Radio 1's Matt Edmondson on the power in being open about mental health

Welcome to Metro.co.uk‘s Big Questions, where we ask, well, the big questions (and the smaller ones too) and this week, we’re diving deep with Radio 1’s Matt Edmondson, who, frankly, is a man on many a mission.

When he’s not helming the afternoon BBC radio slot alongside Mollie King on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, he’s coming up with pretty impressive tunes with some of the biggest names in music for his Not Another Love Song podcast.

And in between that, he’s facilitating a ruddy powerful conversation around mental health, after last year opening up about his dad’s suicide, and, more recently, about his own struggles with mood disorder cyclothymia.

He also designs board games.

Honestly, is there anyone better to pose some Big Questions to than this fella?

(By the way, if you missed last week’s Big Questions with James Arthur, you can catch up here.)

Congratulations on your brilliant podcast, Not Another Love Song. Your song with James Arthur, Hay Fever, kicked things off and, as someone with heinous seasonal allergies, finally there is a song about it!

When we were writing it, both of us has terrible terrible hay fever. We wrote it in the middle of spring, so it felt like ‘finally, we have a soundtrack for it’.

You said everyone you DMd to be involved said yes, I feel like that is unheard of

I was expecting no one to reply, if I’m honest. When I slid into their DMs I didn’t tell them what the project was. My strategy was to say, ‘hello, I’ve got an idea I’d like to talk to you about, do you have five minutes for a phone call?’ I feel like if I set out the idea in the message no one would reply. There was intrigue. I gave them the full elevator pitch on the phone. I think if it happened at any other time it wouldn’t have come off, but because it was in the first lockdown and no one knew what was going on, I think everyone was in a similar situation to have some time to throw at this.

The very first person I messaged was Maisie Peters who had just been signed by Ed Sheeran and I thought, maybe, I didn’t know if I could do it. I’d never written a song or produced something, I’d played around on my keyboard like Ross from Friends.

But once I had it, it was easier to say to other people, ‘I’ve done one, you can listen to it’, and they can listen to episode zero of the podcast. People were very forthcoming and I think they all really enjoyed it. I’m in touch with lots of people who did it, still now.

When it comes to your one with James Arthur, props for rhyming words with antihistamines.

Elsewhere, we have songs about Timothee Chalamet, Dr Pimple Popper – was it always the aim to sing irreverent tunes?

The rules I wanted for the podcast was we would write a song that would never get made normally. I wanted something that treated the songwriting and production seriously, but the subject matter felt silly. What was interesting was how far or not each of them went. Some of the things are about things that are unusual but not necessarily that silly.

With Griff, [this week’s episode] can we try to reference as many box sets in a song as possible? The idea of the song is that it comes after a breakup and you’re at home alone and the only company you have in that time are the people you’re watching on television. It’s a heartbreaking idea. That’s coupled with her delivery of it. It feels closer to a non-joke song than a joke song.

And the Tom Grennan one, he’s done his about a passion for high intensity interval training, like cross fit, he wanted to do a motivational track about working out every minute on the minute. Again, it doesn’t feel like a joke, that would be a good song to smash your workout.

The Becky Hill one is her love of Dr Pimple Popper and there is no way to not make that funny.

The Metro.co.uk office loves Dr Pimple Popper, personally, I can’t do it – I find their appreciation for the videos more intriguing than they find Dr Pimple Popper…

I actually fall into the same camp as everyone in the office: I love a spot squeezing video. Mollie, she and I message one another videos on TikTok of people popping blackheads or squeezing spots which is really satisfying.

Tell us, is there a bucket list for season two of this podcast?

I would like to do the difficult second album. The question is, where do you go? It happened so organically the first time around. If people like it and people want more, in some respects maybe it will be easier to book people for the second one. But also, I got so lucky on the first one, all the people on it, were my first choice.

My wishlist, I’d love to get Shawn Mendes on, I think he’d be amazing to write a song with. I’d love to get a rapper on, someone like Arrdee, he’d be interesting, I’m drawn to his energy, it’s so different to mine. I’d love to get Ellie Goulding on. I have a list on my phone I might get around to.

There were some people I asked, or started conversations with and I had to say, ‘can I put you on the second album because it’s too overwhelming, I have too much to do’. I have a couple people booked in for doing it again. I think Example is going to do the second one and possibly Chvrches as well.

You also opened up about your own mental health, and being diagnosed with cyclothymia, which causes mood changes – from feeling low to emotional highs. What was the response to your post?

It’s been pretty amazing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s a little bit scary talking about your own mental health stuff.

Last year I had quite a profound experience where I shared a story publicly about my dad and him taking his own life, and I was very scared about doing that, and the response I got from that, it’s not scary, it’s really healing to share this stuff and it can be really helpful to other people.

I’ve had people I’ve known for years message me to say they got a similar condition or something a bit different. Or people I work with, saying they really relate to it. Then I’ve had loads of messages from people online saying thanks, who don’t have cyclothymia, then loads saying ‘I think you’ve just described how my brain works’ as well and giving them some solace they are not alone.

