his time in pubs and I didn't, we probably weren't compatible," she recalls.

"It sounds silly but I'd been spending months trying to over-think things yet Ailsa was able to cut through all that," says Hetty, who ended her relationship shortly afterwards.

She found the hypnosis incredibly powerful. "The messages I heard were so positive that I soon learned to challenge the negative voices in my mind."

Through her sessions with Ailsa and the CDs she was given to use at home, Hetty's outlook began to change. "I had been obsessed with the past and too scared to move forward but suddenly I realised I had the ability to build a new life."

As her negative thoughts dissipated she began to write her autobiography, which is due to be published next year.

She also completed her painting exhibition and began to work as an ambassador for both the eating disorder charity Beat and The Depression Alliance.

"The thing about depression and bulimia or anorexia is that you genuinely begin to see yourself in the worst possible light," explains Hetty, who says she is now the happiest she has been in years.

"I have learned to challenge my emotional side creatively and to see it as an asset. It is part of who I am. Hypnotherapy has given me the tools to deal with myself compassionately and to look after myself."

Hetty feels no shame about her past struggles. "It has been tough at times," she says. "But I've had a great career and there have been so many highs along the way.

"I've confronted my problems head on," she adds proudly. "Life hasn't always been easy but I'll continue to fight my demons every step of the way."