When I received the call from Mind’s media team on that Wednesday, I will be honest, I thought I was going to faint.
I was asked to be Mind’s representative by attending a barbeque at Kensington Palace hosted by The Royal Foundation for the Heads Together Campaign.
The campaign, lead by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, aims to change the national conversation on mental wellbeing and has partnered up with a number of mental health charities, including Mind. So far, it is the biggest single project Their Royal Highnesses have undertaken together.
The barbeque was attended by some of the other charities, such as, Young Minds, Place2Be, Contact and Best Beginnings along with of the UK’s top athletes including two-time Olympic Gold Medallist Dame Kelly Holmes, former England footballer Rio Ferdinand, Olympic-winning Cyclist Victoria Pembleton and Former European and Commonwealth Games champion, Ewan Thomas and former England test cricketer, Jonathan Trott,
The day started off pretty chilled out, with tables and chairs laid out with the Heads Together banners, an open bar and a little sausage dog hovering round the barbeque as the staff prepared the food. I was introduced to the Heads Together campaign team who helped to prep us for meeting Prince Harry and being on camera.
"When we are going through difficult times, talking to understanding friends, family and colleagues is a vital first response for us to take and Heads Together is encouraging all of us to reach out for that support if we need it."
At first, I felt quite anxious with the cameras around, but once I sat down with the other charity representatives, I felt at ease. We were extremely lucky with the weather so I was really looking forward to relaxing in the sun.
It was like meeting an ordinary person when Harry came out. He has this way of making you feel very comfortable and relaxed when he engages in conversation, speaking with eloquence and empathy. Speaking to Harry was like speaking to a friend, especially when he asked me about my running and the various support groups I have found, he listened with intent and came back with very interesting points about being able to find different coping mechanisms surrounding mental health and support groups. We spoke a little about the aim of my blog and how I hoped it would help other people speak openly about their mental illness, which he was very fond of.
The most interesting part about this meeting was the people who attended. Each and every volunteer from the charities and even the celebrities, all had extremely different stories to tell. I met Ben Brooks Dutton, who in 2012, was widowed after losing his wife in a tragic car accident in front of their young son. Speaking to him about how he has coped over the years was extremely inspiring. Not only has he brought his son up as a single parent but also he writes a blog and has written a novel to help others deal with grief and loss. It showed that no matter what walk of life you are from we are all human trying to survive and cope with life’s downfalls.
The one thing that really resonated with me that day was when I overheard Dame Kelly Holmes speak of her depression and how she hid behind it whilst being in the spotlight for her multiple Olympic wins, after suffering an injury. As an athlete myself, I could relate to this. When you are training hard, every single day, to reach a goal and your highest potential; you become injured, your life comes to a complete standstill. Your schedule changes completely like you’ve taken a 180-degree turn and you have to wait it out in rehabilitation until you can get back on track. Depending on the injury, with 4-6 weeks being the average rehab time, weeks, if not months, is a long time to sit there twiddling your thumbs. Kelly, back in 2009, described this as the hardest time of her life.
"We can all help each other to look after our mental health just as we do our physical health."
With the cameras hovering and journalists taking down notes of the day, we all decided to have a game of French Cricket. When I was told, a week before, that we would be either playing Boules or French Cricket, I didn’t have the faintest idea what French Cricket was. But thanks to my very organised mother, I googled it and on the day, looked like a professional. You could tell that most of us had sport orientated lives because we were all very competitive and the game was very exciting, with Rio Ferdinand accidentally throwing the ball at my head (yes, I forgive you now).
What was a 3-hour barbeque felt like an 8-hour day, with interviews being taken, games being played and photographs being orchestrated. Despite there being a group of bystanders trying to take zoomed-in photos from the outskirts of Hyde Park which overlooked the Gardens of Kensington Palace, we still remained in privacy.
With the day coming to a close, and after I had scoffed all the barbeque food in my nervous state, I felt like we had all achieved something. We were all there for the same reason; to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness but with the goal to spread awareness this year and with a campaign like Heads Together, which has the backing of the Royal Family, it holds a bright future for the mental health sector in the UK.
2016 has been a year very focused on sport, with the Euros and Wimbledon coming to a close and with the Rio Olympics coming up, it’s not surprising that the Heads Together Campaign has been chosen to be the Charity of the Year for 2017’s London Marathon. Together, as a nation, we can make a change by fundraising for such a wonderful cause by putting yourselves forward to run for Mind and Heads Together. You can sign up here.
Challenge Yourself. Do the Unimaginable. Make A Change.