A dad who lost his son to suicide has insisted more must be done to help those in crisis.
Phil Welsh, whose son Lee took his own life, has been campaigning for a 24/7 refuge centre for the past two years.
But as of yet, there is still no facility in place in Dundee – something Phil insists can’t go on.
People are suffering from mental health issues across the city on a daily basis, with Police Scotland stats revealing the force has dealt with dozens of incidents where people have contemplated taking their own life in the past three months.
There have been 60 incidents on the Tay Road Bridge alone over that period and Phil said more must be done to help those in need.
He said: “It’s very concerning that so many people get so desperate they find themselves contemplating suicide.
“We should be providing somewhere for people to turn to when they feel suicidal, so they don’t end up in that situation.
“Something needs to change so people having a mental health crisis can have immediate access to support.”
According to Superintendent Graeme Murdoch, based in Dundee, there are still too many people who think taking their own life is their only option.
When an incident is called in at the Tay Road Bridge, a full emergency operation is launched with police, the ambulance service, the Broughty Ferry lifeboats and the coastguard all called upon to assist.
He said: “The numbers are too high.
“In my opinion if one person goes to the bridge when they are desperate and feeling suicidal that is too high.
“Half of the 60 calls led to some form of police intervention because they were giving serious cause for concern. Nine of those people were on the wrong side of the barrier and three had to be rescued from the water.”
Supt Murdoch said that the police were usually the frontline when dealing with someone in this level of crisis.
To give the police negotiators the space and peace to talk to the person in difficulty they are often forced to close the bridge.
But Supt Murdoch shared the harsh reality of the issues dealt with by police dealing with the incidents – with some heckling police as well as those in need during tailbacks.
He said: “We have officers trained for this and they find themselves negotiating with the person in difficulty.
“Our priority is to save a life and if that means the bridge is closed then it will be.
“Officers often can’t approach the person too closely and with the traffic noise added to the weather on the bridge it can just be too noisy.
“Sadly and unbelievably we have also had instances of passers-by shouting to the person just to jump.”
She said: “We should be picking up on early signs and using interventions such as anxiety and depression management.
“Exercise and music therapy could be used more.
“Not every one needs medication for mental health.
“First of all we should be trying to use our own skills to de-escalate these feeling or thoughts, or having a nurse or support worker going through different coping strategies and promoting person-centred empowerment to give people hope.”
Five years on and no closer to diagnosis
Leanne, 37, from Menzieshill contemplated taking her own life but, through support from services and those around her, she managed to come out the other side.
At her lowest, it proved to be a conversation with a colleague which was the intervention she needed.
But Leanne, a civil servant, has admitted to being no further forward in getting the help she needs to get better.
She said: “I have been going back and forward to the doctor and to mental health centres in Dundee for the past five years.
“I’m still no nearer to having an official diagnosis of my condition.
“Four different professionals have given my possible condition from being bipolar to having ADHD or a borderline personality disorder.
“However, two weeks ago I left the doctor no further forward and I was definitely having suicidal thoughts.
“I felt suicidal, however I ended up speaking to my boss who was fantastic.
“If he hadn’t been there for me I could well have ended up on the bridge in a desperate bid to try to get the help I know I need.”
An NHS spokeswoman said: “Each suicide is a tragedy and the impact on those left behind lasts a lifetime.
“Anyone can become suicidal; the reasons can be different and very complex and it is not always due to mental illness.
“If people are feeling suicidal, the best thing to do is talk and tell someone how they are feeling. Speak to someone you can trust or call a helpline.
“If you’re worried that someone else is suicidal, ask them – asking someone directly about their feelings can help them.”
A Menu for Change has produced a report which contains heart-breaking stories of poverty
A major new report on the causes of food insecurity in Scotland has found that inadequate and insecure incomes are key triggers in causing people to turn to emergency food aid.
A Menu for Change’s report Found Wanting is the result of sustained engagement with people facing food insecurity in Scotland and is the first research of its kind. It identifies key failings in the system, with opportunities to prevent food insecurity being missed.
The report reveals the deep physical, psychological and social impacts on individuals and families of food insecurity and, critically, identifies the various shocks to people’s income which can cause them to become unable to afford food, as well as other essentials.
A Menu for Change – an innovative partnership between the Poverty Alliance, the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, Oxfam Scotland and Nourish – says the findings can help ensure better support to help stop people from reaching crisis.
