A few years ago, it seemed almost impossible to open a tabloid newspaper without being confronted by photos of Denise Welch looking a little sloshed or flashing her underwear.

She was, she readily admits - and indeed has since spoken about it openly - going through a bad phase. Now though she happily concedes that the boozy-tabloid-fodder phase is behind her.

"I'm enjoying life," says the 56-year-old, who was loved by audiences on Loose Women during her stint on the ITV show from 2005 'til last year. "I feel so well in myself, much more positive and in control."

This hasn't come about overnight, of course. And Welch, whose battles with depression and addiction date way back (she confessed to snorting cocaine during filming breaks when she was on Coronation Street in the Nineties), knows these struggles can be a roller-coaster you often have to ride for life.

"Two and a bit years ago, I gave up alcohol completely," she begins. "I followed Lincoln, who'd given up a couple of months before. We both had issues with alcohol and decided to face it together. We've been sober ever since, we're very proud of ourselves for that."

Back in those tabloid-fodder days, Welch, married to Tim Healy at the time, with whom she has two children (Matthew, 25, and Louis, 13), was accused of having an affair with artist Lincoln Townley, who's 15 years her junior.

She set the record straight in a tearful announcement on Loose Women in February 2012, confirming that she and Healy had actually been separated for some time.

Coming clean proved a relief, she admitted - in fact, being open has been a central part of bringing Welch's roller-coaster into a manageable gear.

She discussed her difficulties with drugs and depression in her 2010 autobiography Pulling Myself Together and, in early 2013, following another bout of boozy tabloid snaps, admitted she and Townley had a drink problem.

"Lincoln and I met in 'the madness', as we call it, and it could have gone one way or the other. But we found something that was worth fighting for, and it was never going to reach its potential, or anywhere near it, with alcohol in the mix," she says today.

"We support each other," Welch adds.

Love was a big part of her motivation for quitting drinking, but she refuses to say she wouldn't have been able to do it without Townley ("Because not everyone will have a supportive partner"), though he certainly helped, along with the love and support of her family and friends.

Plus it means they can enjoy the rewards together, and there are plenty of them - "You are happier in yourself, and everything is better when you feel better in yourself" - but there was a downside too. Welch soon discovered that she'd replaced her booze addiction with overeating, and piled on two stone.

"I know to some two stone isn't a great deal of weight, but when you've been used to being much smaller and you suddenly put that on...," she says. "I remember thinking, 'I look overweight and it's making me feel uncomfortable', and I didn't feel happy in anything I was wearing. My self-esteem was low.

"And I could see it was going to continue, because I hadn't been addressing it. I was doing that typical thing of, 'I deserve to put on weight, I've given up alcohol'."

Her approaching wedding (she and Townley, below, tied the knot last summer) provided the perfect motivation, and Welch managed to shed the excess weight with the help of LighterLife, whose programmes combine low-calorie meal replacements and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) based sessions and techniques to help people tackle underlying psychological complexities and change their approach to eating for life.

Welch was reluctant to join group sessions initially. While quite used to having details about her life played out in the media, the idea of talking about herself with a small group of strangers was a different matter entirely.

"Like everybody, I have this fear of group therapy and that sort of thing. While in my job, you are generally a bit of a show off, you are quite shy in that private sort of situation."

But, she gave the sessions a chance, "and basically it changed everything", and by the time she exchanged vows with Townley, she was the picture of health and radiance.

"I realise now the reason other diets don't work is because you're just locking away the biscuit tin. But it's really a case of addressing why you are behaving like that, why you're eating like that."

The techniques she's learnt through LighterLife, she adds, helped her continue in her mission to stay off alcohol, and came in useful when she quit smoking - the latest milestone in her lifestyle overhaul.

"Is my halo visible?!" she jokes.

One thing she certainly won't be giving up though is sex. "I've got a young husband, so I ain't giving that up!" Welch adds, roaring with laughter.

The depression is always in the background, though; she's still on medication.

"My mental health issues are still there and always will be," she explains. "I live with a mental illness which sometimes rears its head, but addressing alcohol and food have all helped in my battle with it."

Now that the roller-coaster's slowed down, does she ever look back and think, 'Maybe I shouldn't have said so much?'

"Sometimes... My misery became a sort of tabloid fodder," she says.

She's aware that it would have impacted on her children, but adds: "I do know that I feel a better wife and better mum the way I lead my life now. That's the wonderful thing - I have two fantastic kids and we're doing really well."

The fact that her openness may have helped others too is also a big boost.

"There's not a day goes by when I don't get an email or people on Twitter or in the street who say they've read my autobiography or heard people talking about it. One girl told me she slept with press cuttings about me by her bed, because she'd read about me talking about my depression and she could refer to them and think, 'Denise had that, and that's how she felt that day...'

"So although my openness caused a fall-out in some ways, a lot of people related to my story. I do believe in using my voice in a positive way and I still will, but just not on such a public forum as a daily talk show."

"I feel freer from my mental health issues in my 50s than I did in my 30s and 40s, it blighted a lot of my 30s and 40s," Welch says.

"So many of my friends are having a tough time dealing with ageing, and I have my days, but generally, I feel better and healthier now than I have done for years."

Denise Welch is an official ambassador for LighterLife.