I’m on my way to the BBC to
go on Newsnight and talk about the Time to Change report on famous figures in
history who had mental health problems. Jeremy Paxman has a reputation as a
tough interrogator, but on the personal level I have always found him charming
and easy to get on with.
I certainly don’t lump him into the ‘out and out
cynic’ category into which other well known interviewers have taken themselves.
TB did some really good interviews with Jeremy, including on one occasion when,
during a particularly tough period for the government, they talked long enough
to fill three programmes, one on foreign policy, one domestic, one on TB the
Of my own interviews with Jeremy, I particularly remember the one on the
night the Hutton Report was published. It was a difficult night for the BBC and
he seemed unusually nervous but unlike some on the BBC at the time, he did not
show any pro-BBC bias and did a tough but straight interview.
Then there was
the time I did a discussion about the Blair legacy with, among others, Michael
Howard, who went off on one at me and all the terrible, evil things I had done
to the world (I suspect these included helping TB to beat him in an election)
– on and on he went until Jeremy had that look on his face. You know the one.
Tonight I think I am on my own, and I
have also done a little set-up film talking about my own experiences of
breakdown and depression, and explaining why I have got involved in the Time to
Change anti discrimination campaign. They did the filming at Queen Mary,
University of London, where I was talking to history students doing a course on
the Blair government. Never have I seen such well-thumbed copies of my diaries.
A word on the Time to Change report,
which I have co-written with historian Nigel Jones. It is called A World
Without …. It tries to imagine how different the world would be without the
achievements of five giants of history – Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln,
Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale and Marie Curie. Why those five? Because
all left a huge mark on the world; also because all of them, at some point in
their lives, had what today would be termed mental illness, mainly depression.
As I watch politicians and other public figures
deal with the pressures of modern leadership, not least dealing with 24 hour
scrutiny by a harsh and often unforgiving media, I sometimes wonder how these
great historic figures would have fared had they been alive today. As I say in Tuesday’s Daily Mirror, would media and public have been understanding about
their conditions, or used them against them?
Let’s say Britain had decided to
reject Churchill on account of his Black Dog and his drinking. Would another
leader have emerged to lead Britain as he did, to the same outcome, victory
over the Nazis? We will never know.
When I read of Darwin’s panic attacks, his
stomach disorders, his palpitations and his bursting into floods of tears, I
can’t help wondering whether he would have survived a live press conference in
the modern age.
‘Well,’ says the 24 hour news anchor ‘Charles Darwin in some
distress there as he tries to explain his controversial theory of evolution,
and it’s hard to see how his theory can gain acceptance if he can’t explain it
without crying. Anyway, send us your texts and e mails and help answer the
question of the day – should celebrity scientists cry in public? For yes press
green, for no press red. Now, more on David Cameron’s new maths czar, Carol
As we’re talking numbers, a few before I
go – one in four of us will suffer mental illness at some point in our lives.
Nine out of ten people with mental health problems say they have experienced
discrimination. Four out of ten employers say they would consider taking on someone
with a history of mental illness. That leaves six out of ten who would not. Six
out of ten who cannot see that someone with a history of mental illness just
might have something to offer.