This is a fairly unusual blog post for me to be writing, and even now as I am finally sitting down to write it I can't quite seem to shake the 'Is this all a dream?' feeling. This girl spent the evening at the palace in the company of Royals, for World Mental Health Day, I know just your average Tuesday evening right?!
On the September 1st I was sent a very vague email from a member of staff at Time to Change asking about my availability on the evening of 10th October, but was unable to provide me with any more details or even confirm it would happen at this point. So there I am agreeing to an opportunity as though it were a lucky dip and I tell you what, I definitely won the top prize! Then on September 19th, after a really long day in Suffolk to deliver my testimony with two fab members of the CYP team at Time to Change I got home to my post - bills, junk, flyers, oh... wait a second... this is definitely not junk, this has a royal crest, my mind at this point so exhausted to even put two and two together until I open the envelope to the poshest invite I have ever seen. I, along side 11 other volunteers and staff from Time to Change, had been invited to spend the evening of World Mental Health Day at Buckingham Palace in the presence of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. What on earth! Me? Let me double, triple, quadruple check the name on this invite before going into full excitement mode. Then the Dress Stress kicked in, so many tears were shed, stressed out messages sent and calls galore over outfit drama. My goodness, my new life motto is if I managed to get through the dress stress of a royal event I can get through anything.
Those of us from the Children and Young People's Team, Myself, Joss, Nikki, Marium and Zephyr all met before getting a taxi over to a cafe near Buckingham Palace to meet all the other wonderful individuals from the Time to Change party including the wonderful Lucy Nichol, and director of operations, Jo Loughran. A cuppa and pre-palace nerves and excitement were shared briefly before heading over to the palace to get some selfies and group pics! We then took our entry cards and our ID to the gates to be allowed entry into the most magical, beautiful and breathtaking venue I have ever been.
The evening began by talking with lots of wonderful fellow campaigners, advocates and those passionate about Mental Health, including finally getting to meet my lovely friend, Grace who I met a while back on twitter and is one of the most passionate advocates I know. We also bumped into a fellow Time to Change champion, Jack who was there with Youth Action. Shortly into the evening The Duke of Cambridge addressed the reception on behalf of himself the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry about their work with heads together, their aspirations for the future and admiration for those working in the Mental Health sector. Following this, Stephen Fry spoke about how far we have come in tackling stigma, but that there was still a long way to go and each and every person in that room is, in their own way helping to reach that universal goal of making mental health stigma a thing of the past. After the speeches had closed the Royals spent some time speaking with those in attendance, circling around the room to say hello. We went on to meet Professor Green and Ruby Wax Briefly and were lucky enough to have a good chat about all things mental health and Time to Change with Stephen Fry, a huge inspiration to myself, those I was with and I am sure to so many. Stephen was incredibly down to earth and so genuinely impressed by what we do to campaign for mental health sharing some of his experiences of opening up about mental illness in the public light. For people that were so starstruck I felt we played it super cool, soon to be busted just as he was walking away as Joss (who also made Stephen Fry laugh THREE times) quickly shouted 'Thank you for Harry Potter', after spending her childhood, and I am sure many of us, including myself listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks - nailed it!
Impact of the Night
I can feel myself getting emotional just writing this part. Of course the whole experience was incredibly inspiring, heartwarming and breathtaking, it was fantastic to see so many high profile people celebrating the journey so far, but it was the fellow Time to Change lovelies that really made the evening so special. I feel that words cannot do justice to just how incredible those I shared the evening with are. To be standing in Buckingham Palace with such passionate, inspiring and incredible people honestly took my breath away over and over again and I felt my heart bursting with pride of each and every person in that room. Update on the getting emotional writing this, I am now all teary again. Jo and Joss wanted a photo of them two together and being the paparazzi for the night allowed me to snap such a special and beautiful moment. It was one look of pride. That's all it took. Seeing how proud they were of each other, particularly Jo of Joss who before working for Time to Change volunteered with them herself, with Jo (and the team) inspiring her because that is exactly what Joss has done for myself and so many others - it has gone full circle. To see just how far both of them have come on their own personal journeys and are now using that experience to lead the way for change has inspired me beyond words and I honestly could not have better women to look up to and be inspired by each and every day. If i was told this time last year I would have even of spoken about my experiences of mental illness I would have thought it was ridiculous, so if I was told I would be spending my evening at Buckingham Palace I would have probably gone for a full on cackle laugh.
My biggest thank you, is to Joss, for training me to become the campaigner I have, for supporting me every step of the way, for believing in me when I didn't believe in myself and for inspiring me every single day to keep fighting even in the darkest of times - the typical response will be that of modesty saying I could have done it alone, but I certainly couldn't have got to this point without you. Finally thank you to Time to Change for campaigning to change so many lives, and for saving mine.