Welsh TV presenter Matt Johnson, from Caerphilly, Wales, is a true Welshman through and through. He is best known for presenting the interactive ‘Hub‘ on ITV’s This Morning programme between 2010 and 2013. Before that, he joined ITV Wales news programme Wales Tonight as a reporter in 2009; also, he presented The Wales Show until 2010. Those of you who are excited for the Gavin & Stacey Christmas special this year may also recognise him as playing Jose, Jason’s (Stacey’s brother) boyfriend.
Johnson is an ambassador for the mental health charity, Mind. In 2017, he presented a Welsh-language documentary Matt Johnson: Iselder a Fi (Depression and Me) on S4C. The documentary discussed openly of Johnson’s own battle with depression, mental health awareness and focused on the struggles young men are hiding, to the point where they take their own lives.
Matt Johnson talks candidly to Style of the City on mental health awareness, growing up in Wales, Gavin and Stacey and his upcoming projects.
What are some of your fondest memories of growing up in Caerphilly?
I have so many, especially when I moved from Wales to London, I became very homesick. I especially miss having Caerphilly Mountain on my doorstep and when I’m away I always miss the incredible Welsh views. Obviously, I miss my family and friends, and I love coming home to see them. When I was growing up, my fondest memories were from Caerphilly Rugby Club and I always think back to that as one of my happiest memories of being a child.
I miss that spirit of the underdog, that survival instinct that comes with being Welsh. I used to think I had a chip on my shoulder, but it was national pride. When I come back, I watch Wales win the Grand-Slam and see my family and friends, I have this passionate pride and proudness to be Welsh.
Do you believe there is more of a hierarchy system in London compared to Wales?
Everywhere you look in London someone is more successful than you. There is a row of expensive houses, but then you walk a bit further down the street and see a tower block of council houses. So, you’re surrounded by aspiration, people not thriving and people doing amazingly. I think London is a lonely, overpopulated place.
I have lived here for nearly 7-years and I think the reason people get anxiety about living in the city is that you could be on £200,000 per year, but that’s still not enough to live. But when I come back home there’s less pressure to have this entitlement in the world, because everything is a lot cheaper. The difference is my family members have houses in Wales and that’s their home for a very long time, when in London it’s just a place you’ve got for now. Therefore, I respond more to the lack of desperation of climbing the ladder, that is apparent in Wales.
Have you always been interested in Journalism?
I have, I consciously was obsessed with journalism through my early-mid-twenties. But, it started subconsciously when I was younger, from watching Superman and Spiderman on TV, as they all used to work in the Daily Planet (newspaper) and from that, I used to love storytelling.
My mother once took me to a telethon at the old ITV station at Culverhouse Cross in 1993 and it blew my mind. I was 10-years-old and I remember seeing the satellite trucks, the presenters with their big hair and shoulder-pads (as they did back then) and the anticipation and excitement of live TV shows, it really captivated me, even then. I still remember it so vividly, and to be working there many years later was incredible, that was so special.
What was it about TV presenting that inspired you to peruse it as a career?
Well, I stumbled into it, I worked for years on Welsh television and did some acting and research etc. Then came the era where all journalists were expected to be able to do everything and that took me into experiencing different avenues, from doing extreme sports programs in Cardiff to my first presenting gig at BBC Wales; I suddenly really enjoyed it.
At the time, I was dating a very popular TV presenter Alex Jones, and she’s one of the best in the game. I remember being in that world and seeing it all happen, the excitement to land an interview after doing all the hard work of preparation. That atmosphere brushed off on me and I took it all from there.
I was a reporter for 2 years and then got a network position on ITV’s This Morning. What most appealed to me is that I was finished by 12.30pm and had the rest of the afternoon off, it was glorious!
You have been very open about your mental health battle, during your struggle what was it that kept you going?
I haven’t been asked that question before. It must have been an optimistic gene in my body. I must have had hope in me at all times because I have to say, I went into the darkest place your mind can go and I came very close to taking my own life. Since then, I searched for the reason why I didn’t do it because I went away specifically to do it. I often ask myself why did I keep on going? I think I just must have had hope.
Whenever I see negativity online, I always try to see the better side of things and I think that was, luckily, not taken from me at that moment. I believe that I’m an optimist, which has pulled me forward and kept me going so many times ever since.
As an ambassador of Mind, what would you like more people to know about mental health?
I personally would like more people to understand it, having an awareness of the different types of mental illness and mental health and how we can help each other in this ever-changing fast-paced world. I wish people were able to understand each other’s minds and that people demonstrate kindness and compassion more frequently to others.
There are lads where I grew up taking their own lives and really suffering and I just want them to see that their life is worthwhile. I hope that when they look at themselves, they see some self-respect and see how special they truly are as an individual. I think compassion from others will lead to self-confidence and self-respect.
In this era of social media, do you think it has had an impact on peoples’ mental health?
There’s this idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” effect and a sense of “I want what they have” and of course it comes down to greed and envy, which are horrible feelings to experience, as they don’t make you feel grateful for what you do have. I think social media highlights those feelings.
In the last 5-years, it has become more of an issue as there’s a lot of negativity, but it can also be used as a wonderful tool. For example, podcasts are great for people to hear more knowledge and truth and I see people using their profiles for the greater good. Although, unfortunately, there are those who want to look at everything in a negative way.
I really want to help people see that there’s a safe place for people to express themselves, and for children to have an education on social media. The formats and apps are trying to be more mindful in keeping negativity out, but I think there’s room for improvement.
How would you describe your fashion style?
In my personal life, I’m like Simon Cowell, which isn’t a good thing. I just live in jeans and mix it up with trainers or boots. But for my evening style, I love tailored and cut suits and I’m sometimes the occasional peacock.
Having presented for Celebrity Haunted Live, have you ever encountered any paranormal activity yourself?
I haven’t and there’s a reason for that, every time I do a show like that, I have a protector, my grandad Alan. He apparently protects me from ghosts. In the past, I have felt things like different temperatures in rooms, but every time I do these shows, I never see anything because of my protector and guardian angel, which is a lovely thing to know.
Having appeared in Gavin & Stacey, do you think you’ll make an appearance in the Christmas special?
I was so terrible at doing a Spanish accent that they cut it out so I don’t think they would have me back. I would have loved to be in it though and seen my character coming back as being a proper Welshman.
What does the rest of 2019 have in store for Matt Johnson?
I have been working very hard on my own production company and it would be lovely, at the end of the year, to see them on screen. I can’t say too much about them, but we have been working so hard on a podcast and I hope to see it grow and help communities, by talking to rugby clubs, people being open on mental health and having those people express their vulnerabilities.
We’re releasing a book in the next 6 months and I might need a holiday after, as it has been a lot of work for a little Welshman. It’s been 10 years this November since I went to Spain in an attempt to take my own life, so it would be nice to commemorate that with something special.
What would you tell a young Matt Johnson?
I would say keep the faith, keep moving forward and don’t let yourself get in your own way.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS
What are you currently reading?
A bunch of contracts, I haven’t read a book in ages. I want to read one this weekend but because I’m writing my own book, I’m just knee-deep in that currently. It’s all about mental health and masculinity.
What are you currently listening to?
Currently, I’m listening to classic music like Stereophonics and The Killers. I’m on a 20-year nostalgic binge. I always listen to Elvis every day and a lot of Guns and Roses.
What’s your biggest extravagant?
I keep it quite simple, I don’t have a car anymore because there’s no point when living in `London, so probably the taxies.
What is your philosophy to live by?
Never stop learning and never be afraid to ask questions.