While the researchers found that people who are food insecure find great support from informal networks, as well as from housing, education and health providers, they are keen to emphasise the need for system change so that people benefit from early intervention and therefore do not reach crisis point.
The report highlights the importance of a wide range of services in preventing food insecurity and is released ahead of a major meeting of stakeholders in Glasgow today (Wednesday), where it will be presented to the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell MSP.
John Dickie, A Menu for Change board member, said: “The deeply personal stories captured in this report are as a heart-breaking as they are avoidable and bring into sharp focus how we must do so much more to protect people from the income crises which fuel food insecurity and hunger.
“The social security system is failing even as a safety net to support people who experience a shock to their income, meaning that insecure employment or changes to personal circumstances, like a bereavement, too often push people into needing emergency food aid.
“Low wages, combined with zero hours contracts and long delays in accessing key benefits, are tightening the grip of poverty and stopping people from building up their resilience to day-to-day shocks.
“The mental and physical tolls of going hungry are often extreme, and further dent people’s resilience to the challenges of inadequate and insecure incomes. “
The report makes a number of recommendations for the UK and Scottish Governments, local authorities, public bodies and employers, including: restoring the value of key benefits and then uprating them in line with inflation, removing the five-week wait for Universal Credit (UC), and abolishing both the benefit cap and two-child limit.
It also wants to see the National Living Wage increased to the Real Living Wage, better support for people who develop mental and physical ill-health to remain in work, as well as a ban on exploitative zero-hours contracts, and compliance with agreed minimum standards of employment amongst employers and recruitment agencies.
Emergency help from the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) provided valued cash support to just over half the interviewees when facing income crisis, but the report also highlights the need for additional investment and learning from best practice to strengthen the Fund as an effective safety net.
Overall, the report emphasises the need to improve incomes to stop people from reaching the crisis point where the need to turn to emergency support.
Insecurity is fuelling poverty
Researchers tracked individuals from Dundee, East Ayrshire and Fife, the three local authorities where the project runs, over the course of a year. Participants stressed the importance of being treated with dignity. The findings show that delays in receiving UC payments, insecure income from zero-hours contracts and shift work, combined with personal crisis, like bereavements, all caused participants to turn to foodbanks.
• One woman, a lone parent with two disabled sons, told how she lost her Personal Independence Payment, her son’s Disability Living Allowance was downgraded, and her Carer’s Allowance withdrawn. Her son then attempted suicide, before her PIP was reinstated and she received a higher rate of DLA. She told researchers: ‘I’ve felt suicidal more times than I’ve had hot dinners and that’s no joke’.
• Another woman described going seven weeks without receiving shifts via her zero hours contract cleaning job, then left her job and faced a seven week wait for her UC payment. She fell into rent arrears and, despite securing a 16 hour a week job at a petrol station, had to take out a UC loan to pay for new glasses to do her job, and was forced to use taxis to get home from late shifts, which meant she could not afford to eat.
• A man who lives alone with his 18-year-old son said he felt ‘punished’ for being in temporary employment. He described being pushed from a six-month job to a two-week job and a three-month job, during which period he got a UC cheque for one pence, and went on to face a nine-week wait for a UC payment, and relied on a SWF award. He said: “I just wish I could get
a full-time job, you know, where it was permanent rather than temp. It’s all just temporary jobs at the moment so it’s not my fault that this happened. It’s contract ending. I’ve no’ been sacked, I’ve no’ walked oot the job or anything… but I’m being punished.”
Michael Alexander hears how a Dundee mental health project is using World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 as the launch pad for new films about hope.
Daniella James has never wanted to commit suicide – but there have been times when she simply wished she wasn’t alive.
Born in Aberdeen and brought up in the Borders, the 25-year-old Stirling University international politics graduate, who now works in HR and payroll for Edinburgh City Council, suffered a nervous breakdown last year and had no choice other than to move back home with her mum – a woman with her own history of depression.
However, as Daniella speaks out to help raise awareness of mental health issues around this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, she says she wishes she’d spoken to someone about her problems sooner instead of being “isolated to the point of despair” and reaching crisis point.
“There’s not an event in my life I can put my mental health issues down to,” she said in an interview with The Courier.
