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Zoe Ball’s tried to help depressed boyfriend Billy Yates before he died at home
Zoe Ball’s tried to help depressed boyfriend Billy Yates before he was found hanging in his flat, an inquest revealed.
Strictly spin-off presenter Zoe, who was described as the "love of his life" by the cameraman’s family, was so concerned about her boyfriend’s state of mind she paid for a two-week stay in The Priory.
But an inquest ruled he may not have intended to kill himself as the former alcoholic had been drinking on the day of his death.
It sadly emerged her boyfriend had attempted suicide twice before – sparking Zoe’s concern.
The coroner heard how Billy had rammed his car into a motorway barrier during a panic attack on November 25 2016.
He had been dating Radio 2 DJ Zoe for several months and was credited with helping give her "a new lease of life" after her split and divorce from husband Norman Cook – better known as the superstar DJ Fatboy Slim.
Billy had battled depression and alcohol abuse for years, quitting the bottle in August 2016 and attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting two days before he died.
He was drinking on the day of his death and tests found 92mg per 100 milligrams of alcohol in his blood, putting him just over the drink-drive limit.
Brad Abbotts, Billy’s friend who discovered his body in his bathroom, said: "I was friends with Billy for the last 15 years.
"We kept in regular contact and I am aware that in the last five years Billy suffered depression and it got so bad that he tried to crash his car.
"It was a cry that he needed help. He received treatment for his injuries and he was admitted to The Priory where he was for two weeks on a voluntary basis.
"I received a text from a friend asking if I had heard from Billy.
"I left Cobham just before 6pm to check on his welfare and got there at about 6.30pm.
"I went up the stairs and I knocked on the door and there was no answer, I pushed against the door and it opened.
"Straight away I saw Billy lying on the floor with his hands by his side.
"He was lying face down wear a pair of dark jeans, there was discolouration in his face and he was very cold."
A coroner ruled his cause of death was asphyxiation due to a ligature.
A statement from Mr Yates’ family, read by Coroner’s Officer Julie Kidd, said: "William was known and loved by a great number of people and was a sweetheart to many.
"He was in the Royal Marines until he broke his leg and opted out and left Lancashire and moved to Greece and worked on ‘Greece Uncovered’, which his parents were never allowed to see.
"Working in TV, cast and crew knew that if Billy was on the job they would be having a good time.
"That was where Billy met Zoe. They had a friendship and beautiful relationship, they were the love of each others life.
"William lived his life in something of a whirlwind.
"William’s life, although too short, was filled with absolute individualism.
"He suffered greatly from depression which plagued him on and off for years, but life became too much for him."
The couple were described as "the loves of each other’s life" and their relationship marked a happier time in Zoe’s life.
She was seen helping him move into his new flat in February last year.
They were described as "besotted" by witnesses who spotted them on a date night in the same month.
"Zoe couldn’t stop smiling and was very into him, they look great together," said the onlooker at the time.
Zoe’s dad Johnny Ball was full of praise for Billy in the early months of their relationship, telling The Mirror: "We are very happy that she is finding a new lease of life. She is very happy at the moment, she really is, and that is lovely."
And even Billy’s ex-girlfriend Molly Johnson thought he and Zoe were a perfect match, telling the Sunday Mirror in February 2017 that she hoped Billy would settle down with his new love.
"It’s all lovely and fabulous. I hope they’re very happy. He is a dear, dear friend, my whole family just adore him," she said.
"All that matters to us is that he’s happy. He’s a really, properly brilliant man, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for him. I wish the very best for him."
Devastated Zoe was left reeling by his death and hinted that it was suicide shortly after he was found by retweeting a message from the Samaritans.
She also threw herself into organising a 350-mile charity bike ride from Blackpool to Brighton for Sport Relief in memory of her love.
Speaking about it afterwards, she burst into tears when she heard the total she’d raised for charity was £1million.
"I think that’s one of the things I said, that part of it is that I wanted Billy’s memory to be more about who he was as an amazing man and not about how he died," she said on This Morning.
"It was such an amazing thing, I feel so grateful to do something for Billy, for his family and other people who have gone through this experience or are living with mental illness.
"I was so moved by the support and people’s generosity from and I get messages from people every day. I wish I could reply to them all."
In March this year, Zoe revealed she blamed herself for not being able to save her boyfriend.
"The horror is unbelievable," she said, describing suicide as "really cruel".
"I sometimes think, ‘I’m a resourceful woman, I’m a bright woman… why could I not save him?’
"And then I have to stop and say, ‘Everyone who loved him knew. None of us found an answer, none of us saved him.’"
She told the Radio Times: "To move forward you have to accept that. Which is very difficult. But I take comfort from the fact he is no longer in pain. He struggled every day and now he is at peace. The pain has stopped for him.
"You wanted to say, ‘Come on. Stay with me, stay with me. Let’s get you out of this headspace.’ But it was harder and harder to do that."
She praised the fun-loving personality of the Antiques Roadshow cameraman, but said the therapy Billy had "didn’t even touch the sides".
"To see a man like that crumble under the pressure was heartbreaking to watch," she added.
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