GB News presenter Eamonn Holmes on his mental health and growing up during The Troubles in Northern Ireland
“He said ‘right we’re commandeering this bus, as Provisional IRA, everybody off’. You stand up thinking oh my god. Then these two others came on behind him with petrol bombs in their hand. They light the petrol bombs and we all scamper off the bus and they fire the petrol bombs into the bus and burn it.”
“I’m very close to being late for school,” Holmes adds, as he recounts the story nearly 50 years later. It seems a moot point, until he goes on to explain how nothing disrupted his school’s “strict” day, no matter how irregular the event. He ran from the bus stop for the best part of a mile and a half, reaching the school driveway just as the bell rang. Its head, a priest had just finished reading morning prayers.
“I said puffing and panting ‘father father, I was on that bus, an armed man jumped on it and two guys got on with petrol bombs and the bus exploded but I’m okay’. The smoke was billowing everywhere and you could see the flames up into the sky. The priest had his nose in his prayerbook and he lifted his eyes and looked at me...He went ‘detention’ and put his head back down again.”
What happened that day was far from the only destruction that Holmes would witness as a Northern Irish boy whose teens coincided with the start of The Troubles. In fact, life during that period drew him into becoming a journalist, determined to explain what was going on in his beloved home country and the impact that the conflict was having on ordinary communities.
“Whether I have post-traumatic stress from events like that - or much more or much worse than that - maybe I do,” 63-year-old Holmes reflects. “Maybe I wake up at night and am more timid in darkness. I’m very aware of my own security. Growing up in Belfast did that to me…Very little scares me, I’ve lived through very frightening things.”
Holmes is talking as he reflects on his mental health, ahead of an event he’s due to front later this month in support of Huddersfield-based mental health charity Platform 1. "If I was going to buckle, I think I would have buckled by now,” he says, admitting to being “quite surprised” that he hasn’t. Aside from the trauma he witnessed in childhood, his career, he says, as a television broadcaster, presenter and journalist, has left him under “tremendous pressures”.
Holmes, who received the OBE for services to broadcasting in 2018, currently presents the breakfast show on GB News after many years on GMTV and ITV’s This Morning. “There’s a lot of controversy around what they do but myself and my co-presenter Isabel Webster do what we do no differently than we would on any other station…so a lot of the controversy that affects the rest of the channel doesn't affect us,” he says.
As for mental health, “being in the public eye, there’s tremendous exposure and scrutiny, tremendous criticism and praise, your life is in the spotlight,” Holmes muses. “Everything you do affects your life and affects how you’re perceived. So I’m very surprised I don’t have issues outside of having an off day and feeling a bit down in the dumps.”
He’s well aware, however, that is not the case for many and is patron for Platform 1. The charity, which began in 2019 in converted railway carriages, offers a crisis intervention and counselling service, allowing people to access help for their mental health needs from qualified practitioners.
Holmes first saw the charity whilst watching The One Show and, after joining its social media following, was invited to visit to see its work first-hand. The charity, which sees around 500 people per year, is in need of financial support so project leader Gez Walsh and Holmes came up with an idea for a fundraiser at Huddersfield Town Hall – An Evening With Eamonn Holmes.
In publicity for the event, Holmes has spoken about the impact of mental health in his family and says it is “so important” Platform 1 survives to “literally keep on saving lives”. He is married to TV presenter Ruth Langsford, whose sister Julia Johnson, took her own life, devastating the family. “Julia had suffered from depression for years but felt it was impossible to get help on the NHS – and that’s not the fault of people who work in NHS mental health services, it’s just that it’s not resourced,” Holmes has previously said.
“That’s why charities like Platform 1 and other small mental health charities are so important and need to be supported by people living in the areas they serve...Mental health is such a complex condition yet people suffering with it are often totally reliant on charities for help, support and guidance.”
At present, Holmes is perhaps facing his biggest challenge to date when it comes to his own mental health, as he continues to struggle with back issues. After spinal surgery last year, followed by a nasty fall, he has spoken of his struggle to walk and his reliance on others for physical help. “Everything is a challenge to me,” he says. “I get treatments most days. I can’t say I’ve overly improved but I can say I am trying everything it will take to get better…It’s very humbling.
"I’m going through the single biggest test I think of my mental health state…It’s difficult but I’m doing my best. Your choice is not going to something and sitting at home watching TV and eating crisps, or you try to push yourself to do something – and I always try to push myself.”
Eamonn Holmes is at Huddersfield Town Hall on October 27. Visit www.kirklees.gov.uk/beta/town-halls/book-tickets.aspx