A few years ago I would have been scared, but the experience I’ve had talking about my dad made me think, being open and honest about this stuff can be a benefit.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CVwLOpLoFYi/

I listen to Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place podcast, I’m doing it later in December, and I get so much from hearing other people talk about stuff that’s going on for them.

And putting it on Instagram, [some people may think] this guy is having so much fun making songs and hanging out with his kid and inventing board games. Everyone has more depth than their Instagram page and it’s been a really lovely response and I really hope that someone else out there goes ‘oh maybe that’s what I’ve got’ and can figure out how to tackle it.

I feel like there is a shift in Instagram and illustrating these people you follow and see on TV and listen to on radio are human just like the rest of us

Any kind of mental health condition is indiscriminate. You can be a billionaire and still suffer from depression. I think for me, understanding this is a condition I could slightly predict and intercept and to make myself not go into either two extremes of it is incredibly helpful.

We’re seeing people like yourself open up online, Dr Alex George is doing amazing things around mental health and young people as well, especially following the death of Caroline Flack – do you feel the conversation is changing in breaking that stigma and online conversation?

I’d hope so. I think, in relation to Caroline, suicide is one of those things that has touched me personally. I was friends with Caroline. I found it extremely hard to process what happened with her.

If there’s anything you can take from it, it maybe has opened up the conversation, obviously far, far too late in her case. I think people are talking about it a lot more. People like Dr Alex, what Fearne is doing, lots of athletes are talking about it, too.

What you realise is, it’s the opposite of what you think. You think it’s going to be scary and shameful, but my experience has been received extremely warmly and with relief by lots of people to know they’re not alone.

You mentioned catastrophizing, which is a massive thing for so many people, especially those with anxiety. Hard relate, there.

It’s a pretty awful path to go down. The one thing you feel should combat it is logic and that’s almost the worst thing.

On your show with Mollie you spoke about the age-old ‘it’s ok to not be ok’ when the UK went into another lockdown last year, with your message receiving so much praise. Was there a turning point on the show to talk about mental health more?

The bedrock of our show is in authenticity. We are best mates that love hanging out together and love having our radio audience come and hang out with us. That authenticity is what is key to making us work. There’s no pretense there at all.

I think on that day, I remember it clearly, it was really shocking to have Christmas ripped out from underneath us all. We came in the day after the government had said Christmas wasn’t going to be what we expected; we were feeling incredibly sad about it. It felt inauthentic not to reflect how probably a lot of people were feeling in the moment.

Normally the honest thing is we’re having fun, but when things come up like that, it feels right for us to address it.

You’ve worked on amazing TV and radio shows over your career, what is your most pinch yourself moment so far?

The ones that really land, there are two, one is, and I don’t think they’re what you’re expecting them to be, one was the first time I met Chris Martin. I love Coldplay. I get a real sense from him, if we were to properly meet we should be best friends. I saw him backstage at a Radio 1 awards thing and he was sitting down in a room with some bags. I’d gone to put my bag in, he said, ‘hello, sorry I was just using the room’. I said, ‘hi, I’m Matt’, he goes ‘I know that, I’m Chris’, I said ‘I know that,’ and then I said ‘alright, I’ll leave you be’. I wasn’t expecting to see him there. I think he’s brilliant, a genius. God if I would have told my 13-year-old self I’d get to run into Chris Martin I’d be delighted.

The other one, as a kid, I loved kids TV and my favourite presenter was a guy called Steve Wilson. I connected to him. He now does a lot of the product reviews for This Morning.

I had an amazing thing happen, the other project for me in lockdown was starting a board game company, and one got selected by Steve Wilson and he was going on This Morning to talk about my game that I’d invented and I honestly had a moment where I thought if I could travel back in time and tell my 10-year-old self, ‘you know your favourite presenter, in 20 years time he’s going to take a thing you’ve made and say that he loves it on This Morning’, my little brain would have exploded. That one, for me, really resonates. Nothing is more powerful than what you were into as a kid.

Ok, love that you founded a board game company in lockdown

I’ve invented board games in the past and licensed them to other companies. I was a bit bored and alongside making Not Another Love Story, thought why don’t I make a game?

Very similar to Not Another Love Story, I had no background in graphic design or product design, but I thought I’m going to learn it and ended up making four games, one isn’t out, three games, one of which is in the top 10 of board games right now on Amazon, which is really exciting.

When do you sleep?

My wife would say I get too much sleep. In terms of the cyclothymia, the lesson I’ve learned is that [the] productive upstate is a bit of a superpower, and means I can get a lot done.

The problem is if the desire to do it controls me. I find if I can voluntarily step into that productive energy, I can get quite a bit done. So it’s like harnessing a wild horse, I’ve been able to say ‘ok I’m going to try and get into a flow state where things happen quickly’, I can get the ideas out very rapidly, but not get so carried away into it I forget to eat or go to bed.

Not Another Love Song is available weekly on Apple, Spotify, Acast and all podcast providers. 

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