'Dare to be vulnerable': TV presenter Simon Thomas urges men to open up about mental health

  • ITV News Anglia's Andy Ward speaks to Simon Thomas

It's been just over five years since Simon Thomas' world was turned upside down.

Just three days after she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in November 2017, his wife Gemma died suddenly.

After years of love and laughter, the woman he described as "my rock" was gone - leaving Simon to bring up their young son Ethan alone.

"Life was incredibly tough, I went to some of the darkest places I've ever been over that next 18 months or so," he told ITV News Anglia.

"It feels like a long time ago, but in other ways it still feels like yesterday."

Simon and former Norwich City player Darren Eadie were among the speakers at the event. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Following Gemma's death, TV presenter Simon, who was born in Norfolk, decided to document his grief in a series of emotional blogs and social media videos.

He also made the tough decision to leave his job at Sky Sports in 2018 in order to focus on caring for his son.

At that stage, any return to live TV seemed a long way off, but in November 2020 he found the courage to make his presenting comeback for the Premier League clash between Crystal Palace and Newcastle United.

It was a huge moment for the former Blue Peter star, who even before Gemma's death, had occasionally suffered from "crippling anxiety" and panic attacks before matches.

The following July he then married for a second time, wedding his girlfriend Derrina Jebb in a ceremony at Norwich Cathedral, and the couple have since welcomed a baby girl into the world.

Simon with his first wife, Gemma. Credit: Simon Thomas/Instagram

For Simon, although Gemma will never be forgotten, life is good again - but he says he could have never have reached this stage had he not been able to confide in family and friends.

"I'll always be so grateful to the people who kept in contact and asked me how I'm doing. That connection to other people is massive," said Simon.

"But there also has to be that willingness within yourself to find life again. You're the one who's got to take that first step, although at the time it felt like a crawl - it's like learning to walk again in life."

  • Watch an extended interview with Simon Thomas

Having "learnt to walk again" in his own life, Simon is now trying to help others do the same.

Earlier this week, he was one of four guest speakers at a mental health awareness evening at Carrow Road - the home of his beloved Norwich City.

The free event was organised by volunteers from the club's fans' social club and saw 19 mental health groups gather to give people attending support and advice.

Simon, who was joined on stage by former Canaries winger Darren Eadie and host Michael Bailey, addressed the men in the audience and urged them to "dare to be weak, dare to be vulnerable" - just as he had done in the aftermath of his own tragedy in 2017.

"Men are bad at opening up. We see vulnerability in our society as a sign of weakness," Simon said.

"So, if a man admits he's struggling, they feel that by doing that, it's an expression of weakness. We have to change the narrative. We have to tell men that opening up, being vulnerable, is not a sign of weakness. It's actually a sign of strength."

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