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

Llanelli Star - - Celebrity Wellbeing -

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 John­son

Matt’s friend So­phie Gradon, who died in June this year

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