'A priest came to the hospital to give me the last rites': Cork actor speaks about turning his life around following eating disorder

Cork actor Nathan Slattery tells Sarah Horgan he has found peace following his struggle with an eating disorder.
'A priest came to the hospital to give me the last rites': Cork actor speaks about turning his life around following eating disorder

Actor Nathan Slattery has spoken out about mental health after battling an eating disorder in his youth. Photograph by Talentosa Productions

AN inspiring Cork actor opened up about turning his life around after an eating disorder led to him being given the last rites in hospital.

Nathan Slattery — who studied acting with the likes of movie stars like Michael Fassbender and has featured in various Cork film and theatrical productions — is keen to give hope to others struggling with mental health issues.

In his twenties, the flamboyant performer was known for his charismatic personality which has become the stuff of local legend. One particular anecdote details how he drove a vintage scooter through a Cork Film Festival screening in the Kino, to the delight of audience members.

The now 50-year-old said he appeared happy and outgoing to the outside world. But the intolerable internal pain he was experiencing told a different story.

The Crosshaven native, who now lives in Canada, confessed that he often found it difficult to eat in public.

“I lived in a Victorian house where I shared with seven other people,” he said. “I was living on the second floor with my own room and my own space. I never cooked or put food in the fridge.

“I never wanted to eat in front of housemates. From 1998 to 2006 I sat in the kitchen only twice — once when my father called and another time when I was working on a film where I was sitting in a chair being made up.

“I lived the way of a recluse and they knew that so the film crew came to me.”

Before finding success on the catwalk with Illusive Model Agency, the artist recalled lying in his bedroom unable to get out of bed.

“I can remember lying in my bed at 3pm. I lived near the park and could hear the sound of children playing. It made me think of my own childhood and reminded me of how much I was missing my brothers and sisters. I can remember thinking “I’m very low.”

He recalled the day he was admitted to hospital.

“If you don’t eat you are shaking and I was very low. I ended up in intensive care and felt like I had entered One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.”

The artist credits his family for helping him through that painful time.

“My brother Conor brought in chocolate, milkshakes and ripples and we’d hide them under the pillow,” he said. “He stayed up all night with me in intensive care.

“We are like Irish twins because we’re so close in age and he has always been amazing.”

He remembered his lowest period.

“I was resisting when the doctors and nurses were giving me a biopsy,” he said. “It was thought that they’d have to put tubes in me. I can just remember my father saying “you are putting no tubes in this boy.”

“At one stage a priest came to the hospital to give me the last rites.”

After he was discharged from hospital the actor was approached by the late model agent Claire Cullinane from Illusive Model Agency who made him the male face of 1995. Nathan said he believes it was she who saved him from slipping back into an eating disorder.

“It was as if when I met her she knew something,” he said. “I believe that everyone has their guardian angel in life and she was mine.”

Nathan described how his struggles began early on when he was targeted by bullies.

Recounting his transition from a private to a public school he said: “I was wearing striped shirts and a James Dean haircut.

“There were kids passing me notes in class saying that I was gay and a disgrace to my sex. Now, kids are still doing that but it’s through texts and online. One day I was [so] frustrated that I did a roundhouse kick and smashed the window before sitting back down and saying nothing.”

He also had a brief time with the navy which was cut short as a result of a coeliac condition.

“That had a huge effect,” he said. “I might see a film with navy uniforms when it suddenly all comes back to me.”

Nathan said he refuses to dwell on negative thoughts.

“I embrace failures now because you have to know failures before you know success.”

Despite the obstacles, Nathan said he enjoyed many happy times in Cork too. He honed in on one amusing story.

“I went to college with Michael Fassbender for a year in 1995,” he said. “We were very competitive. I was in Cork city with him one night — I think we were just after a radio play — and I took off my shoes and ran through the English Market barefoot. We didn’t speak before that but that night he told me he liked me and “you’re mad Nathan.”

“Funnily enough, I auditioned for the film Hunger too and Michael got the part. I have to be very careful with those kinds of projects. I recently put on weight for a film role for the first time in my life. Before that I had been fitting into the same trousers since 1993.”

Nathan acknowledged how far he has come since his youth.

“My beautiful mother Siobhan always says that you are what you eat,” he said. “Since setting off for Canada I have been my own powerhouse. I am aware that at any stage I could go back on hunger strike.

“A diet like this can shadow you. Now, I’m eating well, maybe too well, during lockdown. My advice for anyone going through the same thing would be to do something they love — get a pastime or a trade. The answers are already inside of you.”

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