It’s a few days before Christmas 2018, and British radio presenter Iain Lee is taking calls on the subject of mental health. Lee has the late-night gig on TalkRADIO, a national talk station. At some point during the show, he gets a call that makes him sit up and pay attention.
The call has come through from a man calling himself Chris – and he has some dramatic news for Lee. It seems that his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression has become too much, so he’s just overdosed from drugs. Now, he’s lying in a doorway in the southwestern city of Plymouth.
Lee is left in a tricky spot. Plymouth lies more than four hours’ drive from TalkRADIO’s London studio. But Lee wants to get some assistance for the stricken Chris, who is slurring his words and clearly in trouble. Suddenly, the presenter realizes that he’s going to have to keep Chris alive until help comes.
A native of Slough in Buckinghamshire, Lee – born Iain Lee Rougvie – first made his name doing stand-up around London. This then led him to presenting shows on British television. He also started up a career in radio, with stints at LBC and Absolute Radio making him a recognizable voice.
In 2017 Lee appeared on a hit British TV program called I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!. The survival show saw Lee spend time in the Australian jungle alongside other celebrities. Those watching it could see Lee and others take on challenges, before having the chance to vote to eject their least favorite celebrity from the show.
A source for the show reportedly noted why Lee had been selected. They said, “Iain isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He regularly rants and raves on his TalkRADIO show, and his listeners should expect the same from him in the jungle.” And the audience seemingly did enjoy Lee’s stay in the camp, with the radio man ending up in third place.
For his part, Lee supposedly had a special reason for agreeing to the dubious pleasure of I’m A Celeb. Indeed, it’s been reported that his mom had been admitted to a care home because of her multiple sclerosis. So with the money from the show, he could afford the high costs that her stay there would bring.
And Lee certainly earned his money. During one challenge, he panicked and failed to win food for his celebrity buddies. The circumstances caused him to burst into tears afterwards. But he was also able to show a caring side, when he made a bond with footballer’s wife Rebekah Vardy, who shared feelings about depression with him.
After Lee had returned from his Australian ordeal, he shared how it had affected him on TV show Good Morning Britain. He told the show’s hosts that he had suffered a little bit of post-traumatic stress disorder because of what he’d been through. Specifically, he said he’d been left feeling queasy after munching on such delights as the brain of a sheep during a challenge on the show.
But whatever Lee had suffered in the jungle, he was showing signs that he was over it by December 2018. Certainly, he was back in an environment that he presumably felt comfortable in. But that comfort must have suddenly vanished when a man phoned his talk show to tell him he was outside a bar in Plymouth – and that he’d overdosed.
The man – who was named Chris – revealed that he had previously worked for the London Underground. He claimed that his poor mental health had been sparked by witnessing a man’s death on the railway tracks while working at a West End station. He’d ended up living in Cornwall, where he’d attempted suicide on three occasions in three years.
Chris told Lee all about what had happened. He said, “I was witness to a person under a train. That person was [in their] mid 20s or early 30s – which is the age of my eldest son. I saw that person on the track lying in front of the train, completely lifeless. That was the first time I had ever been involved in anything like that.”
Chris explained that the incident had had a serious outcome for him personally. He said, “It had such a detrimental effect on me that I just started drinking heavily. I was drinking a bottle of vodka a day.” London Underground then canned him. And after he’d drifted apart from his wife, he decided to take up residence in Cornwall.
This was quite the change for Chris, as a look at the map of southern England shows. London is in the east of England, with the estuary of its river Thames giving out into the North Sea. Cornwall is in the far southwest, hundreds of miles from the capital city. Plymouth – the city in Devonshire where Chris lay at the time of his call – sits on the border with Cornwall.
Chris reckoned that the move had not been positive for him. He believed that back in London, he might have found himself in an institution for care. He told Lee, “To be honest I know I need help, but Cornwall Council is so severely stretched for cash that while ordinarily in London you are committed or sectioned… in Cornwall they send you home.”
With that in mind, Chris had more to say about the care in Cornwall. He said, “They send their little treatment team round for three days and you are left alone to fight your demons. And I am fighting my demons and I can’t see any way out of that other than suicide. I am just going to be a drain on society; I am going to be a drain on everybody.”
All in all, the 58-year-old man had been left in terrible shape. He told Lee that what he most feared was never again seeing his daughter, who was 11. But although he had taken a drug overdose and his life was slipping away, his urge to live was kicking in. He told Lee, “I don’t want to die, Iain.”
