Football, Prince William and Our Mental Health review: Important documentary during lockdown

An important programme at a crucial time - and not bad for the Duke's public image, either.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 19/05/2020 - Programme Name: Football, Prince William and our Mental Health - TX: 28/05/2020 - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  HRH The Duke of Cambridge - (C) Goalhanger Films - Photographer: grab

After you watch a few royal documentaries you start to get the gist.

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The presenter, hand-picked for their simpering charm, will pander to the royal subject, laugh at their jokes and ask suitably unchallenging questions. The royal in question gives up very little personal information, but everyone is pleased they turned up and we all go home happy.

Last year though, Prince William proved it didn’t have to be like that. Sitting quietly in a dressing room with a few former footballers, he led an honest, revealing and extremely moving conversation about men’s mental health, that cut through the noise in a unique way. Presenter Dan Walker was there to keep the chat flowing, but really it was about the Duke and the footballers.

We know by now that male suicide is one of the most urgent issues our country faces, it’s the biggest killer of men under 45. A lot of lip service is paid to mental health provision, but this programme, A Royal Team Talk, actually felt like it was breaking through in a meaningful way. Hearing national heroes Gareth Southgate and Peter Crouch talk about their own struggles to a future King really did grab your attention. It’s very easy to imagine (and hope) that viewers would turn to the person next to them to share their own anxieties and fears.

No wonder then, that the BBC wanted to commission a follow up. Prince William granted the cameras 12 months access to his work with the Heads Up campaign, his platform for using football as a way to get men to talk openly about their emotional wellbeing.

The Duke meets footballers from different clubs to discuss their mental health battles. If you’re not a big football fan, you might notice these players aren’t quite as universally known as Crouchy and Southgate, but the conversations are still refreshingly frank and thought-provoking. Even Frank Lampard’s admission that the players of his generation were stuck in the Stone Age speaks volumes.

The most emotional moment of the whole documentary actually comes when Prince William isn’t even on screen, as footballer Jordan talks to his dad about why men struggle to tell each other they love them. His dad, who previously spoke movingly to the cameras about how worried he was for his boy, puts his arm round his son but can’t quite produce the words.

This is an important, and hopefully conversation-triggering programme, that doesn’t quite have the impact of last year’s show but is powerful nonetheless. There’s just something about the simplicity of world-famous men sitting in one room, discussing things you’d never expect them to talk about on camera, and allowing themselves to be emotionally raw, that this sequel can’t quite replicate.

But it does serve another purpose. Prince William and his brother were once the golden generation of the Royal Family but Prince Harry’s dramatic step down from royal life has cast a cloud over the young Windsors in a way William could never have wanted.

This documentary reminds us why he is so well-liked. He is able to talk openly about the impact of his mother’s death, his anxiety when delivering speeches, how he leans on his wife, Catherine for support and how the arrival of his three children affected his mental health. He does it with ease – none of it looks rehearsed, but he’s willing to be open and genuinely seems to care about the people he’s talking to and the cause he’s promoting. This isn’t a box-ticking PR exercise, it’s a personal mission.

At a divisive time for our nation’s politics, it’s inspiring to see a popular national figure being a force for good in challenging times.

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Football, Prince William and our Mental Health is available on BBC iPlayer. To find out what else is on, check out our TV Guide.