My pal Sophie’s death broke my heart. It has changed my attitude to life
TV presenter Matt Johnson talks to GABRIELLE FAGAN about his mental health ‘mission’, hypnotherapy and his hopes to start a family
IT COULD be said that, at one stage, handsome and charming Welsh TV presenter, Matt Johnson, made achieving success seem effortless. An ambitious teenager, he left school in Caerphilly at 16 to pursue a career in showbiz, working his way up through the ranks before finding nationwide fame presenting the interactive Hub on ITV’s This Morning between 2010-2013.
Yet behind the scenes, Matt, who dated The One Show’s Alex James for six years, secretly struggled with his mental health and in 2009 contemplated suicide.
Four years ago, he spoke out about his experiences – to the shock of friends, including fellow This Morning host Eamonn Holmes, who said he’d had “no idea” what his former co-presenter had been going through.
But despite talking about mental health issues with his friend Sophie Gradon, 32, a contestant on the 2016 series of Love Island, he says he was totally rocked by her death in June. She was found dead at her parents’ home and police say there are no suspicious circumstances. An inquest has been opened and adjourned pending further inquiries to determine the cause of her death.
Here, Matt, 35, talks about what the loss has meant to him, finding love, coping with depression and his ‘mission’ to save lives...
How is your depression?
I’M feeling good. Although depression does creep in from time to time, I seem to have it under control at the moment. Ten years ago, I didn’t understand my own mind, but since then I’ve been on a journey to find out how to calm myself and protect my mental health.
I may be a poster boy for general depression but there’s such a vast range of different forms of mental illness.
For me, it’s a chemical condition which can happen regardless of what you do to your body, but I try to prevent bad feelings by exercising, hanging out with good people and staying healthy.
I also give myself time on my own and meditate, read, or watch films. All those processes help put a lid on any sign of depression.
My grandfather definitely suffered some form of mental illness, and so has my father, and I’m taking part in a research study to see if depression is passed through generations.
I’m so lucky to have wonderful family and friends to turn to if I need help, and love my work as ambassador for the People’s Postcode Lottery, which takes me around the whole country talking to people.
What’s helped you over the years?
SEEING a hypnotherapist over the last six months has been wonderful. My entire life, I’ve had what’s like ‘imposter syndrome’ – secret feelings of fear of failure, and not wanting to persevere with things because of not feeling worthy of success. There’s that dread that, any minute, someone’s going to lift the velvet rope around the red carpet and kick you off, saying: ‘What do you think you’re doing here?’
I think I had a chip on my shoulder because I was a workingclass boy and believed that people like me didn’t deserve good things.
Instead of fighting myself and negative feelings, I’m now able to compartmentalise my thoughts and act positively. It’s a real breakthrough and seems to have helped the insomnia I’ve had since being a teenager. From only two hours sleep a night, I’m up to eight hours.
What’s changed your life?
MY friend, Sophie Gradon’s death was a pivotal moment which broke my heart. I think about her every day and her death has changed my attitude to life. At her funeral, I saw the complete and utter devastation of what’s left behind – no answers, nothing but an unfathomable amount of despair.
It’s made me so much more driven and focused to try to use whatever skills I have learned through communicating and broadcasting to help prevent tragedies like hers.
We were close because we’d had similar problems. We’d talked often about her problems with anxiety and depression after I’d revealed my own in 2013. We knew each other eight years and she was a lovely, warm, caring, super-smart girl with an incredible aura.
We were in touch by text only a few hours before she died. The thought that she might have been reaching out, and whether I could, or should, have called her haunts me still.
What drives you on?
MILLIONS of people around the world are committing suicide all the time, men – who often find it hard to talk about emotions and worries – more than ever. If more people speak up and the stigma’s removed, others may seek help and save their own lives. Supporting that is my mission.
I’m working on a film, a black comedy about mental health, a project for a game show and making podcasts about mental health.
Friends including Boy George, Davina McCall, Matt Willis and Frank Bruno are helping because they know my motivation is nothing but love and wanting to do something for the greater good.
How do you look after your health?
I’VE had asthma since I was a teenager and use inhalers daily, but I wasn’t fully aware of how serious flu can be for people with asthma.
We’re considered an ‘at risk’ group as we’re more susceptible to it, and it’s more likely to result in serious complications and getting hospitalised.
I’ve had a flu vaccination to help protect me. I run twice a week and do weight training, boxing and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).
Are you in a relationship?
I’VE been dating someone for three months. That may have something to do with my chipper mood! I hope she’s ‘The One’, I’d better not ruin this one, so fingers crossed! She works in show business but isn’t in the public eye.
I’d love in the foreseeable future to start a little family.
MATT Johnson, singer Amelia Lily who has diabetes, and retired athlete Roger Black, 52, who has heart disease, have teamed up with Sanofi Pasteur to encourage people to have the flu jab. It’s free of charge on the NHS to those that fall within ‘at risk’ groups, via GPs and pharmacies.
Matt’s friend Sophie Gradon, who died in June this year