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The actress, ally and advocate tells us why she called the controversial TV presenter out for mocking mental illness.

I’m speaking to Denise before she dashes back into rehearsals for her upcoming West End performance as Mrs Otter in The Wind In The Willows. The warm and supremely talented actress, presenter and writer has long been an advocate for both mental health and LGBT rights. She’s passionate about raising awareness and reducing stigma. And she’s never been afraid to call people out, people like Piers how-offensive-can-I-be-today Morgan.

In case you’ve not checked your Twitter lately, here’s what’s gone down. When the controversial TV presenter mocked Will Young for opening up about his PTSD, Denise wasn’t having any of it.

We spoke to Denise to find out more.

OUT NEWS GLOBAL: What’s going on with you and Piers Morgan?

DENISE WELCH: Five years ago, I did Piers Morgan’s Life Stories and he was sympathetic towards my mental health issues. However, I’ve noticed lately that he’s falling into the Katie Hopkins trap. The more controversial and mean he can be, it doesn’t matter who responds to him, it’s just the excess of people responding to him that he seems to be enjoying. I have been a passionate, outspoken advocate for mental health issues for nearly 30 years. Do not mess with me on this subject. I was horrified yesterday when I saw his comments that he was making.

How did you feel when you read the interview with Will Young?

I completely empathised. He told the story about wanting to break his own leg to get out of Strictly. Years ago I was doing a pantomime. I was so poorly, I was in the middle of a nervous breakdown. I’ve never wanted to kill myself, but I wanted something to happen – a fall or a minor car accident – because I didn’t feel that saying I had severe clinical depression would be enough that they would believe me. Who is Piers Morgan to even comment on mental illness? He doesn’t suffer from it, he doesn’t live with someone who has it and he’s not a psychologist. He has nearly 6 million followers on Twitter, many of whom will suffer from mental illness. It’s absolutely appalling that he is getting away with making these comments.

What do you think about the TV and radio programmes that give controversial figures like Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan a platform?

One of the first interviews I ever did about mental illness was with Lorraine Kelly on GMTV when I was in Coronation Street nearly 20 years ago. Lorraine Kelly wrote to me personally to say what a massive response there had been to someone openly talking about mental health issues because there were no other celebrities doing it. Over the last 20 years I have been on that sofa many times and been given the opportunity to talk about my passion about removing the stigma of mental illness. But it dismisses everything [ITV morning TV] is doing in their willingness to help by having a man who says, “Denise Welch is so annoying it’s making me mentally ill”. Because that is why people do not speak out because they are fearful of being ridiculed.

And that’s why it’s so important that people like you and Will Young do talk about it. Your short film about depression, Black Eyed Susan, just won Best Short Film at the Silicon Beach Festival. Congratulations!

Thank you. We’ve been selected for the Edinburgh Film Festival as well so we’re absolutely thrilled. That will be its UK premiere on the 23rd June in Edinburgh.

What prompted you to make this film?

Over they ears I’ve seen many things depict mental illness, but I’ve never seen an episode of my depression portrayed dramatically and truthfully as I felt it. I’m not playing me, I’m playing the woman. But it’s based on my own experiences and how I see it, in a slightly surreal way.

I also saw the beautiful video you made with your husband Lincoln for the Heads Together campaign. It really touched me. What was that experience like?

It was about talking to your go-to person so it had to be Lincoln. He is an incredible support to me. Anything that encourages people to speak out – which is going back to Piers saying, “Is there a celebrity at the moment who hasn’t got a mental illness?” Maybe the reason why celebrities are coming out [about mental illness] is because they also have been hidden under a bush because of bigots like you. I will continue to shout down the bigots whether it gets on people’s nerves or not. I don’t care, because if every time I shout out I can help one person be open about it, then my job is done.

Denise is an ambassador for MIND. For more information, check out their website.

Black Eyed Susan has its UK premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival on 23rd June. Book tickets here.

The Wind In The Willows is on at the London Palladium from 16th June. Get your tickets here.

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Roxy Bourdillon

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