“It was probably just the pressure of writing my dissertation in my last year at university, possibly not looking after myself.
“I kind of suppressed those feelings during that year because I had too much to do and didn’t even think about it or even want to acknowledge the fact that things were going on. I put on a brave face.
“It was probably after I graduated and the transition from being a student and being part of an institution and then being chucked out into the world and being on your own and not really knowing what to do – that is probably when I said ‘oh, wait a minute’… By that time I was in a crisis.”
Happier and healthier than before, Daniella says she is now more into “self-help” than using mental health services. She came off medication after deciding it “wasn’t for me” and thinks the “blow out” of her nervous breakdown has helped her stay positive.
But another way she is helping to give hope to others is through her support of a ground-breaking mental health film and national roadshow that launched in Dundee.
As previously reported by The Courier, the project, titled Foolish Optimism, focused on the harsh realities of three mental health sufferers and explored mental health triggers, stigma, seeking help and coping mechanisms.
Initiated by young people, and aiming to carry a message of hope, the project was brought to life by Dundee Hilltown-based arts, education and social care charity Front Lounge, who attracted funding from the Year of Young People National Lottery Fund and Life Changes Trust.
Daniella was part of the original working group that went on a residential before the film was shown to anyone and came up with a plan for touring workshops across Scotland. The aim was to “change the conversation” around mental health and build trust about speaking out.
Now, in a bid to explore the positive steps young people can take to feel better and manage their conditions more effectively, Daniella features in a follow-up film being released on Monday September 9 – the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day – the first of six new films in the run up to World Mental Health Day on October 10.
Entitled ‘Things to Live For’, the film captures Daniella and her friend Andrew Compston having an everyday chat about their strategies to ‘keep going’ and the opportunities to stay positive in everyday life.
“I think the axis now for Foolish Optimism is looking for something to move forward with looking at hope,” said Daniella.
“The first part of Foolish Optimism – the first film – was really honestly quite bleak. “That was a good conversation starter and gave people a little zap to talk about things. “This kind of thing now is about actually trying to help yourself, your friends, your family – just anything that’s going to give us anything to hold on to.”
Daniella said her film was “literally just a video podcast”.
She said: “Me and my friend in a coffee shop just talking about our mental health, but in a fairly light-hearted manner. We still talk about things that are fairly heavy but nothing in comparison to the first Foolish Optimism film. It actually seems to be more of a positive conversation – it’s not a talking heads film, put it that way.”
Daniella said the main message she wanted to come from the latest film is “how do you have a conversation with your friends and family about something so tragic without it causing hysteria”?
“Sometimes you just need to vocalise things that are happening in your mind,” she said. “There needs to be a kind of understanding that you feel a certain way when 8/10 of your pals probably feel that way too. That doesn’t mean people need locked up in a psychiatric ward or given medication!”
The other area where Daniella thinks society has a lot of work still to do is with regards preventative mental health.
“Everything that happens now is just reactive,” she said. “We are waiting until people get to the point where they are having a personal crisis and reacting to that.
“I’m not sure in the point of that because it’s already done or you’ve gotten to the point where you are ready to kill yourself.
“If there was a greater understanding of why people might feel that way in the first place and where pressures in life are coming from, a lot of these issues could be avoided.”
Dundee man Marc Ferguson will feature on a later film to be released on September 23.
The 30-year-old information technology professional is the voice of ‘Hope in Action’ which also gives practical tips on how to be hopeful, aimed at those who struggle to envisage life changing or improving.
A negative experience in a former workplace led him into what he describes as a ‘downward spiral’ in both his mental health and general self-care and, although he is in a better place, he remains ‘in recovery’.
Viewing himself as a ‘methodical’ thinker and a ‘problem solver’, Marc believes that taking a practical, and not just emotional approach, can make a huge difference to those struggling with mental health, and has created a framework around three main themes: Firstly, identify what you are hopeful for, then feel, reflect and react and, finally, pay it forward.
Marc said: “I decided to build my film around hope and how to introduce or reclaim it into your thought process.
“The first stage is identifying what your dreams and goals are, and setting incremental goals so you can gradually work towards them. What do you want to achieve? Where do you want to be?
“The middle stage is about reacting to and reflecting on failure, an inevitable part of goal setting!
“Acknowledging how you feel when you hit a low point is crucial because repressing these emotions can create a whole load of new problems.
