This page is here to let you all know what I've been doing and am up to now, where I'm going and where you may be able to see me next.
A Royal Team Talk
I’m not very good at keeping secrets. Steve, Mark, Tom & Paul have all faced mental health issues and had all been told that I was going to interview them at Cambridge United. What they didn’t know was that we had a day planned that they would never forget. My first job was to maintain the pretence.
“What time is Dion Dublin turning up?” Tom said laughing as I walked out to meet them. The lounge at the Abbey Stadium is named after the former striker. “I’m afraid Dion is busy with ‘Homes Under The Hammer’ fellas. You’ll have to make do with me”. I could tell it was a big job the minute I arrived at the ground at 8am. There was already a flurry of activity and a strong whiff of bacon. Producers, directors, TV execs, camera operators, soundies and photographers filled the corridors. This was not a normal gig. What the four gigantic football fans on the pitch didn’t know, was that they were in for quite a day. As I was chowing down on a bacon sandwich the first batch of famous faces began to arrive. While Peter Crouch and Jermaine Jenas were hurried into the room we heard “Danny is 20 minutes away” whispered. That was Danny Rose who, just 12 hours before, was on a pitch taking on Ajax in the Champions League. Tom was a promising footballer before a horrific car accident at the age of 18 left him badly injured. As dreams of being a professional sportsman faded, he soon became withdrawn and isolated. Paul was a Psychiatric Nurse but, while he was helping others, severe weight gain left him suffering with anxiety and depression. Mark’s issue was also depression brought on initially by bullying at school and then by the breakdown of what he thought was the perfect relationship. Steve had pushed friends away after the death of his dad 8 years ago. His life had been spiralling out of control but after seeking help he was on his way out of depression. Like many men, all of them, had found it hard to talk about their feelings. Sport and, specifically football, had changed that. Today was all about meeting others who had been through the tough times and just talking about their experiences. All of them had kept things locked away for a long time. All of them had found it hard to discuss things beyond the usual ‘small talk’. All of them had seen their lives transformed once they had managed to break through that barrier.
“Lads” I said excited about phase one of the surprise “do you mind if I bring a mate out? He’s a striker and he’s always up for a kick about. Have you got your kit on?” I shouted looking over to the tunnel. Out trotted Peter Crouch. As the jaws collectively dropped Crouchy greeted our fab four. “You’ve never been a provider Peter” I said glancing over to the tunnel again “we need someone to do the hard work behind you”. Enter Jermaine Jenas.
Two of our fans were Spurs supporters and the pair of them were remarkably giddy at this point. Time to turn the volume up. “Great to have you here guys but, in fairness, you are both has-beens”. Jermaine rocked back with laughter and pointed at Peter “he’s still playing!”. Crouchy gave a knowing look “To be fair, I am getting on a bit”. “Let’s bring someone out who is a current England international”. All eyes turned to the tunnel as left-back Danny Rose sprinted out in full Spurs kit.
“You are kidding me” came the response from Mark and Tom. “Shall we have a game then lads?” asked Danny. Cue kickabout.
It was lovely to see so many smiles and hear the laughter rattling around the stadium. Danny was understandably taking things easy, Jermaine was displaying a few touches of class and Peter was happy to show-off the skills of a Premier League striker. A particularly nifty flick and volley combination drew a “you don’t see much of that at Donny Rovers” from Paul.
While the game continued, I was summoned back to the bowels of the stadium for the next stage of the reveal. Gareth Southgate was hiding in a side room. Gareth has done so much to change the culture around the England football team and make it a place were talking about mental health is not seen as a weakness but a strength. When Danny Rose talked about facing depression before the World Cup in Russia back in 2018, he had the full support of his manager.
If the day wasn’t strange enough already, it was at this point that Thierry Henry walked in followed closely by someone who said “Dan, the Duke of Cambridge has his shorts on and is ready when you are”.
I strolled back onto the pitch and gathered the players together again. Tom, Mark, Steve and Paul were already in a state of shock when I turned to them and said “Danny, it’s been great to have you here but, you only made the world cup semi-finals. I think we need someone who has won it”. At which point Steve shouted “NO WAY!” as Mr Henry made his way on to the pitch with the England manager not far behind. Gareth told the lads he had one substitute he’d like to bring on before introducing the future King of England.
Mental health awareness is something the Duke is hugely passionate about and you could see that from the way he engaged with our four star struck fans. But the day wasn’t just about having a kickabout and wondering if we were allowed to slide tackle the future king. The main focus was getting men talking. It’s not everyday you get to sit in a dressing room discussing subjects that a number of really famous faces struggle with. My job was to guide the discussion.
