Arts

Ade Adepitan: I feel bad that I didn't reach out to my friend Caroline Flack

Presenter and former athlete Ade Adepitan tells Hannah Stephenson how losing his friend Caroline Flack made him take stock of his own mental health

TV presenter, author and former Paralympic athlete Ade Adepitan

THE last time TV presenter Ade Adepitan saw his friend Caroline Flack was when they bumped into each other last year, when she was catching a flight to film Love Island.

Today the presenter and former Paralympian basketball player – who has just returned from Bangladesh and Bhutan where he was filming a new BBC2 series on climate change – is clearly still reeling from the shock of Flack's death.

"It's devastating," he says. "I feel bad that I didn't reach out to her. I was partly thinking that I didn't want to interfere. I thought, she's got friends and family who will be taking care of her, which they were.

"The lesson I learned from that, is that if you've got someone who's in your friends and family circle and they're in trouble, I wouldn't ever hesitate to reach out.

"And also to cherish as much time as possible with the one that you know, because you just don't know what's going to happen tomorrow."

Flack and Adepitan came up through the TV ranks together. In the earlier days of their careers, they were at the same agency, along with comedians Leigh Francis and Russell Brand.

"For three or four years of our lives, we saw each other most days. We supported each other. We were all super-ambitious and wanted to be successful and we all became successful in our own right," Adepitan (46) recalls.

"To see one of our own be in so much pain, it's awful. There's not a moment when I don't think about her and what happened."

The tragedy has made Adepitan take stock of his own mental health, he says.

"There's a lot of stigma around mental health, but I think the recent conversations in the last four or five years – Prince Harry has increased the profile of it, as have other high-profile celebrities – have been good because we are able to talk about it."

Adepitan came to the UK at age three, when his parents brought him over from Nigeria, fearing he would never thrive in his homeland after contracting polio at 15 months old, which resulted in the loss of function of his left leg.

While he encountered racism and prejudices in his youth, and has previously talked about how discovering sport was his saviour, yet notes that top sportspeople are often discouraged from showing mental 'weakness'.

"Especially as a former Paralympic athlete, we're not allowed to show any mental weakness because other athletes will pounce on that. It makes you vulnerable.

"There are probably many elite athletes who are suffering from mental illness but have managed to suppress it, but what I've learned is that your mental health is like your physical health – you have to look after it."

What measures does he take to manage his own mental health now?

"I look after myself physically and try to understand when I'm pushing myself too far, in terms of working and not getting enough sleep or enough down-time. I have to give myself time to think about me and my wife and the family, to have time which has nothing to do with finance or paying the bills or career," he says.

"The most important things are friends and family. If they are healthy and happy, then so am I. They are the ones who keep you balanced, who keep an eye out for you, who can tell when you're teetering on the edge, when you're not quite right and they are the ones who will tell you."

By his own admission, Adepitan has not seen enough of his wife, singer-songwriter Elle Exxe (Linda Harrison) since they married in 2018, but says he has agreed to a punishing work schedule in the last year so that he'll be able to pick and choose what jobs he takes in the future.

"Hopefully I will be able to choose more stuff which keeps me more at home because we want to have a family."

As well as TV presenting, in the past year he has taken time to continue his series of children's books, with the third – Cyborg Cat And The Masked Marauder – to be published on World Book Day.

Despite their long work-induced absences, Adepitan says that he and his wife speak on the phone every day.

He says Harrison is releasing a number of singles this year concerning her own struggles with mental health, and her struggles as a woman in the music industry.

"I see when she is desperately under pressure and the impact it has on her. I chat about it with her and keep her calm, and she does the same for me when I'm struggling. We're a team," he says.

While he is active on social media, he is wary of the damage it can do.

"I always take social media, especially Twitter, with an air of real caution," Adepitan says. "I don't mind having people in my Twitter group that I don't agree with, but what I don't want is horrible people who are damaged and searching for power by bullying or trolling

"The social media companies are not doing enough to find who these people are, or control it. There has to be a line."

:: Cyborg Cat And The Masked Marauder by Ade Adepitan is published by Piccadilly Press on March 5, priced £5.99.

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