“It’s then about reacting, turning hope into action, not just an emotion, taking the step that’s required to try and reach that goal, however small that step is. After all, nothing will change if you don’t take action.
“The last stage is about refining your outlook based on changing circumstances and learning lessons from previous failures. You can then use these experiences to help others in your community and social circles – hope is contagious and you can really help your friends and others you come into contact with by sharing your experiences.
“In my opinion and from my experience, if everyone could take these steps, mental health wouldn’t have reached the crisis point that it has reached today.”
The films have been made by Nathan Inatimi, supported by Jack Stewart, Shona Inatimi and Andrew Brough all part of The Aperture Project, also a Front Lounge initiative with support from Sonia Napolitano, Elixabele Riley, Rhian Malcolm and Ailsa Purdie.
*For more information, and to watch the first and future films, go to https://www.foolishoptimism.org
For support in dealing with mental health issues visit https://www.mindfulnessscotland.org.uk/ , https://www.samaritans.org/ or https://habitica.com/static/home
A BBC documentary fronted by author Darren McGarvey and focusing on the “rampant rise of poverty and inequality” across Scotland will air its Dundee-focused episode tomorrow.
The Glasgow-born rapper and social commentator, also known as Loki, visited the city to explore the drugs death crisis.
His 2018 Orwell prize-winning book Poverty Safari chronicled his childhood and teen years in Pollok in Glasgow and the issues he saw around him.
In the six-part series, Darren gives a personal take on the ground level reality of poverty in Scotland and how the effects play out and impact on so many lives.
The first episode of the series, centering on Dundee, sees the 35-year-old meet Jamie who has lost more than 20 people within her close relatives and friends, including her sister, mum, dad, stepdad and uncles, to drugs.
Taking a tour of Birkhill Cemetery, Darren says: “The statistics around drug related deaths are shocking enough but like many statistics they don’t really convey the human cost, not just for the people who die, but for the people that are left behind that have to live with the grief.”
He also meets publican Karen whose brother was fatally stabbed in 2011 by an addict and finds hope in a locally-driven project, with a support group of individuals helping each other towards recovery from their drug addiction.
Speaking to The Big issue, the classicist said austerity is pushing people into illness
Famed scholar Mary Beard is clear on how we should tackle what she calls an “anxiety epidemic” in the UK.
Speaking to The Big Issue ahead of the return of pop culture show Front Row Late, she pointed out that spiralling mental illness figures must be considered alongside austerity and underfunded services in order to see the full picture.
The classicist asked if “you can talk about anxiety and mental health issues without thinking about all the other things people are suffering”.
She continued: “We have an anxiety epidemic and talk about those things very differently now, but it is not that anxiety didn’t exist.
“There is a rather basic, self-evident point, which is that people who haven’t got enough money to live on are anxious. I can remember what it is like if you put your card into the machine and it says, “Bugger off, you haven’t got any money.”
She also gently warned against placing all responsibility for the planet’s future on young environmental activists.
“It is very easy to think that the next generation will do it,” she said.” I remember one Cambridge meeting where we were choosing an early-career candidate and they all looked brilliant. The chair wisely said, don’t worry, we all looked like that once.
“There is a lot about the way this country is heading that worries me a great deal. But we are a collaborative species. Some of the things we are seeing at the moment I hope are a blip.”
Read the full interview in this week’s Big Issue, available from your local vendor or in the Big Issue shop.
Fears have been raised over the welfare of vulnerable young people in Angus after new figures revealed more than a thousand under 18s have been forced to wait longer than three months for mental health treatment.
More than 2,157 young people in the county have been referred for mental health conditions since 2016, with 1,053 waiting longer than 12 weeks to receive care for a range of potentially life-threatening conditions such as a depression, eating disorders and anxiety.
Fewer than one in five of the Angus patients were treated inside the county, with more than 1,637 of the young patients asked to travel to other parts of Tayside for treatment.
The figures, released after a Freedom of Information request, do not include data for 2019, meaning the total is likely to be higher.
Kirstene Hair, Conservative MP for Angus, said the figures highlighted the “failings” in mental health treatment for young people locally.
Ms Hair has campaigned on improving treatment for eating disorders and other mental health issues.
She said: “These figures expose the failings in mental health treatment for young people here in Angus.
