Wonka star Tom Davis: I used to hide behind being a loud, jovial character – but inside I was lost

Opening up about his mental health has been a big turning point for the actor and comedian. By Abi Jackson.

Davis has teamed up on a new campaign to help people open up
Tom Davis Davis has teamed up on a new campaign to help people open up (Alamy Stock Photo)

The phrase work-life balance gets bandied around a lot. But for actor and comedian Tom Davis, keeping a sense of balance has made a big difference to his mental health.

“It can be really difficult when you’re trying to keep things good at work, and also [wanting to be] a good father and a good husband and trying to be there for my family.

“So that becomes something you’ve really got to keep an eye on, if you feel like you’re leaning into one more than another,” says the King Gary sitcom star, 44, also known for appearances on shows like The Last Leg and A League Of Their Own, as well as 2023’s Wonka and the Paddington movies.

“I think you have to look at your life as different parts of your garden,” adds Davis, who has a two-year-old daughter with his wife Kathryn.

“You have friendships, you have work, you have family, you have exercise or whatever your essential things are – and you’ve got to water all the different parts of your garden. Because if you don’t pay attention to your friendships, or exercise, or work, or family, they’ll wilt, and [eventually] they won’t be there. So, you can’t lean in too heavy on any one thing.”

Last year, Davis revealed that he’d previously quit stand-up comedy for six years due to “crippling anxiety”. Opening up was a big step, but Davis is now adamant that talking and being honest about this stuff is far more helpful than keeping things bottled up.

“For a long time in my life, I’d managed to hide behind being a very loud, jovial character,” admits Davis, who also co-hosts the Wolf And Owl podcast with fellow comedian Romesh Ranganathan. “But sometimes inside, if I was actually pulled apart, I was really quite lost and broken.”

Being in the comedy world made it easy to “put a mask on”, and Davis also admits now he would often avoid seeing people when he was struggling.

“I used to do a lot of not going to things, and sort of feigning that I had something else on so I wouldn’t have to let on [that I wasn’t ok],” he says. “In retrospect, I wish I’d gone out and actually opened up a bit.”

Learning to open up more is “genuinely one of the best things” he’s done when it comes to his wellbeing, he adds.

“What you realise quite quickly is that you’re not alone,” he says. “I think it’s really easy to feel like you’re an island, and you can wallow in that a little bit. For me, at times, that can become almost quite overwhelming.

“But once you start opening up and talking to people about it… The amount of times people go, ‘Oh, I feel like that sometimes’, or ‘I’ve got this’, or ‘I found this helped’. Talking things through is really, really important.”

It’s why he’s teamed up with Beavertown Brewery and the suicide prevention charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) on a new campaign to help highlight and tackle the topic.

Research on behalf of the campaign found over half (56%) of Brits have pretended to be ok to avoid talking about their mental health. What’s more, nearly half (46%) of the 18-44-year-olds surveyed said they wouldn’t know how to start a conversation with friends about it.

Beavertown and CALM have launched a new crisps range to help spark mental health conversations in pubs – with ‘conversation starter’ prompts printed inside the packets of the Cheddar & Jalapeño-flavoured snacks.

“I think we’re all aware at the moment, more and more people seem to be struggling with their mental health,” says Davis. “And it’s really easy to just say, ‘Talk to someone about it’, but actually opening the conversation up can be really intimidating at times. So, I think this is a really great idea.”

He’s now a lot more confident talking with his close mates and wife about how he’s feeling – and it really helps.

“For example, this week I had quite a lot of pressure on and started to feel quite low. I talked to my wife about it, I talked to a friend about it, and before you know it, the next day I wake up and I feel better, because I’ve let it out, I’ve discussed it, I’ve let people know.”

He’s become more mindful of looking out for early signs that his wellbeing’s a bit out of whack too, and prioritising self-care.

“I think exercise is so important. And for me, the biggest one is walking, just being out and having a walk, whether that’s with someone I’m working with or on my own. That really helps me and helps my thought processes.

“And I never thought I’d say this – I was a bit sceptical about cold water plunging – but then I tried that and that’s incredible.

“It’s about anything you find that helps you. For me, the big point is trying to grab something before it all becomes overwhelming, before that cloud sets in for a while.

“And it’s ok to open up and let yourself go, you know what, let me be vulnerable here. It’s important, and I think it makes you a stronger person to say those things.”

Tom Davis has partnered with Beavertown Brewery and CALM on new initiative ‘Open Up’. Limited-edition Cheddar & Jalapeño-flavoured crisps, with conversation starters inside the packets to encourage more meaningful conversations, are now available in participating UK pubs.