The Elephant In The Studio – Britain Occasionally Does Lack Talent…and This Time It’s Was One of the Judges
Suicide. A big, loud, noisy and inexorable elephant in the room.
The biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK – a trend seen across all counties – and over 800,000 global suicides every year. It is also on the rise across women and accounts for approaching 7,000 deaths in the UK annually. It is also sadly likely underreported due to issues of certification on death. Moreover, one in five people have considered suicide or had suicidal thoughts in their life. And let’s be clear: suicide and self-harm are not just mental health problems themselves, but they are linked with mental distress. In short, we have another pandemic: it is called suicide. And sadly, we have been putting the societal head in the sand and acting out Professor Einstein’s definition of insanity pretty much ever since The Garden of Eden: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Indeed, historical analysis shows this human pandemic has been ongoing for centuries and been hidden, incorrectly reported and tucked under the world’s fickle carpet.
So when Piers Morgan recently chose to vituperate Megan Markle over her comments of having suffered suicidal thoughts, a big, clear red line was crossed. Why? One simple, thumping reason. Because in doing so, and seemingly with copious amounts of roast beef against the subject, Morgan traduced the issue of suicide and the importance of people speaking up, speaking out and critically seeking help. Regardless of Morgan’s motives, for such a supposedly experienced communicator and “comms man”, his misplaced and inane remarks grimly mangled personal toxicity between himself and a former friend, and the truly vital imperative of suicide, awareness and sending a message of “it’s okay not to be okay” and “we are all in this together”. There was nothing clever or valid about his remarks, but that is the problem when vile and bile seemingly lead the way. That is unacceptable, abominable and beyond reprehensible. You could say it was a royal cock up, but alas it appeared much more calculated. That is even more disturbing.In the face of a global suicide pandemic and indeed a global Covid-19 pandemic, which is also delivering its own mental health sequelae and a wide range of complications, doing anything that might deter anyone from speaking up and getting help is catastrophic. It was Sir Steve Redgrave who once said, do whatever you need “to make the boat go faster” even if that means changing your pants to gain an extra one hundredth of second. That might be the difference between bagging gold or settling for silver. Morgan’s comments only serve to make the boat go slower and, for those vulnerable, distressed and confused, enough to reinforce regressive thoughts that “no one understands” so as to capsize or submerge the boat with an ocean of withdrawal, embarrassment and reservation. The only waves and ripples we should be seeking to splash around are those of positivity, acceptance, openness and conveying there is always a way and never be ashamed or think there is no way forward. Speaking up matters. Talking about how you feel is brave and a sign of leadership. Like Sir Winston Churchill once said, no virtue has any meaning without courage and courage and virtue is embodied in openness, awareness and togetherness.
This critical issue, and moreover for vulnerable people experiencing a private hell, a range of mental health challenges or a personal torment, is way more important than Morgan’s need to once again rashly hoy public polemic around like superficial confetti at a wedding party. If you chose to park your tank on the lawn of mental health, my word you need to do it with an appropriateness, well thought through articulation and positive perspective; not verbose weapons of vitriol that conflate a personal grudge with the issue in hand. Going into a news studio for an early morning rant with swaggering brazen and gushing hyperbole is far from useful. It is actually rather sad.The purpose of this missive is not to focus in on the veracity of Meghan Markle and create some peep show scorecard of the interview itself. Also, to be clear I am not writing these thoughts as a Prince Harry and Meghan Markle defender or advocate; indeed, there are questions to ponder on their decision to move away from their public duties and a debate that will rumble on. In short, I am distinctly neutral on the Royal Family chasm. Yet when someone talks about suicide or suicidal thoughts, we must always take it seriously, be compassionate and never seek to undermine the issue in hand. It does not matter if you are a Duchess or an ordinary gadgie. It is totally irrelevant. Anyone can be afflicted and affected with mental health challenges at any time and in any way.
We could focus in on Morgan himself and his own veracity: sacked as editor of the Mirror for printing hoax and fake pictures of British Troops allegedly torturing prisoners of the Iraq War; befriending Donald Trump and then throwing him under the bus following election defeat; egregious comments about Sir Alistair Cook in an apparent campaign over his mercurial friend Kevin Pietersen; and telling people to “man up” over mental health. Morgan has also cited the timing of the interview when Prince Philip was is hospital and damage to the monarchy as a justification for his contentious comments. That is a classic case of caca de cheval as they would say in Paris. Remarkable for a man who has been the editor of papers that have egregiously pursued the Royal Family for years with murky undercover investigations and sensational headlines. I struggle to see how Morgan can now claim personal concern for the Duke of Edinburgh and Her Majesty given past obtrusions and lurid paper copy. And this before we get to Morgan’s doubtful performance at the Levensen Inquiry over phone hacking and bombastic contributions on Britain’s Got Talent. The fact he also supports Arsenal too…only joking.
Yet there is another elephant not just in the room, but society more generally. Many people feed the beast that is the tabloid press by buying the product whether in paper or electronic form. I have steadfastly refused to buy any tabloid paper since the age of 18 having researched so many cases of defamatory, toxic and grisly misreporting as part of a university assignment for my Politics and Economics degree. I would not even use the tabloid papers in my cat Winston’s litter tray. The press ain’t fit to smoke my boots – or indeed that of many people – and certainly not fit to touch Winston’s majestic paws. Yet despite my own protestations, society does have to hold a mirror up to itself. The press machine supplies and survives – actually prospers big time – because of public demand. Of course, many parts of our media are responsible and professional, with some superb examples of investigatory journalism upholding critical public accountability and asking the tough but critical questions of those in power, but there is no denying the tabloid press is too often a dark stain on our democracy and society. The recent tragedy of Caroline Flack only reinforces my point and particularly on the concentric issues of mental health and suicide.
With thanks to Sharron Moffatt for being a legend, reviewing and inspiring these sentiments and Steve Phillip for his ongoing encouragement, inspiration and willingness to share.