“This will only work if we are honest with each other and willing to open up and even be a little frail” I said as we took our seats. The Duke of Cambridge, or ‘William’ as he insisted we call him, kicked things off and the next hour was filled with revelations about everything from racism to bereavement, depression to body image. There was support, kindness, emotion and a real insight into the importance of ‘mental fitness’ and why it is essential that we make time to talk about it and support those who are struggling.
As we shook hands at the end, we were all aware there is still a long way to go. It was wonderful to see the smiles on the faces of Steve, Mark, Paul and Tom as they reflected on what was, according to Steve “a wonderfully ridiculous day”. There is a long way to go but this is something we can all be a part of. Being open about mental health can help break the stigma around it. A family member, a team mate, work mate or friend might have a problem right now and what I will take away from the day is this: we don’t have to be experts. We just need to listen.
In case you were wondering, you are not allowed to slide-tackle the future king.
A Royal Team Talk: Tackling Mental Health, aired on BBC ONE, on Sunday 19th May 2019. It will be available on BBC iPlayer for two months .
Comic Relief 2019
At the end of February 2019 I was asked to be part of the Comic Relief ‘Return to Kilimanjaro’ Challenge, 10 years on from the first attempt to scale the heights of the mountain. Back in 2009 it was a team of celebs led by Gary Barlow and the 2019 version saw me thrown in with Jade and Leigh-Anne from Little Mix, Ed Balls, Xander Armstrong from Pointless, Countryfile’s Anita Rani, two time Superbowl champion Osi Umenyiora, Dani Dyer and head Strictly judge Shirley Ballas.
Most of us met at Nairobi airport for the first time and just 24 hours later we were climbing the tallest free standing mountain in the world. The next 10 days was the most incredible experience. I think the producers expected a few hissy fits, diva strops and general celeb fury, but what they got was 9 people who totally depended on each other and formed an unbreakable bond!
We were all told that, because there was such an age range and varying degrees of physical ability within the group, that there was ‘no way’ we would reach the top together. The fact that we managed to walk the final 100 yards to Uhuru Peak arm in arm will remain one of the proudest achievements of all our lives!
The whole crew were amazing to work with and it was a real privilege to be part of such a huge strand of the Comic Relief effort and to return home and then find out we’d managed to raise over £2.5 million was a truly humbling experience. I don’t think any of us underestimated the mountain but I don’t think we thought it would be so physically and mentally demanding.
My fellow climbers are an amazing group of humans:
So strong and helpful from day 1. Kind, considerate and a true friend. Anita really struggled early with the altitude but was always thinking of others and was just a wonderful part of the team.
A rock. A singer. A titan. Knowledgeable, funny and always trying to make our lives easier. A supreme intellect with the common touch. His determination on the final climb was inspiring to watch. Ed needs a talk show.
You rarely meet people who know so much but are able to share it with kindness, care and never even a hint of condescension. So talented, the ultimate story teller, warm, emotional and just a wonderful man to spend time with. I love him.
So funny, direct, disarming and refreshingly honest. Made us laugh every day and was always telling us how much she loved her family. She might have said ‘I can’t do this’ a few times but Dani proved she is so much stronger than she thinks she is.
We all knew she was an international super star before we left but she showed us she was so wonderfully down to earth. Leigh was brilliant company, mucked in and we all think she might actually be Wonder Woman. She need to share her nachos knowledge with the world.
What a human. A leader, a motivator… a man who thinks deep but rises high. All his words carry weight and his speech to us on summit night was indescribably perfect. We all learnt so much from Osi.
Such a special person. When Shirley spoke to us about her brother’s suicide her motivation became our motivation. She’s worked so hard her whole life and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as determined as Shirl. I do need to improve my cape work though!
I can’t quite remember why we started walking together back on day 1 but it was the start of what I hope will be a lifelong friendship. She looked after me at my lowest ebb and lifted us all with her songs, sense of humour and magnificent snacks. Jade is the South Shields Queen and long may she reign.
We all said on our return that our mountaineering careers were over but we are really good friends and meet up regularly. It would be amazing to do something else for Comic Relief in the future. We are open to offers…
Remembering the 10...
On the first Wednesday of 2019 I was in a rush. I was walking our dog through Endcliffe Park in Sheffield and I saw an old man who looked cold - he was sweeping leaves. I was already late for work but I felt compelled to talk to him. 5 minutes later I had his phone number, address and perhaps the best story I have ever heard.
I checked out his story and within a few hours of putting it on social media his tale was travelling around the world - retweeted, shared and liked thousands and thousands of times.
Tony Foulds was an 8 year old boy playing in that park on the 22nd February 1944. An American bomber - with 1 failed engine - appeared over the houses and as the pilot apparently waved to get the children out of the way... Tony says the young lads waved back.
