JOE Swash once spent two weeks in intensive care battling meningitis and encephalitis – a swelling of the brain.
The 38-year-old actor, who was in EastEnders at the time, had to take a three-month break from the soap in 2005 as he battled his way back to health.
In fact, the star – now a favourite alongside girlfriend Stacey Solomon on Celebrity Gogglebox – spent six weeks in hospital with the very rare virus meningoencephalitis.
It proved to be a long road to recovery for young Joe, who was then in his early 20s, undergoing gruelling physio sessions to help him learn to talk and move again.
But when he finally returned to Albert Square, Joe insisted the illness had dealt his place in the soap a severe blow, saying the time he’d spent away had a “massive effect” on his role as Mickey Miller.
He told The Sun: “When I came back I couldn’t find my feet. New producers came in and brought in new actors and I got lost down the pecking order.
“Mickey just became light relief – the joker. That’s all right but I’ve got more ambition. I would have stayed for ages if I had good stuff – but I wasn’t getting the work.”
It was announced in early 2008 that the characters of Mickey and his stepfather Keith were being axed by EastEnders’ executive producer Diederick Santer after five years on screen.
Joe later said: “When you are young you just don’t think it is ever going to end. I thought I was going to be on EastEnders for years and years.”
The star went into the I’m A Celebrity jungle soon after leaving the Square, finding the show a natural fit for his cheeky personality and gung-ho attitude, powering his way through to the winner’s crown.
It was a sparky personality and willingness to try anything that made him a reality TV favourite, most recently winning Dancing On Ice – despite another two hospital dashes.
However, despite his success in the jungle, Joe was declared bankrupt in 2009 – a horrible experience he was due to repeat in 2013.
Speaking to the Mirror, Joe explained: “I fell behind on tax and bills and buried my head in the sand which was the worst thing to do. I should have faced up to it.
“The second time it happened I was on TV and I felt embarrassed and wondered how I managed to get myself into the situation. But it can happen to anybody.”
He admitted his younger days as an actor in the role of his lifetime has tipped him into taking a devil-may-care attitude to money.
Joe said: “I was chucking it away on stuff I didn’t need. I went out every night and had a house with a mortgage.”
However, Joe’s fortunes took a massive upturn in 2016 when he started dating Stacey Solomon, the former X Factor star he had met in the jungle when she did the show and he was hosing the spin-off Extra Camp.
The pair, who are both I’m A Celebrity winners, have made a formidable couple ever since and are well on their way to being fan favourites among Celebrity Gogglebox viewers too.