“The families affected are very often waiting for months on end for treatment, while patients routinely have to travel outside of Angus to get the help they need.
“It is not good enough. Waiting times must be addressed urgently if these young people are to get the immediate support and treatment they need,” she added.
The national target waiting time for treatment to begin is 18 weeks. Separate figures recently published by the Scottish Government for the first quarter of 2019 show only 57.9% of young NHS Tayside patients started treatment within that window. The national standard is 90%.
The Angus statistics, however, show some improvement locally. A total of 383 young people waited more than 12 weeks in 2016, 403 in 2017 and 267 in 2018.
Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) clinics are available in three locations in Angus: Whitehills Health and Community Care Centre in Forfar, Carnoustie Health Centre and Links Health Centre, Montrose.
Children and young people in Angus who need specialist care are assessed and treated in the main Child Health Outpatient unit at Dudhope Terrace in Dundee.
An NHS Tayside spokeswoman said: “There has been a lot of work undertaken by staff to improve access to services for young people in Tayside over the past 12 months.
“We have been working closely with a Healthcare Improvement Scotland team to deliver an improvement plan which will reduce waiting times. This includes a full CAMHS service workforce review and recruitment drive to key posts, to ensure that the team are fully equipped to manage the service demand and enhance the experience for children and their families.
“We are determined to continue making improvements to ensure all our children and young people receive the best quality care without delays and we hope to reach the national standard in the near future,” she added.
The This Is England actor on reliving his colourful youth for his new comedy series Brassic, being diagnosed bipolar and why it’s hard to find love in a derelict house in the woods
Only a minute after meeting Joseph Gilgun, he starts to tell me about his Grandma Sadie. He says my Dictaphone looks like a beard trimmer and it reminds him of Sadie because she used to shave her beard with one. “I loved my Grandma Sadie, she were amazing. I think she was quite a tough old bird, really.” He conjures up a memory of his grandparents’ council house in Chorley. “It always smelled of stale Superkings, because she smoked in the house, and this strong smell of tea, because she used to reuse her tea bags.” He goes back to being eight years old, in trouble, with his cousin, shut in the bedroom. “I think we were being bollocked, me and our Carl. And we check the drawer, and for whatever reason, there’s a fucking machete in it. Like, a huge machete! You could chop a child’s head off with it. And me and Carl were at an age where one of us might actually use it on the other,” he grins. He sits back in his chair, his tattooed legs stretching out. “Anyway!”
This is a typical Gilgun yarn. He is a warm and vivid storyteller who could chat for England, all packaged up in puppyish enthusiasm. Whether he’s explaining the difficulties of sourcing an antique, Grecian-style dildo that a canine co-star could wrap its jaws around – a saga that turned out to be far more fraught than you might expect – or speaking frankly about his bipolar diagnosis, he is never lost for words, which is how he ended up creating Brassic, a loose and fond reimagining of some of the adventures he got up to as a teenager in Lancashire.
Back in 2014, when he was shooting the film Pride, he started to tell his co-star Dominic West about the attempted theft of a Shetland pony. West wisely suggested Gilgun turn it into television, so he did. He paired up with Shameless and Clocking Off writer Danny Brocklehurst, who gave the ideas some shape. At Gilgun’s insistence, West appears in the show as a terrible, self-involved GP.
Gilgun is 35, but he’s been acting since he was a child, when an educational psychologist suggested he should take part in drama workshops. He joined Coronation Street at 10, and then Emmerdale in his early 20s, but it was his turn as Woody in This Is England that made him into a star, of which that familiar “Lol” tattoo is a reminder, spelling out the name of his character’s true love.
For the past few years, he’s been spending time in the States, playing Cassidy, the alcoholic Irish vampire in the big-budget comic-book adaptation Preacher, but the fourth and final season has finished shooting. Brassic, then, is a return of sorts for Gilgun. “It’s pretty autobiographical,” he nods. “I can’t go into the criminality. I’ll leave that to the viewers to decide what’s real from what isn’t,” he says, smiling, “but a lot of that shit has gone down.”
Gilgun grew up with his two sisters in Rivington, a few miles north of Wigan, where his dad worked in a metalworking factory that made parts for boilers. “He was a fucking hero. He’d cycle to work, all the way to Wigan. He was a strong man and he’d work these long hours at the foundry, cycle back, play for hours with us kids. He was a brilliant dad. And my mum was a very sensitive, liberal lady, always has been. Puts on a posh voice, depending on what company she’s in.”
