Belfast actor Darren Franklin: Somehow, I always forget how good exercise - and not drinking - is for your mental health

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Belfast actor, Darren Franklin


Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I don't get out of bed in the morning unless I am contractually obliged to. Even then, it takes at least six alarm calls.


What might you eat in a typical working day for... Breakfast?

Eating breakfast makes me feel hungrier, so I normally have a coffee and try to eat food as late on as possible.


At lunchtime I'll have soup and a sandwich or a bowl of porridge (After a second coffee and a snack).

Evening meal?

Evening meal will be a pasta or rice dish of some sort. If I'm performing in the evening though, I'll have my 'big meal' at lunch time and my soup for dinner.


Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

I'm vegetarian, so I take the occasional protein shake. I'm taking vitamin D tablets at the minute because it's winter and the sun stops existing here.


Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

Regardless of what they're called, all diets work the same way. If I'm trying to lose weight, I aim to eat less and move more. I use an app called MyFitnessPal to help me track calories which is useful but that might not be for everyone.


Weekend treat?

I love Indian and Thai food, so whichever of those takes my fancy.


How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

Recently, I've started back to the gym and I've cut down on alcohol. Somehow, I always forget how good exercise (and not drinking) is for your mental health – I hate that it works every time. I've struggled with anxiety for years but I'm on some medication now that has been beneficial for me. One of the best things I have ever done was ask for help when I needed it and speak to a therapist. When people feel physically sick, they have no hesitation in asking a trained professional for help.


Best tip for everyday fitness?

If you can, walk somewhere.


Were you a fan of school sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I played Gaelic the whole way through my time in school. When I was a bit younger, I was a fan of trying them all: football, basketball, water polo etc. Unfortunately, I was terrible at hurling.


Teetotal or tipple?

Ah sure, here...


Stairs or Lift?

Lift in the morning, stairs when I wake up fully.


What book are you currently reading?

At the minute, I'm reading Stasiland by Australian author, Anna Funder, a journalist who lived in Germany after reunification. It's a fantastic book about East Berlin and the people who lived there: people who worked for the Stasi (secret police) and the individuals who tried to resist the regime. Having just finished the run of Propaganda: A New Musical at the Lyric, I am really interested in the history of that period.


Best Netflix?

If I just want something on in the background, I put on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Always good for a laugh.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself over the pandemic?

Having coffee and a snack improves your mood by 76 per cent. That's just science.


Any new skills or hobbies?

I've too many old ones that I keep forgetting about.


How do you relax?

My fiancée, Ciara, is off touring at the minute, but when she's home we'll stick music on and cook, then watch some TV together (statistically, Gogglebox). While I'm living on my own, I'll play Call of Duty with my brother and some other mates.


What are your goals for 2023?

The best person I know has agreed to marry me in July, so that is enough for me next year.


What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

No amount of sleep is ever enough for me. It can take quite a while after a show for the adrenaline to fade away as well, so I often won't sleep until after 2am.


Biggest gripe or regret?

I regret not becoming fluent in Irish when I was younger. I suppose it's never too late, though.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Family has always been the most important thing to me and that still holds true.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I primarily suffered from health-based anxiety. For anyone who thinks like this, the book It's All In Your Head by Irish neurologist, Suzanne O'Sullivan, is a brilliant read. I thought my anxiety would get worse at the start of the pandemic because of the real threat of getting seriously ill or worse. Oddly, though, my anxiety improved. This has helped me in general, because my thinking has shifted to the idea that we will all get sick with something or other as we get older and there's no point worrying about it before it happens.

:: Darren Franklin is playing Captain Crow in the Lyric Theatre Production of The Snow Queen which runs from November 25 until December 31.