(adds McCartney response, final paragraph)
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Heather Mills, estranged wife of former Beatle Paul McCartney, says Britain’s tabloid media drove her close to suicide and wrongly cast her as a gold-digger.
Mills appeared on British television on Wednesday to promote a campaign calling for a change in laws governing the media that would offer individuals greater protection, and asked viewers to visit Web site www.youcare.com to sign a petition.
“I’ve had 18 months of absolute abuse,” Mills told GMTV in an interview during which she fought back tears several times.
“They’ve called me a whore, a gold-digger, a fantasist, a liar, the most unbelievably hurtful things.
“I’ve stayed quiet for my daughter. We’ve had death threats, I’ve been close to suicide ... I’ve had worse threats than a paedophile or a murderer and I’ve done nothing but charity for 20 years,” the 39-year-old said.
GMTV said Mills appeared on the show at her own request.
Mills, who has a daughter Beatrice with McCartney, denied reports she had been offered a large financial settlement by the musician in what has become a bitter divorce battle.
“I have been offered nothing, OK?” she said.
“These figures are made up. 100 million (pounds), 50 million, 20 million ... How do you know if I even want any money? I’m 1-1/2 million in debt in lawyers’ fees.”
The former model and charity worker rebutted reports she was holding out for the right to sell the story of her marriage to McCartney, 65, in the future.
“It’s rubbish. I could sell my story right now. I’m trying to protect Paul and our daughter.” The couple married in 2002 and split after four years.
Mills said she had been the subject of 4,400 “abusive” articles and compared her situation to that of Kate McCann, the mother of missing girl Madeleine, and Princess Diana, who died after being chased by paparazzi.
“That is what we’re doing as a nation, buying these newspapers,” she told GMTV. “Every time you buy one of those you contribute to it. So force a change for responsible journalism.”
She said the “hate campaign” whipped up by some tabloid media put her and her daughter’s life at risk.
“That’s why I considered killing myself, because I thought if I’m dead, she’s safe and she can be with her father.”
In a later television interview on BBC, Mills was asked: “Are you saying that Paul McCartney does not protect you and your child?”, to which she replied: “I’m afraid not.”
McCartney’s spokesman had no comment on the remark.