It’s been a long, bumpy stressful road for Sue Perkins

Sue Perkins is fully on board with thinking mental and physical health can’t really be separated. “We do need to talk about health holistically – mental and physical health,” says Perkins, best known for presenting Bake Off from 2010-2016 and her comedy partnership with Mel Giedroyc.

Sue Perkins who has teamed up wtih Specsaver Picture : Specsavers/PA.

She’s also keen that mental health conversations involve everybody. “Perhaps it’s oversharing, but I have therapy, and I’m sad that great quality therapy isn’t always readily available at the point of entry for everyone,” says Croydon-born Perkins, 52. “If anyone wants to do a campaign about that, I would be very happy to be on board, because it’s changed my life, and made me happier to be around and be with other people.”

Right now though, it’s Specsavers she’s teamed up with, highlighting their 2021 state of the UK’s eye health report, and urging people to go for routine tests.

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For Perkins, there is a very personal reason for valuing eye tests. Her father Bert was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2017, picked up by an optician. Sadly, Bert’s tumour was inoperable and he died six months later.

Sue Perkins who has teamed up wtih Specsavers. Picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature WELLBEING Sue Perkins.

“This is the reason I’m part of the campaign, this is why I bang the drum,” says Perkins. “My dad’s sight was failing, he wasn’t going to the doctor. He was really scared. He was also of that generation where everyone was so polite, he didn’t want to bother anyone. In the end, we persuaded him to go for an eye test. A really young, incredibly brilliant optician did a health check and saw obviously that he had a brain tumour. She would have known, I’m pretty sure in that moment, that it was going to lead to the terminal diagnosis, but the way she handled the referral, the way she spoke to him was extraordinary.

“I think the way you’re told health outcomes massively changes things, and for the family. Of course, there’s a never-ending and deep sadness about his passing, but I have no rancour about the way he was treated, and I’m incredibly grateful to her for being so gentle.” Perkins is keen to emphasise that her father’s case was “very rare” – but says the experience “woke me up” to how crucial it is to keep a check on your eye health, and also to the immense power of kindness. The optician’s handling of things will stay with her.

The biggest health worry Perkins has, she says, is stress. “I would say my job is stressful, I’ve had some endocrine issues which have caused crippling anxiety, and yet I’ve [carried on working] through that, which means you’re dealing with adrenaline from work, crippling anxiety, and then the stress of having to cover it all up with a sort of cheery grin and ‘I’m absolutely fine, thanks!’

“In the future, I am going to have to think about how I manage stress, which I’m not great at, but equally if I can’t manage stress, how I then change my work-life balance. That’s the next journey for me, really.”

The endocrine issues she’s referring to are linked to the pituitary gland tumour she was diagnosed with in 2015. Although non-cancerous, the tumour wreaked havoc with her hormones, which she’s previously said caused “epic destruction” to her life.

“Unmedicated, it caused huge levels of anxiety and all sorts of problems that were not much fun – but I’m medicated now and it’s under control,” she says. It’s been a long, bumpy and ongoing road, though. “When I was ill and having a lot of stress, and I wasn’t going outside and the rest of it, having constant panic attacks, I learned a lot and really looked at all stresses in my life,” she reflects.

“Stress is a natural response – some stress is biologically imperative, we need a bit of stress to keep us going, keep us alert. “We need to be aware of when we might be causing stress too, by being too inflexible or whatever.”