Roman Kemp on his campaigning documentaries

Roman Kemp on his campaigning documentaries and the toll they’re taking on his own mental health: ‘I’m the poster boy for suicidal teens – and it’s tough’

  • Roman Kemp released a documentary after his friend Joe Lyons died by suicide
  • For confidential support call Samaritans on 116123 or visit 
  • READ MORE: Roman Kemp reveals he was ‘numb’ after friend Joe died by suicide 

When The One Show’s Roman Kemp goes to the pub with his mates, he can’t just forget his cares over a pint. Because what’s likely to happen is a stranger will approach him to say they’re suicidal, or their child has taken their own life.

It’s a heavy burden to bear at the age of 30. But since making the 2021 BBC3 documentary Our Silent Emergency, in which Roman confronted his grief after learning while live on air his close friend Joe Lyons had taken his own life, he has become something of a poster boy for suicidal youngsters. 

‘I’ll be honest with you, it’s really hard,’ confesses Roman, who’s also a Capital Radio DJ and whose parents are Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp and former Wham! backing singer Shirlie Holliman. ‘In one sense I think, “Oh, I’ve got a platform, I should do something with it.”‘

But when you do, nothing can prepare you for the other side. ‘I’m the guy people now go to, even though I have my own problems I still have to figure out. I feel like this “suicide boy”. 

‘People think, “I can tell him”, and as much as I love that, I think, have I bitten off more than I can chew?’ 

When The One Show’s Roman Kemp (pictured) goes to the pub with his mates, he can’t just forget his cares over a pint

Roman was diagnosed with depression at 15 and has wrestled with his mental health ever since. In Our Silent Emergency, Roman revealed he’d contemplated suicide in 2019 and had been helped by his mum rushing to his side.

Today we’re chatting about his follow-up documentary for BBC3, Roman Kemp: The Fight For Young Lives. ‘I’ve opened up this can of worms talking about suicide. 

READ MORE: Roman Kemp reveals he was left ’emotionally numb’ after his friend Joe died by suicide and says he ‘has to take responsibility’ for not doing more to help 

‘So we set about looking at what steps need to be taken next,’ he says.

In one heartbreaking segment he goes to Bath to visit the family of Poppy Newton, who took her own life aged 16 in 2021. Her parents, Esther and Andy, tell him the support offered to Poppy by the NHS’s CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) was insufficient, because it felt there was nothing more it could do for her even though she made five suicide attempts. 

It’s been widely reported CAMHS is overstretched and underfunded.

Roman sounds shaken when he recalls this visit. ‘It’s still really emotional now,’ he says. 

‘Because I’ve never been in someone’s living room while a mother and father are kneeling on the floor, crying about how the system failed their daughter. But it did.’

The documentary identifies a lack of funding for child mental health services and sees Roman visit Parliament with the charity Young Minds. ‘It wasn’t successful,’ he admits. 

‘For one, I wasn’t allowed to speak to the mental health minister Maria Caulfield, which was fascinating considering she was five feet away from me.

‘I wasn’t there to argue, I just wanted to ask what was being done. It’s strange, especially when we’re apparently trying to get to the same goal. 

Martin Kemp, Shirlie Kemp and Roman Kemp attend the launch of Martin Kemp’s new collection with Union Works

In Our Silent Emergency, Roman (pictured) revealed he’d contemplated suicide in 2019 and had been helped by his mother rushing to his side

‘But I wasn’t surprised – if the people in power wanted to take this seriously, we wouldn’t be having the issues we’re having.’

Following the visit, Roman wrote an open letter to the Government detailing his own mental health struggles and urging it to ensure every UK school has a mental health support team (MHST).

‘The letter I received back from Maria Caulfield was, “We’re going from 35 per cent to 50 per cent of schools with MHSTs,” and that’s pathetic,’ he fumes. ‘You’ve got kids literally begging for help. 

‘These children are brave enough to step forward and say, “I’m not OK. I need help.” To stand there and just kind of wave it off is scandalous, in my opinion.’

Making the documentaries has helped him heal from the shock of Joe’s suicide, though. ‘When you lose someone like that and do things that remind you of that person, you can almost feel them with you,’ he says. 

‘And I really wanted to reconnect with Joe. Now it’s like I carry him with me.’

Roman Kemp: The Fight For Young Lives, Wednesday, 9pm, BBC3.

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