For Ashley Walters, Mental Wellbeing is Everything

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For Ashley Walters, Mental Wellbeing is Everything

Since stepping out on screen as Top Boy’s ‘Dushane,’ Ashley Walters has become renowned for playing one of British TV’s biggest tough guys. But with this latest PG Tips campaign, the musician-turned-actor is leaning into his softer side, as a father, role model, and mental health ambassador.

From being a part of one of the UK’s most legendary rap collectives, So Solid Crew, to performing on camera as ‘Dushane’ in the Bafta Award-winning drama, Top Boy, 41-year-old Walters has had a distinguished career – but it’s not come without challenges.

Imposter syndrome is one of the most common, yet least-spoken-about problems in the world. For those unaware, it’s a mental mindset bombarded with flashes of self-doubt – making hundreds of thousands of creatives, working professionals, students, and more feel emotions of not feeling worthy or qualified enough in the workplace.

According to a national study of 3,000 UK adults, 62% have experienced imposter syndrome at work in the last 12 months. Studies have also found that higher levels of imposter syndrome are associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Ashley Walters’ new campaign with PG Tips highlights how discussions with loved ones – often over a shared love of British tea – can be the best way to combat these feelings.

Titled “It’s Not Just Tea. It’s Progress,” Walters’ latest campaign is a 70-second story – shot and directed by Oscar-winning director, Steve McQueen and with music from British jazz band, Ezra Collective. The campaign is a powerful story of overcoming self-doubt and finding inner courage, where Walters coaches himself out of negativity over a cup of PG Tips, before inviting the nation to summon their own sense of self-belief.

69% of tea-sippers find a cuppa is just what’s needed when you have to take some time out to solve a problem and 22% of these respondents say a brew allows them to “figure out solutions because it gives them the capacity to think.”

Hypebeast caught up with Ashley Walters to discuss his new campaign with PG Tips, why mental health needs to be discussed more amongst men, and why imposter syndrome still impacts Walters today.

Hypebeast: Hey Ashley, how are you?

Ashley Walters: I’m good, man. I’m spending a lot of time with my family, those closest to me… So, I can’t complain. I have all those closest around me.

Why did you decide that now is the perfect time to launch this new campaign with PG Tips?

It wasn’t one of those things where I was looking to do anything if I’m honest. It was just one of those things where I was approached to get involved with PG Tips around a topic that is very important to me.

Mental health in men is something that needs to be spoken about more, and teaming up with PG Tips – which has been a brand that has been such a big part of my life – just made sense. I think when it first meets the eye, this campaign doesn’t really add up, but when you actually watch it, you understand that speaking with someone about anything, whether it’s just a catch-up with friends, or speaking about more important factors – like mental health – is always partnered with a cup of tea.

Can you give an example of how a lack of self-belief — aka “imposter syndrome” — has held you back in your career? 

If I’m completely honest, everyday, bro. When I was growing up, my mum always told me that life was going to be more difficult for me, simply because I’m a minority. When I started creating music with So Solid, there wasn’t anybody else who was really doing it who looked like us, and as much as I had a rebellious attitude during that time, I think it was a subconscious thing. The same feelings are still happening now, and sometimes I feel uncomfortable in certain situations. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake it off.

In the “jack of all trades” sense, is being multi-talented a double-edged sword? And how do you overcome this sense of self-doubt? 

I think mentioning the idea of being multifaceted is interesting. I’ll be honest, I still feel weird when I’m acting – I don’t necessarily enjoy working in the enclosing film sets, with about 50 people around me watching me get my lines right. But, I think that’s just something I’ve had to learn to get used to. Senses of doubt still happen. Sometimes I think that I shouldn’t be in the places that I am, but it’s just the case of using the experience I’ve gained over the years to make sure that I perform in the best way possible.

“When I was growing up, my mum always told me that life was going to be more difficult for me, simply because I’m a minority.”

Often there’s a lack of understanding — or even acknowledgment — around mental health with our parents’ generation, is this something that has impacted you? 

100%. I was lucky that I grew up with a mother that was understanding and she told me from the jump that my experience growing up as a young black man was going to be more difficult. But as a whole, the general understanding around mental health has been something that has only been properly considered for the last couple of generations. I think people just didn’t have the insight and were never taught about mental health in the ways that they should have been, so they were never to know. So, yeah it did impact me in some ways… I have had some feelings in the past and not known what they were – and I would put that down to the lack of education.

Do you feel a sense of responsibility to help young creatives looking to break into the industry?

I’ll be honest, at the early stages of my career – when So Solid – I thought, no way! [laughs]. This wasn’t something that I even considered really as I was young and reckless. Now, yeah I do. I have children, I’m a father and I have a responsibility to make sure that I am listening and giving the best advice and guidance possible. This is the same for when I meet younger people who aren’t my kids – I try to listen, be honest, and understand that I am in a position where people may ask me for advice. I think this is something that just comes with getting older. But more needs to be done, and if I’m in a position where I can make a difference, I’m going to do it.

How can society help to create a safer space around the discussion of men and mental health?

I think it’s a difficult one. It feels like a time where so much more is being done, yet not enough is being done at the same time. There’s a lot of people who have become spokespeople for mental health, which is great. At the same time, I think more conversations need to be had in people’s inner circles. People are more likely to open up to those who are closest to them, so it’s the case of being brave enough to open up, understand that it’s nothing to be embarrassed about or afraid of, and just speak about how you feel. This is what we’ve captured in this ad with PG Tips – showing that a discussion over a cup of tea is all that can be needed.

Do you have any rituals to stay on top of your own mental health?

Exercise is the main thing for me. I get up early, I weight train around four times a week, and go on bike rides with my wife and kids. Being active is the main thing for me, especially when you train early in the morning like me, you feel like you have a jump on the rest of the world. Everybody is different, but for me, exercise is what I need.

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