EXCLUSIVE: Mrs Brown's Boys' Gary Hollywood 'didn't shower or shave' during mental health battle

He was the life and soul of Mrs Brown’s Boys, but like so many men, actor Gary Hollywood was desperately hiding his struggles with mental health - it was only when his wife found out that he was finally able to ask for help 

When he couldn’t face changing out of his pyjamas, seeing friends, or spending time with his new baby, Gary Hollywood knew he was in trouble.

But despite being the patron of a mental health charity, the usually upbeat actor felt unable to seek help for fear of “being a burden”.

He admits: “It was that classic male idea of needing to be strong for my family. It was dark times, but I knew everyone around me had a lot going on, so I was trying to look out for them - but it turned out I wasn’t dealing with my own troubles.”

Gary, 42, had gone through a traumatic year that saw the premature arrival of his baby, the death of his brother Gerard during lockdown, and a fractious end to his time as Dino Doyle on the BBC hit show Mrs Brown’s Boys.

“I was becoming inward and wasn’t socialising.” reveals Gary. “I wasn’t showering, shaving, or getting out of my pyjamas. I had no energy for my wife or child, it was a real low point.”

TV star Gary Hollywood has spoken out about his mental health struggles

Thankfully, with the support of his wife, Cherylanne and mental health charity Back Onside, who he is a patron for, Gary was able to seek counselling.

But he admits that without help, he doesn’t know where he would have ended up. “I like to hope not but maybe it would have cost me my marriage,” he confesses.

Gary is keen to back the Mirror’s HeadStrong campaign for better mental health provisions for all, and stresses the importance of overcoming the cloud of ‘shame’ that some still wrongly associate with asking for help.

Acknowledging that these last 18 months through covid and lockdown have been particularly tough on most people, Gary advises: “Putting your hand up and saying ‘I need help here’, whether that is asking to be connected with a counsellor, or simply asking a friend to listen to you over a cup of coffee, is so important. I did it, and so can anyone else.”

But he knows that for men, it can be even tougher to overcome the stigma and take that step. Statistics show that around one in eight men in the UK has a common mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety, and men aged 40-49 have the highest rate of suicide on the country. Inevitably the isolation of lockdown, and the anxieties associated with Covid, have exacerbated this.

Gary played Dino Doyle on the hit show Mrs Brown's Boys ( Image: BBC/BBC Studios/Alan Peebles)

The actor points out: “At one point I said to my dad that I was feeling a bit low, and he said to me: ‘Come on now, man up.’ He didn’t realise what he was saying, as that is the generation he is from, that is the old school way to deal with things. But it really struck me.”

The year 2020 had started positively for Gary. He and Cherylanne were enjoying life in their home in Lanzarote, then heading back to the UK for the birth of their baby.

But Ollie arrived in March, a month before his due date, weighing just 5lbs, and suffering various health issues. As the covid situation escalated, preventing the new family from returning to Lanzarote, they went into lockdown with Gary’s parents in Glasgow.

Then in April his brother Gerard was admitted to hospital with covid symptoms, but while cleared of that, suffered two heart attacks and passed away.

“It was a massive shock. The funeral had to take place outside, with us all socially distancing,” says the BBC star. “We weren’t allowed to carry the coffin, and there was no wake afterwards to talk about our memories of Gerard. I think you need that, and missing out on it prolonged the grieving process.”

Focusing on Ollie kept everyone distracted for the next few months, and Gary says: “I like to think that Ollie came early for a reason. It’s almost as though Gerard left us a wee gift to keep the family going.”

But there would be days when he wasn’t feeling great. “I’d go to Sainsburys, smartly dressed, hair done, looking good, and people would come over and ask for a selfie or a quick chat. The smile would go on, and I would be hiding the fact I was feeling crap inside,” he admits. “Then I’d get back in the car, and maybe a song would come on that would trigger memories of Gerard. It was tough.”

Being stuck indoors left him with more time to think, and a lack of being active, and socialising, inevitably also took its toll.

Gary later sought help ( Image: Wishaw Press)

Back in Lanzarote, Gary was also dealing with the fall out of his departure from Mrs Brown’s Boys. He had quit his role as hairdresser Dino Doyle in a dispute over pay. After 20 years on the show, it was a difficult move for Gary, and unfortunately he and creator Brendan O’Carroll are no longer on speaking terms.

It wasn’t exactly the ideal time for an actor to be looking for new work, and he became more withdrawn.

“Cherylanne would say ‘come on, let’s take the wee one to the beach’ and I’d make excuses not to,” he says. “I had no energy, and didn’t want to do anything, I just wanted to stay in bed.”

Finally she tackled the issue head on, telling her husband, “This isn’t you, we need to sort this out”.

Libby Emmerson, founder of Back Onside and a friend of Gary’s, had also noticed the changes, and together they encouraged him to confront the issues.

“My wife said to me ‘come on, let’s build you back and work on this together’,” explains Gary. “She told me not to be ashamed of how I was feeling, and that I needed to offload, whether it was to her or someone else. Yes there were tears, but knowing I had that support made all the difference.”

Gary began weekly counselling sessions, where the focus was on taking things day by day, addressing each of the issues, and finding ways to cope and move forward.

He is keen that as a society we put out more positive messages around asking for help, and that it is viewed as a strength to do so, rather than a weakness. He would also like to see the Government stepping up, and points to the lack of funding for mental health charities, such as Back Onside, which doesn’t receive a penny from the Government.

“We are on the right path, but there is still such a long way to go,” he says. “I would like to see the Government look at it a lot more, and help these charities that are saving lives.”

The Government is providing a £500m one-off post-pandemic investment to help with the overall growing mental health problem, along with a further £2.3billion a year from 2023/24. It’s promised the latter will help an additional two million people.

However there’s expected to be 1.5million extra children alone needing help in the next three to five years, there’s already 1.6m people on the waiting list and, according to one study, an estimated 8million people want help but have been told they don’t yet fit the correct criteria.

Fortunately, thanks to his charity, Gary is a perfect example of a success story, throwing his rediscovered zest for life into what he refers to as “the Ollie chapter”, as well as looking for new acting roles, and the launch of his new Hollywood Gin range.

With a smile he announces: “My marriage is stronger than ever, I’ve got my spark back, and I am just really enjoying living.”

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