Professor Green (full name Stephen Paul Manderson) knows a thing or two about setbacks – but perhaps as a result, he knows a lot more about bouncing back too. The musician-turned-documentary maker has achieved a lot in just 34-years (hence why we’re super excited to have him lead a panel discussion at Go Think Big and O2′s inspiring wellbeing event, #SpringForward, in April 2018, and which you can be a part of, if you register your interest now!) - but he’s also been forced to teach himself how to overcome a range of hurdles, which he opens up about in our frank and funny interview below.
He may be about to release some new music and is currently fronting a whole load of documentaries across Channel 4 and the BBC, but Green admits that things haven’t come easily to him. He’s modest and tends to downplay his achievements, telling us that he “always thinks less of myself and that’s what makes me work double hard”. Raised on a council estate in Hackney by his Nan after his Father committed suicide, he revealed that forging a music career without getting distracted by the trouble around him was tough. Then, just as things started to take shape with his career, he was hospitalised numerous times. The most recent spate was last year, when a simple operation left him with multiple complications and he was bed-ridden for six months; “it reminds you of your mortality” he said plainly.
Professor Green’s also been open about his own struggles with anxiety and depression, and his first documentary on his Father’s death then led to a television career. Below, he speaks about his professional knock-backs in both the music and TV industries, the importance of sacrifice in forging a career, and why it’s his three dogs that keep him on track…
On staying focused and determined…
“It was really difficult to stay motivated and focused growing up, you know, because even the people I was making music with at the time got to a point where they were like ‘ah we need to forget about this and find proper jobs, this is not something we can support ourselves with.’ I don’t know if there was a bit of belief I had in myself that I wasn’t really aware of, or if it was determination, or just blind stupidity, but I didn’t stop against everything, despite all the false starts. Sometimes it was difficult though, like when Mike Skinner’s record label went under and I was signed to it, or when I got stuck at Warner and they wouldn’t put my music out but they wouldn’t give me my music back. I put a lot on the line to be able to make music at certain points.”
What keeps him motivated…
“I’ve got an old time bulldog, I’ve got a canary mastiff and I’ve got an XXL Bully – they genuinely do get me out of bed in a morning. I’ve suffered since I was a kid with lows, but I didn’t really understand they were lows if you know what I mean. Anxiety that I didn’t understand was anxiety – I just told my Nan I had a pain in my stomach. But I think it’s fight or flight and you can kind of use that energy to drive you. I’ve wanted to be more resilient, I’ve wanted to do stuff no matter what. I do kind of wonder though, like where would I have got to without it? Was it the only driving force or would I have succeeded with much less worry without all the sleepless nights, lying there and going over everything in my head more than I ever should have? It’s a weird one because it’s a negative, but it’s also been a positive as that feeling of anxiety has kind of been a driving force.”
On his own mental health…
“There are still so many suicides and that’s the harsh reality of somebody not being able to take care of their own mental health. It’s the price that people pay for not being open about how they feel, or not having the right people to talk to. Sometimes the right person to talk to isn’t your mate, cos they’ve never been depressed, you know, they might not understand or just say ‘get on with it’, you know. Then you feel like you’ve built yourself up to open up, someone’s told you to get on with it and you clam up again and you don’t ever want to open up again. It’s about broader education because in that situation your job as a pal is to go ‘let me help you find the right person to talk to’.”
Come along to Go Think Big and O2′s epic #SpringForward event to hear Professor Green’s advice in person! We’ve got a top panel of wellbeing speakers, the chance for you to win wearable tech and everything you need to get motivated for the rest of 2018!
“I’m lucky with the friends I have now, we’ve always been quite open, but growing up in Hackney, no one was talking about mental health issues. That was not a welcome topic of conversation. Then talking to the same people as adults we were all going through the same stuff; we had no money, we had the same stressors, home was quite a chaotic place for most of us. And actually having each other helped each other (not to say we didn’t cause our own chaos as kids). It was nice to have people going through the same things, but we didn’t talk about it. Through talking about things you challenge each other. In some of the documentaries I’ve done a lot of people say thank you as I’ve given them the chance to think about things they’ve never really thought about before, no-one’s ever asked them those questions.”