When he was 11, his parents split up, and around that same time, his dad was made redundant. “Tough age, you know. Couldn’t figure it out. I really struggled and I was very angry for a long time, but my job has afforded me the opportunity to do a bit of therapy, and that’s just been fucking huge.” The trouble with therapy, he says, is that it’s not nearly as accessible as it needs to be. “There’s not that many therapists and there’s so many people with mental health issues. You need talking therapy, but it’s just not available. If I go to my doctor and say, ‘I’m having suicidal thoughts’, they’ll go, ‘Right, well, I can give you some therapy… there’s a three-month waiting list’.” Gilgun wrote this into Brassic; its funniest moments are often its blackest.
When he was a teenager, Gilgun was prescribed antidepressants. “I’d been a difficult child, a very emotional young man, kicking off about something, or fucking bawling my eyes out, heartbroken.” His mother told him that the family had come to expect these “catastrophes”, as he calls them, once a month or so. “We’d always talk like: Joseph’s due one of his meltdowns.” But by 17, the situation had become untenable. “Mum and Dad had separated, life was starting to really change. I was in the process of going off the fucking rails, deeply unhappy.” He’d heard that the GP would hand out pills that could make him happy, so he made an appointment. At first, the doctor did offer him counselling. “But it was a long wait and I needed help there and then.” He took the antidepressants instead. “I ended up on these drugs for years. They’d put me on one, I’d go all the way up to the highest dose, then it’d stop working again and I’d go on to another, go all the way up to the highest dose, taken off that, go on to another. I’ve been on everything, dude.”
At 26, Gilgun had been cast in Misfits as Rudy, a character split into two versions of himself – one upbeat, confident and gregarious, the other melancholy, insecure and uncertain. It was a demanding role, because he was playing two people. “And I have this colossal fucking meltdown: I’m not eating, I’m not sleeping… all this shit that I go through every time.” He starts to choke up when he remembers the kindness of the show’s producer, Matt Strevens, who got him to a private doctor (“posh, he looked like the fucking lion out of Narnia”), who told him that the medication he’d been on for years had been damaging his mental health. “He said, ‘Everything you’ve taken on the list I can see in front of me is detrimental to someone who suffers with bipolar – which, by the way, you have’.” Up until that point, Gilgun had no idea. It was the first time he’d been given a proper diagnosis.
Gilgun is extraordinarily open about his mental health. “I mean, I understand that it makes me vulnerable, but I’m prepared to go to that place for the sake of anyone who’s suffered like I have.” If anyone recognises something in themselves from him talking about it publicly, he says, he’d like them to know they could speak to their doctor about it. “Go and ask, go and fill out the form, go through the bullshit system they have in place.” He catches himself; he is insistent that he’s not criticising the NHS. They simply need more money, to allow them to take better, less catch-all approaches to complex disorders. “You know, we slag off our NHS like there’s no tomorrow, but they’re not sitting there with their thumbs up their arse, they’re genuinely trying to fix shit. I think our NHS is incredible. We’re so lucky to have them and they work as hard as they possibly can. But the system ain’t right and it is failing people everywhere. I’m one of them. It’s taken me until 35 to be on the right medicine.”
Working as an actor, then, has been a double-edged sword for Gilgun. On the one hand, it’s given him access to healthcare that he would not have had otherwise. He has weekly therapy now, and the environment he works in provides him with discipline. He is strict about being on set on time, and always knowing his lines. “It’s fucking hard up here, like, super hard,” he says, tapping his head. “This head of mine never rests. Do not make the assumption that because somebody has got mental health issues they are weak-minded. That person is terrified, anxious. Getting out of bed alone has been a huge, monumental task. Getting in that shower, brushing the teeth, somehow managing to eat their breakfast… Some will have children, and they have to go and do exactly the same thing you do at work, only they’re suffering like that. Now that to me is a fucking hard dude or gal.”
On the other hand, there are some parts of his job, and some roles in particular, that have taken it out of him. “I almost enjoy the fact, in a sadistic way, that a part is going to damage me a little bit,” he explains. This Is England was one of those roles. When Woody found himself cut off from the gang, Gilgun cut himself off from the cast, who are his close friends in real life. “That was a difficult thing to do.” They filmed in Sheffield, where he didn’t know anyone else. “Essentially I’m on my own in a flat, locked away. The lines get very, very blurred.”