With the 2nd engine stuttering the pilot Lt John Kriegshauser decided he only had one option. Instead of landing on the flat park and potentially killing many children... he and his 9 crew members tried to fly up over the cafe but they failed and crashed into a tree lined hill at the side of the park. All 10 of them died.
Tony has been wracked with guilt ever since. In 1953 he started laying flowers at the crash site as a 17 year old who finally started to understand the sacrifice that had been made for him and others. When a memorial was built in the late 1960s Tony took it upon himself to visit it regularly. For many years he has been quietly tending and cleaning it.
Now at the age of 82 he spends 10 hours a week looking after the stones which mark the death of 10 men he never met... 10 men who gave their life for his... 10 men who has says he loves just as much as his own family.
After years of silent service Tony was ready to tell his story. All he wanted was a flypast to mark the 75th anniversary of the crash next month. Inspired, I foolishly told him to leave it with me.
What I have learned from the whole thing was the importance of listening to people. Allowing them to tell their stories.
Within 12 hours of meeting Tony - despite not having a single contact in the world of aviation - thanks to the magic of social media I’d spoken to 2 MPs, second in command at the RAF, a major in the US Air Force, the American ambassadors chief of staff, the deputy leader of Sheffield City Council and an old lady called Beryl who wanted to bake some cakes for the anniversary.
Within 24 hours Tony was on BBC Breakfast, the 1 o’clock news and he had crews from all over the world knocking on his door. The council re- tarmacked the memorial steps, a local school crowd funded for a flagpole and on the 22nd of February,15000 stood in the park in Sheffield alongside Tony. Relatives of the US airmen who died were there too and the crowds cheered and cried as those planes flew overhead on the 75th anniversary of the crash. Millions more watched live on the television.
All that came from a 5 minute conversation. It reminded me of the importance of being interested in the people around us. My favourite thing about Tony is that he has remained spectacularly Yorkshire throughout the whole experience. When he started getting loads of national attention he got home one night and a brand new black Mercedes was outside his house. The driver knocked on the door and said he was from This Morning. Holly Willoughby & Philip Schofield would love to have him on the show the following day.
“Who?” Tony said.
The guy repeated that it was for This Morningand that he would drive him down and they’d put him in a 5 star hotel.
“Where?” said Tony
“London” said the driver
“That, there London?”Said Tony
“Gee or (how do you spell it) It’s Thursday... I’m having a full English wit the lads int market”
Yorkshire...This Morningwith Phil & Holly or a Full English with the lads? No contest.
Football Focus on BBC1
Football Focus now takes a break until the new season begins in August. Hope to see you then...
Chase the Case
Five contestants, five cases (one containing £5000), one furious security guard, a funky studio and a massive hydraulic soundproof vault…
Join me on BBC 1 at 2.15pm from Monday 17th September 2018 for this new quiz show.
Catch me on the BBC Breakfast red sofa Monday - Wednesday 6am - 9.15am
World Cup 2018
Really enjoyed being part of the BBC team covering the World Cup in Russia this summer.
Please take a moment to enjoy THIS highlights video which hopefully gives a flavour of the competition.
We also had a borscht-off to see who can cook the best traditional soup. Upson cremated his onions & Alex Scott is a bit of a pro. Thanks to Galina for showing us how handle our beetroot. See the damage HERE
Sport Relief 2018
Sport Relief 2018 Boat Race – The Battle of BBC and ITV.
Charlotte Hawkins was representing Good Morning Britain, while I was raising a banner for BBC Breakfast! Racing on the Manchester Ship Canal – a great day for a great cause which I particularly enjoyed as we were victorious!
Strictly Come Dancing - It Takes Two
I make the occasional appearance on 'It Takes Two' during the Strictly season - I love joining the team for a good chat about all things Strictly!
Match of the Day
Watch this space for when I'll next be presenting MOTD...
Rio Olympics 2016
Totally loved presenting from the Olympics - it was an immense privilege to be part of the team in Rio and you can find out more about my time there on my blog www.danwalker.tv/blog#entry2946
Check out the photo blog covering my time away at the Euros in June www.danwalker.tv/blog#entry2950
Sport Relief - Clash of the Titans
A highlight of the year so far was being involved in Sport Relief: Clash of the Titans from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Friday 18th March. I was presenting alongside Ore Oduba, overseeing Sir Steve Redgrave and Freddie Flintoff and their teams as they went head to head in a number of crazy challenges!
Always enjoy appearing on Countdown in Dictionary Corner with Susie Dent. Watch this space for details of my next appearance...
Holiday of My Lifetime
I had immense fun as I reminisced with Len Goodman about one of my childhood holidays in Aberdeen in 1991. Enjoyed revisiting those shellsuits and travelling about in a lovely yellow VW bus!