What he’s learned about his physical health
“I was meant to be in and out of hospital in three days and back in the gym in six weeks, but that never happened. I got really bad complications and I ended up with a collapsed lung, pneumonia…the doctors didn’t know what was going on. There was a point when they were going to do a gastric bypass because my stomach wasn’t emptying and if I had the same complications I’d had in that operation I’d have died. I thought I was too young to have a gastric bypass, so I started taking the holistic side of things quite seriously, thinking what can I do to give my body some time to recover. All that was a setback I didn’t anticipate. There have been a couple of times in my life I’ve been made very aware of my mortality and I just thought ‘again, really? Do I need another reminder?!’ But I just had to get through it. It wasn’t easy on me, or the people around me as I was so debilitated but nearly a year later and I’m starting to get better.”
“I’ve seen just about every boxset there is to watch – I turned to television, I just had to get on with it and slowly I started to get better. When I started boxing again that was a big moment for me because I’ve got a massive piece of mesh there now…for the best part of six months I could barely pick anything up apart from a toothbrush, it was scary learning to use my body again. But then I started to undo all the physical stuff because I hadn’t been moving, you learn a lot about your body and your resilience as a person in situations like that. Also, lying on your back is the worst thing for you as your body will shut down. Your body is like ‘we don’t need to do anything’. And that was a scary place to be and has really taught me how important movement and mobility are, ‘cos we live quite static lifestyles and most people are quite stationary in their day and honestly, movement is the one thing that started to make me feel better. Just getting up and going for a walk for 10 minutes after everything I’d eaten to get my metabolism moving again, and you just start to work out how your body works. I try and be more active now. Again coming back to the dogs, they have to be walked, they keep me active. Even if it’s cold and I’m having a crap day I still have to get a big jacket on and get amongst it. And you know, there’s never a time I get back and I feel worse than when I left the house.”
On a career change
“I stumbled into presenting by accident with the first documentary about my Dad’s suicide. I didn’t think or know I was going to be any good at it. It was meant to be a broader take on suicide but there was an awkward meeting half way through when the BBC said that the narrative that really works here is your own one. I threw my toys out of the pram because that wasn’t what it was meant to be and I didn’t want people to see me like that, then I realised that was what the problem was – no one wants to be seen as what they are. And I then I thought, excuse my french, but ‘**** it – if people can see me at my best, then why can’t they see me at my worst?’ This is the reality, this is what it makes me feel like this and this is what the effect of suicide is on the people that are left behind. I took that step and that programme reached a lot of people. I had messages from people saying I’d saved their lives. It’s bittersweet because although I’m glad the programme reached so many people, the only reason it did that is because so many people are suffering, or watching so many others suffer.”
“Making the doc gave me the same kind of energy as walking out on a stage, because I didn’t really know what was going to come of the conversations. It’s a completely different craft to making music where I get to tell everyone how I feel. With a documentary it’s having to get to the bottom of everyone else’s stories, and my point is just to be a catalyst for everyone else. To try and be that person, it was weird, but I surprised myself. You don’t enjoy it at the time and you spend a lot of time with people in situations knowing that when you leave their situations are going to be similarly as bad. I do enjoy doing it but I’m glad to be back to music at the moment.”
His advice to anyone whose unsure of what career path to take…
“An idea is nothing without execution so if you want to do something, work out what steps you need to take to try that career path out. I think it’s difficult, but try something and look for opportunities and windows to get into certain career paths. My advice is always to just take a chance. Rejection is quite key and you see a lot of that in any career path – you’re very lucky if you end up getting your dream job the first time you’re interviewed, there’s normally a lot of graft before that. Sacrifice is another thing – there was a lot I missed out on at the time to be able to do what I do now, I was crafting my career but others were taking steps that would guarantee success and I was just doing this thing that was a hobby, that could lead me nowhere without any fallback. That sort of instability makes for massive insecurities, but things only started to pay off at the age of 27 – I’m 34 now. Just one foot in front of the other and take that first step.”
Want to hear Professor Green’s advice in person? Come along to Go Think Big and O2′s epic #SpringForward event - we’ve got a top panel of wellbeing speakers, the chance for you to win wearable tech and everything you need to get motivated for the rest of 2018!
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