Rossendale Free Press

Therapy made me happier to be with other people

Stress, a wake-up call and the power of kindness. Sue Perkins tells ABI JACKSON what losing her dad and her own brain tumour have taught her


SUE PERKINS is fully on board with thinking mental and physical health can’t really be separated. “We need to talk about health holistical­ly – mental and physical health,” she says.

She’s also keen that mental health conversati­ons involve everybody.

“Perhaps it’s over-sharing, but I have therapy, and I’m sad that great quality therapy isn’t always readily available at the point of entry for everyone,” says Croydon-born Sue, 52, best known for presenting Bake Off from 2010-2016 and her comedy partnershi­p with Mel Giedroyc.

“If anyone wants to do a campaign about that, I’d be very happy to be on board, because it’s changed my life, and made me happier to be around and be with other people.”

Right now though, it’s Specsavers she’s working with, highlighti­ng their 2021 state of the UK’s eye health report, and urging people to go for routine tests.

It’s generally recommende­d adults get checked every two years (sooner if you already have an eye problem or are experienci­ng symptoms or vision changes) – but the pandemic disrupted things. There was a 4.3 million (23%) drop in the number of eye tests in 2020 and referrals to hospital eye services fell by 28%, according to Specsavers.

Sue acknowledg­es leaving things like eye tests at the bottom of the priority pile is “easily done”.

“People have been under such vast pressures,” she says. “Homeschool­ing, worrying about job security, where money’s coming from, as well as the sense of panic and anxiety from a strange situation like this, things like taking care of oneself can easily become secondary.”

Eye tests are about so much more than renewing your prescripti­on, though. They can reveal important things about general health – like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholestero­l, inflammati­on and cancer – as well as detect early signs of eye problems like glaucoma, before any obvious sight loss develops, meaning people can start treatment before long-term damage occurs.

“Early prevention is everything,” says Sue, who has worn glasses since age 25. “If they find something, in the vast majority of cases, you can have it sorted. Renewing your prescripti­on is important, but there’s something more profound than that about taking an eye test.”

She can “completely understand” the tendency to put things off, especially if we’re anxious. “A lot of the time, we don’t make appointmen­ts in case it’s a bad outcome. And I share that anxiety. But the longer we leave it, the more likelihood there could be a bad outcome.”

For Sue, there is a deeper, personal reason for valuing eye tests. Her dad Bert was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2017, picked up by an optician. Sadly, his tumour was inoperable and he died six months later.

“This is the reason I’m part of the campaign, why I bang the drum,” says Sue. “My dad’s sight was failing, he wasn’t going to the doctor. He was

really scared. He was of that generation where everyone was so polite, he didn’t want to bother anyone.

“In the end, we persuaded him to go for an eye test. A young, incredibly brilliant optician did a health check and saw he had a brain tumour.

“She would have known, I’m pretty sure, that it was going to lead to the terminal diagnosis, but the way she handled the referral, the way she spoke to him was extraordin­ary.

“The way you’re told health outcomes massively changes things, and for the family. Of course, there’s a never-ending and deep sadness about his passing, but I have no rancour about the way he was treated, and I’m incredibly grateful to her for being so gentle.”

Sue is keen to emphasise that her dad’s case was “very rare” – but says the experience “woke me up” to how crucial it is to keep a check on eye health, and also to the immense power of kindness.

The optician’s handling of things will stay with her. “It’s hard to explain it, but to know that my dad wasn’t unduly stressed by it, is everything. It was as good a way as possible of learning one of the worst things in the world, is all I can say.”

As for taking care of herself, Sue says: “I’m starting to see that I need to make interventi­ons in terms of what people call ‘wellness’ – and I hate that phrase. My diet is good, I’m vegetarian. I love boxing, that’s great for fitness, and there’s a shocking amount of good in punching! I highly recommend it.

“The biggest health worry I have is stress,” Sue adds. “My job is stressful, I’ve had endocrine issues which have caused crippling anxiety, and yet I’ve carried on working, which means you’re dealing with adrenaline from work, crippling anxiety, and then the stress of having to cover it all up with a sort of cheery grin and ‘I’m absolutely fine, thanks!’

“In the future, I am going to have to think about how I manage stress, which I’m not great at, but equally if I can’t manage stress, how I then change my work-life balance. That’s the next journey for me, really.”

The endocrine issues she’s referring to are linked to the pituitary gland tumour she was diagnosed with in 2015. Although non-cancerous, the tumour wreaked havoc with her hormones, which she’s previously said caused “epic destructio­n” to her life.

“Unmedicate­d, it caused huge levels of anxiety and all sorts of problems that were not much fun – but I’m medicated now and it’s under control,” she says.

“When I was ill and having a lot of stress, and I wasn’t going outside and the rest of it, having constant panic attacks, I learned a lot and looked at all stresses,” she reflects. “Stress is a natural response – some stress is biological­ly imperative, we need a bit of stress to keep us alert.

“For me, it’s about what I’ve learned about dealing with stress, where it’s unhelpful and unwanted, when it feels too much, or when I’ve been too much – we need to be aware of when we might be causing stress too, by being too inflexible or whatever.”

We’re all different. It’s about recognisin­g “your own stress barometer. Set your own limit”, says Sue. “Decide what’s motivating and exciting stress-wise, and what’s debilitati­ng and exhausting.

“It’s impossible to eliminate all stress, but you can certainly eliminate some.”

Sue Perkins is working with Specsavers on its State of the UK’s Eye Health Report 2021. Visit

To know that my dad wasn’t unduly stressed by it, is everything Sue on her dad’s diagnosis

 ?? ??
 ?? ?? Comedian and presenter Sue Perkins says she is ‘sad’ that quality therapy is not accessible to everyone
Comedian and presenter Sue Perkins says she is ‘sad’ that quality therapy is not accessible to everyone
 ?? ?? Mel and Sue with Bake Off co-stars Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood
Mel and Sue with Bake Off co-stars Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood
 ?? ?? Sue with comedy partner and long-time friend, Mel Giedroyc
Sue with comedy partner and long-time friend, Mel Giedroyc

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom