She was once one of the biggest stars in the pro wrestling business, but by 2017, she had become depressed and nearly suicidal.
She locked herself away from the public and her family. She became sickly and was treated for anorexia. Her hair started falling out.
But a chance encounter with a young fan at a grocery store turned it all around for Paige. Now the former wrestler is back on top in a big way with a biopic chronicling her improbable story.
Fighting With My Family reveals how Saraya-Jade Bevis, a young outcast from Norwich, England, was plucked from a D-list wrestling company run by her ex-con father to become a superstar in World Wrestling Entertainment.
“You forget what you’ve been through in your life, so watching it back was very surreal,” Paige said.
It’s one of those stories that’s so outlandish, it could only be true.
Paige (played by Florence Pugh in the film) knew her childhood was a little bit different.
Her father (played by Nick Frost) and her mother (Lena Headey) ran England’s World Association of Wrestling that staged matches in modest venues.
When Paige was 13, one of her father’s wrestlers failed to show up for a match, so she was tapped to fill in.
“Before that, I didn’t really want to wrestle. I was terrified,” Paige said.
Getting in the ring, though, sparked the “biggest euphoric adrenaline feeling.”
“Even though there was, what, like 10 people in the crowd, it made me feel good,” she says. “You could be anyone you wanted to.”
She was eventually offered a chance to try out for the WWE. Paige thought it best to completely overhaul her look for the audition.
She was pale with piercings and jet-black hair. She dressed in all black. But for the WWE, she got tan, dyed her hair blond and wore a colourful outfit.
The coaches saw through her fakery and declined to offer her a contract.
A few months later, she was given another audition, and this time — mostly on the advice of her brother, also a wrestler — she decided to be herself.
The change paid off and she was offered a spot.
“It took me a while to realise that being me was my superpower,” Paige said.
For her ring name, she chose Paige as an homage to Rose McGowan’s character from the 2000-era series “Charmed.” She made her debut in 2014 on an episode of “WWE Raw,” and won a championship belt her first time out.
But her success caused some friction with her brother (played by Jack Lowden), who had failed to make it to the WWE.
He now runs a wrestling academy in England — where he even trained a blind wrestler — and is content.
“Success isn’t measured by how many cameras you’re in front of,” Paige said.
“It’s a success story to be at home with a family and to have a job where you’re helping people. They shouldn’t measure success on how famous you are.”
Of course, fame also has its downsides. In 2016, the wrestling diva was twice suspended for violating WWE’s wellness policy, including for testing positive for an illegal substance, according to WWE. Then, in 2017, sex tapes of her were illegally posted online by hackers.
“To be publicly humiliated like that was terrible, and I don’t wish that for anyone,” she said.
The leak coupled with a wrestling injury sent her spiralling into depression.
“I didn’t go to work; I didn’t do anything. I felt so rock bottom,” she said.
Then, one day, she was at a local grocery store in Texas, where she was living at the time, and was approached by a young female fan who was about 7 years old.
“Of course, she didn’t have the internet and thought I was the most beautiful and most successful woman in the world.
“It opened my eyes to so many things. I was like, ‘I’m gonna let videos get in the way of things?’
“I thought, what am I doing? I need to be successful for her. My whole journey was supposed to be about inspiring people.”
The wrestler has suffered multiple neck injuries in her career and retired from the WWE last year for fear, she says, of getting paralysed.
Her fame has also boosted her family’s business back in England. Both her parents are still wrestling and have an event coming up this summer — this time, though, in a 27,000-capacity soccer stadium.
Being an oddball is apparently paying off.
As Johnson, who plays himself, tells Paige’s character in the movie: “Don’t worry about being the next me. Be the first you.”
This article first appeared in the New York Post and is republished with permission.
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