Being open: an evening with Frankie Bridge

Before you read this blog any further, there’s a music video I want you to watch.

This video, from 2011, was by bestselling girl group The Saturdays, for their hit single ‘My Heart Takes Over’, filmed out in Iceland. To most people, it just seems like a standard pop video for a slower ballad number, all snowflakes and frozen wastes and the girls looking gorgeous as they usually did, in a variety of winter wear.

But behind the scenes, band member Frankie Bridge was struggling. A secret battle she had fought with her mental health and depression had reached such a point that, as soon as shooting for that video wrapped, she was on a plane home to London, and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, at 23.

Nobody knew about what had happened until six months later, when she opened up about her struggles and admission into hospital in an interview with Glamour magazine. Seven years on, she is now an ambassador for Mind, the national mental health charity, and has written her first book, chronicling her experiences with mental health, titled ‘Open’.

On Thursday evening last week (which was also Time to Talk Day), I attended the flagship Foyles bookshop in Central London, for an evening with Frankie to launch the book, headed by an interview and Q&A session with the journalist and blogger Daisy Buchanan. It was an informative, honest and inspiring evening to say the least.

A number of things surprised me about the evening as it progressed. I’ve been a fan of The Saturdays for years, and spent a good chunk of my late teens and early twenties following their career, going to different events and tours of theirs, meeting them at signings and buying their albums and singles.

But even though you hear countless horror stories of people who’ve had pop careers and been badly mentally affected by it – countless reruns of ITV2’s The Big Reunion have put paid to my knowledge of this – one thing that struck me hearing Frankie talk and subsequently reading the book is how her issues weren’t bought on by the music industry.

She cites that she was always a worrier from a young age, and spoke in particular about her late nana, whose nickname for her was ‘Sunshine and Showers’ when she was a child, an expression she still uses to define her mental state by, as if her nan had the sense that Frankie was wired differently growing up, being either really up and happy one minute, or really down the next.

Her first taste of pop fame, as a member of S Club Juniors, the successful pre-teen spin off of S Club 7, which she got into at the age of 12 in 2001, was where she says she was at her most mentally healthy – largely because they were so well looked after, and their success came in an age where social media hadn’t yet been invented and the internet was in its infancy.

Fast forward to The Saturdays six or seven years later, and the game had changed, now being part of a girl group in her early twenties and all the scrutiny that came with that, but also added in to that, the very dawn of social media and hyper connectivity that wider society has come to be defined by now, which meant connecting with fans on Twitter and forums, but also dealing with the harsher side of the internet – trolls, keyboard heroes, gossip sites.

When she spoke in particular about how things started to build to a head with how she felt mentally around the time she met her now husband, former Chelsea footballer Wayne Bridge, and about her breakdown that led to her admission, it occurred me to even then, as she said herself, how well she’d hid her inner turmoil from everybody, even the other girls and fans like myself.

One particular moment that stands clear in my memory from the timeline she described about her time in hospital was a TV show I’d gone to see The Saturdays film for in November 2011. It was at an old venue called The Coronet – now since demolished – in Elephant & Castle in south London, where they were on the bill with other acts. They performed as a four piece that night, with the explanation given that she wasn’t well, and resting for their arena tour which started a couple of weeks later.

She was back on stage with the girls by the time I saw them at Wembley Arena that Christmas. Only did I learn about her mental struggles along with the rest of the world in the Glamour interview in May 2012. But realising that that tour was the first thing she’d done so soon after getting help made me realise how much inner strength Frankie had and still has.

She was one of the first people in the public eye in my generation, along with Freddie Flintoff, that I can remember in recent years who spoke so candidly about the fact that even though she had the seemingly perfect life, that mental health struggles happen to all of us and that it doesn’t discriminate.

Her honesty about this, and also about her problems with her eating and that part of her ongoing help towards improving her mental health is through medication was commendable too. As she rightly put it, no one tells an asthma sufferer to stop using an inhaler, or a diabetic person to stop using insulin to keep them alive. Why should medication to help mental health be viewed any differently?

She is a shining example of someone who has used their platform to help change the conversation around mental health as much as it has in the last ten years, where society and the media at large is taking it more seriously now, and being more proactive about it, even though there is still so much more that needs to be done to ensure it is a continuing priority.

The fact as well, that Frankie has also had the input of her psychologist, Maleha Khan, and her psychiatrist Dr Mike McPhillips in the book to offer their insight into explaining her thought processes and the tools they’ve given her to better deal with these, means it has also bought me closer to understanding her even better than I did before.

And as someone who has experienced my own struggles with anxiety, and does what I do to help promote mental well-being now with Walk&Talk4Men, I can identify myself with similar thought processes and patterns of these that she describes. The fact she does this so eloquently and honestly is admirable.

But the one big take away she left all who attended last Thursday that stuck with me is this: that this isn’t the end or her saying ‘I’m fixed’. When one person asked her in the Q&A who she hoped the intended reader would be, she said that it would be ideal for someone who is struggling. Something hopeful to read that says, yes, it’s a long journey to admitting you need help, but that you can still live a full life and realise your potential in spite of any mental health struggles you face.

And I honestly believe that ‘Open’ will not only be that for many people, but is also one of the most important books you’ll read all year.

‘Open’ is available now from Octopus Books. Frankie is currently on a book signing tour of the UK until 1st March – find dates and details on her Twitter page @FrankieBridge.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog post, there are organisations you can turn to who can offer help and support with mental health. Below is a list with links to these:

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