Though it borrows from Gilgun’s youth, there is a sense that Brassic shows a parallel life for Gilgun, a what-could-have-been, had his acting career not taken off. “Definitely,” he agrees. “I mean, I was a bad kid, but I wasn’t El Chapo. I’d sell a bit of weed and I’d shift a bit of gear. I’ll not go into details. But I think [Gilgun’s character] Vinnie is someone I could have ended up being.” He points out that in a lot of his roles, his character has been surrounded by a close group of friends: Misfits, This Is England and even Preacher are about tight friendships. “And I’m not very social. I spend a lot of time on my own. The few friends I do have, I rarely see, and I keep them at a distance. I think I feel guilty for doing well.” Vinnie, meanwhile, is always there for his mates, and rarely alone. “It’s a version [of me] that I’d like to be, you know. I’d love to be that guy who’s not a flakey friend, who does turn up to weddings and parties, but I’m not him. I don’t know if I ever will be.”
In the core Brassic gang, one of the characters, Tommo, is a committed lothario who has sex with men and women, while hardman Ash is an Irish Traveller who happens to be gay. “We’re not making a fucking comment,” says Gilgun, shrugging. “It makes no difference. In a working-class community, often you are accepted for the oddball you’ve become. The working classes go through a very specific filtration system that’s different to the middle and upper classes, and a lot of that is based around survival. As a result of that, you get these huge personalities – they’re fucking nuts, you know – and you just accept them.” He fondly mentions local characters from his home town, eccentrics who nobody would dare mess with. “You know, the show is an unapologetic comment on what it is to be working-class,” says Gilgun. “We’re not all miserable. Some of the happiest people I know have got fuck all.”
One of the more surprising truthful elements of Brassic is that, like Vinnie, Gilgun does actually live out in the woods, in a derelict house in the north west, that he’s slowly doing up, with the help of his mum and his sisters. He broke in through a skylight one day, he says, and just started living there. “When I first moved in, I lived in a tent in the house because there was this big hole in the ceiling.” When he was filming Preacher, the American network would put him up in “these multimillion-dollar eco houses”, so it was quite the contrast. “I go straight back into the derelict house where there’s no hot water and I can’t really flush the toilet properly without throwing a bucket down it.”
He’s never been the kind of person who hankers for material stuff. “I don’t have a nice car. I have two bikes, I like trainers, I like tattoos, quite like gold teeth.” He flashes a gold-free smile. “I might get some of them made.” He was talking to his therapist about all of this recently. “I had a bit of a breakthrough. She was saying, ‘Why don’t you have a girlfriend? Why don’t you have a house? You’ve got all this money. Do something with it.’” He says that, partly, he doesn’t feel worthy of it. “But the other aspect is, once I’ve got a girl that I know I can love and she loves me, that’s when I’ll do it. I’ll get a house and I’ll learn to drive and I’ll become a normal human being, get a golden retriever and a fucking dishwasher and all that. I’ll give it everything I have. I’ve never really had that love, being in love like that.” He says it’s hard, because of his bipolar, but also because of his work, which means he’s away a lot. “I can’t meet anyone. I’m nice, as well!” So he’s just put himself on Tinder. “But it’s difficult. No one’s in the market for a bipolar squatter who lives in the fucking woods, do you know what I mean?”
Gilgun has already got his next project lined up. It’s early days, so he’s not allowed to say what it is, but Brassic has given him a taste for the creative side. “I’ve got loads of ideas and for the first time in my life, I’ve got the confidence to be able to sit up and go, hey, they’re fucking brilliant.” I tell him I loved Brassic. By the end of it, I cared deeply about all of the characters, especially Vinnie. He looks pleased. “Some of it is real, so you’re watching someone’s life. There’s a truth to all of it. Even though we’re doing crazy things like robbing horses.” He mentions a rule that they would never play a scene for laughs. If he caught an actor doing it, he’d immediately stop them. “Because what we’re doing is mad enough. You don’t have to add to that,” he smiles. “It’s already fucking mental.”
All episodes of Brassic will be available on Sky One and Now TV from 22 August