Professor Green: how rap helped me talk about my father’s suicide

The musician explains how he copes with grief, why we need to change the way we talk about mental health and how difficult it was getting married without his dad

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In his BBC3 documentary Suicide and Me, rapper Professor Green tries to understand why his dad took his own life, and why suicide is the country’s biggest killer of men under 45. He spoke to Radio Times about the difficult but important journey.

You were 24 when your dad killed himself. How did you find out?

I was in bed and my nan, who I lived with as a kid, came in crying. Then she just blurted out, “Your dad’s dead, he hung himself.” I was overcome with anger. I punched the wall, I called him a coward but then I stopped and just felt so sad. I didn’t see him much as a child and we hadn’t spoken since my 18th birthday but irrespective of the damage he had done he was a kind man.

I couldn’t understand how he’d done it. Courageous is the wrong word because there’s nothing positive about the action of suicide but I don’t think it’s a coward’s way out. It’s the hardest thing in the world because you know there’s nothing beyond what you’re about to do. I always thought that my dad’s fault was that he was weak. I couldn’t understand.

 

How did you cope with your grief ?

One of the first things I did was go and see my friend Tom. He lost his dad as well, though not in the same way. We’ve got other friends we speak to about it now. We don’t talk about it often but if it’s 3am and you’re drunk, it comes out. We’ve all been through stuff and we put a face on things but with each other it doesn’t wash.

What’s been the hardest point of the past seven years?

My wedding [in 2013, to former Made in Chelsea star Millie Mackintosh] was so hard. Millie had her whole family there and it’s not something I begrudged her but it made it obvious. I didn’t have my mum there because we weren’t talking. Fine, that was a decision I made, but I didn’t have my dad there because he couldn’t be and I wanted nothing more.

 

In the documentary you talk to Millie about your dad’s death for the first time…

Yeah, it wasn’t a case of me being a typical man and not wanting to speak about it. It was more, “How can I expect her to understand?” If I expect her to be responsible for my problems and she doesn’t solve them, they become her fault and that’s not good for a relationship.

You also cry in a couple of scenes. As a rapper, are you worried about being judged for showing a “softer” side?

Not really, because I’ve spoken about it before in my music. There’s a common misconception with rappers that they’re hard. There’s so much bravado. But there’s a big difference between being hard – what men feel they have to project – and being strong. My favourite rappers have always given part of themselves away in their music. There has to be vulnerability there for you to bond with someone.

It can’t be easy for you to rap about your dad’s death on stage every night?

Sometimes it isn’t. Last night in my song Read All About It I got to the line, “But know that if I ever have kids/Unlike you I’ll never let them be without me” and the anger from when I wrote the song came back. Other times it’s upsetting but normally I disengage and the emotion comes from what’s going on with the audience.

You also discover in the film that your dad’s brother killed himself. Do you worry that it might run in the family?

Definitely. Irrespective of my dad not bringing me up I worry whether there’s a life event that’s going to push me towards it. But I don’t think I’d do it. There’s times when I’ve been incredibly anxious and it’s felt inescapable but I’ve never felt that [suicidal]. But I’ve learnt to take care of myself. I know that if I go to the gym and get a good night’s sleep things are more manageable, and I started seeing seeing a therapist last year.

Was that a difficult decision?

It was. I had a psychiatrist when I was a kid, and a social worker, and I hated both. I felt so stupid when I first sat down but then the tears came and it was the security of being somewhere where I wasn’t going to be judged.

 

Almost four times more men kill themselves in the UK each year than women. Why do you think that is?

We’re British, aren’t we? The idea of the stiff upper lip is still quite prevalent in our society, for men more than women. Women’s roles are evolving, and rightly so, but men have to be part of feminism otherwise we’re at risk of disempowering them. Sometimes men do pluck up the courage to explain to someone how they’re feeling and the person just says, “Come on, have a drink, pull yourself together.” It’s not their fault, they haven’t been through it, but the difficulty is getting people to open up to the right person.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 45. If you could pass one message on to young men today what would it be?

We need to talk to each other and think about the language we use. The first word of mental health is mental. What does that make you think? Crazy. There’s nothing taboo about breaking your arm but the one thing you need to use all your limbs is your brain. It’s the single most important part of your body and the one thing we really need to learn to take care of.

Professor Green: Suicide and Me is a film by Antidote Productions and Globe Productions. Watch it at 9pm on Tuesday 27th October on BBC3

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