Iain Stirling: I've begrudgingly had to admit fitness and mental wellbeing go hand in hand
Comedian Iain Stirling chats to Abi Jackson about creative outlets, the joy of hobbies and never being ashamed of doing what you love
AS THE hilarious voice of Love Island, Iain Stirling might be synonymous with one of TV’s most popular shows, but actually settling in for a night watching telly has been a bit of a pandemic novelty for the Bafta-winning comic.
“I’d never [normally] be home watching telly on a Saturday night. I’d either be working, or if I did get a Saturday night off, I’d almost feel like I had to do something with it, or it’s a waste,” says Edinburgh-born Stirling (33), who’s been narrating Love Island since 2015, alongside various other TV, radio and stand-up gigs. “Just sitting on the sofa and watching something – I’ve never had evenings to myself to do that.”
He’s enjoyed delving into the world of subscription services – Stirling’s even teamed up with Disney+ for the launch of their new Star service, which sees a load of additional new series, movies and Star Originals added to the platform (see disneyplus.com).
“There’s a lot to be said for just being like, ‘Oh I’ve got nothing on this Saturday, let’s just sit and watch a film’,” Stirling says, reflecting on the shifts of the past year.
In terms of what he’s watching now: “I’ve started to get to this space where I need something a little less tense… it gets to the stage where me and the wife will be like, ‘Do you wanna just watch an episode of Buffy?’ No stress, something that reminds me of being at high school and just chilling out.”
‘The wife’ is Irish TV presenter Laura Whitmore – the London-based couple had a small but “magical” wedding last year – and they recently welcomed their first baby.
We caught up with Stirling to chat lockdown life lessons, and the importance of doing stuff you love and just being yourself…
:: Has the past year made you reassess things like work-life balance?
“Definitely. As a freelancer, you’re always worried work will just end tomorrow. I used to look at my diary like every page was a box to be filled. So, if I got a job and was working say, 10 days out of 11, and then I got a job that fell on the one day I wasn’t working, I’d be like, ‘Oh how fortunate – how good am I to fit all of that stuff in’. And now I’m like, ‘No – that day is definitely filled by doing nothing’.
“I think lockdown’s made us realise some of us can work too much, but also how fortunate you are. I’ve got a newfound respect of needing evenings for myself – but also, my job has kind of been taken away from me for a year, so I’ve realised how incredibly fortunate I am to have that job in the first place. I’m also lucky I don’t just do live stand-up, I do a number of things. So it’s a real double-edge – we need more time to ourselves, and also I’m so grateful for the position I find myself in.”
:: How else have you been taking care of yourself?
“I was never really a fitness person – I always thought, ‘Oh it seems a bit stressful and hard work’ – and I sort of begrudgingly had to admit that fitness and mental wellbeing go so hand in hand, it’s unbelievable.
“For me in lockdown, the difficult time was just after dinner – because I’d never normally be home – so I’d get to 7pm and think, ‘I’ve still got seven hours to go’. So I started going out running at night, which I’m very aware, as a man, I’m in a very privileged position that I can go out in the evening for a run, and then watch telly.”
:: How does comedy fit into your personal wellbeing?
“It’s my creative outlet, really. Some people paint, some draw, or write or whatever – I entertain, it’s what I love doing. I also play computer games. Two of my big hobbies are playing computer games and making people laugh. With Twitch [the online live-streaming/community platform with a big focus on gaming – Stirling currently has 60.3k followers on it], I get to do both at the same time.
“I definitely have to keep that creative outlet. I’ve had times where I’ll be at home and [if I’m not doing any] Zooming or Twitch or whatever, I get to the stage where I’m just doing a gig for my wife in the kitchen, when it’s all a bit much.
“It’s important to have that outlet, whatever it is you like to do – and also not being ashamed or embarrassed of what you like doing. I genuinely really enjoy computer games and chatting to people who also like computer games. As a 33-year-old man, it could be pretty embarrassing to admit that, but with lockdown happening and so much being taken from you, you sort of realise – if you like something, if something gives you pleasure, as long as it’s not hurting anyone, then do it. It’s really important, and it could all be gone tomorrow.”
:: They do say being true to your authentic self is vital for happiness – do you think so?
“Yeah. Obviously, there are different ways of [looking at it], but I believe in that sort of thing, and I think the authentic self is important, and really linked to your sense of happiness and wellbeing. You’ve got to satisfy that authentic self, whatever that is.
“[It might be] just that feeling of you’re not with the right person, or you’re not doing the right job, you will just get that little twinge inside you that something is just not sitting right – and that’s just there, the whole time. You can’t just put it to the back of your mind, it’ll always crop back up, so it is really important to do things that you truly feel are ‘you’ while you’re doing them. I think lockdown especially has made people realise that.”
:: Is there a piece of advice that’s really stuck with you?
“My wife just wrote a book and the title is the Wilson Phillips lyrics – No One Can Change Your Life Except For You – which is definitely a useful piece of advice, especially when I’m complaining about everything that isn’t me for situations I find myself in.
“Even if it’s just an internal thing – like this person thinks this about me, well I can’t do anything about that, but I can change my thinking to best adjust to the situation. Maybe even if we take a moment to go, ‘Right, what can I control?’ It’s a really nice thing when you feel like, if it’s all getting too much, you can look at: ‘What can I control?’ That might be what I’m eating, what exercise am I doing? Am I taking time to relax?”
:: Do you meditate?
“I do a little bit of the old meditation. I just do the Headspace stuff, nothing too involved, but it’s really helped me. I really like listening to that before I sleep, and not be just sat on my phone going through everybody’s Insta stories, wondering why I can’t sleep.
“Sometimes I just go on Spotify and type in ‘meditation sleep music’ or something random. Once I ended up listening to some hypnobirthing 40-minute track of the ocean. It was something to listen to. And also if it’s playing on my phone, then I can’t look at it.”