Chris’ despair certainly rang a bell with Lee, who has suffered his own battle with depression. Indeed, he too once considered suicide, in the wake of his own marriage breakup. In the month before, he’d told his followers on Twitter that stopping his antidepressants had left him in a bad place. He wrote, “Sweet lord. It’s hard. Harder than coming off a coke binge. Much harder. More emotional. Longer. Drawn out.”
And worse, ugly thoughts had risen to the surface. The radio man tweeted, “[I was] in pieces last night. Suicidal. Luckily I have a good mate to talk me off the edge. But people need to know how tough these drugs are to come off. Torture. Absolute hell.” And it seemed Lee’s struggles had also been born in a traumatic incident.
Lee revealed in May 2018 that sexual abuse at the hands of a boy scout leader when he was only eight years old had caused depression. He told a Channel 4 documentary what had happened. He said, “A lot of my depression comes around self-loathing, shame and guilt. How do I say this? There was a bit of sexual abuse that went on as a kid. A scout master and stuff, which kind of weighed heavily on me.”
Lee felt that he had been left with a terrible burden, which he’d had to carry all on his own. “It is the most horrendous messed-up scenario,” he said. “It was humiliating, and it was shameful, and I remember getting home to my mum and dad and never telling them. I never told them.”
Consequently, the radio presenter had no doubt that it had contributed to his poor mental health. He said, “I think it certainly played a part in my depression, what happened to me at the age of eight. I can see that as the starting point for it. Because up until then, the memories I do have are generally quite happy.”
On top of that, his appearance on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! had caused him further distress. As a consequence, the TV company had paid for him to see a therapist. He said, “I want to come off my anti-depressants, because there was a minor relapse a few weeks ago with stuff going on. The jungle was weird and had a profound effect on me.”
But now it was someone else who was in trouble, and Lee made a decision to help him. He said, “I don’t want you to die tonight. I need to know what street you’re on. I want you to get through tonight and chat to me tomorrow, when you haven’t got a load of drugs in you.”
Perhaps realizing that Chris might be feeling uncared for, Lee shared some feelings from the heart. He said, “I don’t want you to die tonight because I love you. I love you, brother. I love you.” And he sought for a reason for Chris to hang in there. He explained to Chris, “I guarantee that whatever has happened, it can be sorted out. It might not be easy, but it can be sorted, I promise you. It is better than you doing this.”
Lee had resolved to keep Chris talking and to find out more about him. The aim was to allow his producer Katherine Boyle to get help to the overdosing man. As they talked, Lee proved able to retrieve details from Chris. Before long, he had a good idea of where Chris lay, his description and and even what drugs he’d used.
The radio presenter had a few nervous moments when Chris fell silent, causing Lee a great deal of anxiety. That was relieved each time that Chris returned to talking. One time, Lee told him, “Yes, brother. The whole country is punching the air. We lost you for about ten minutes, man.”
Finally, word came through that the police had arrived to tend to Chris. Lee found it hard to hold back the tears as he told the nation, “That poor man.” And his producer, Boyle, found the emotion infectious, it seemed. After all, it’s not every night that you save a man’s life.
Lee shared the news of what he had achieved with Twitter. He wrote, “Tonight we took a call from a man who had taken an overdose. He was lying in a street in Plymouth, dying. We managed to keep him online, get a description of what he looked like and was wearing, work out where he was, and send an ambulance and police to him.”
After describing the difficulty of comprehending what Chris had to say as the drugs had taken hold, Lee shared the agony of the breaks in conversation. He wrote, “Long periods of silence where I thought he’d died… that was intense and upsetting. Thanks for your kind words. I really hope he makes it.”
It turned out that the ordeal had not yet ended for Chris. As Lee would later share with his listeners, he needed serious medical help just to survive. For a couple days his survival hung in the balance as he lay in hospital, hooked up with tubes. Lee told his followers that it had been “touch and go.”
But the assistance that the troubled man had received had worked out well. Lee updated his followers with a tweet, saying, “He’s alive. He’s at home. And he was blown away by all your support and love. He’s got a lot of work to do but he’ll get there. It’s very complicated.”
On top of that, Lee had some good news to share about the festive season. He said, “He’s not spending Christmas Day alone.” And the radio man would be staying in the loop, he said. He explained, “He’s gonna call me tomorrow and check in. He said it was okay for me to share this with you.”
People greatly appreciated what Lee had done, as he noted on Twitter. He wrote, “Last two days I’ve had people coming up to me, thanking me and shaking my hand. Found it all a bit overwhelming.” It had been so stunning, he explained, that he’d been overtaken by tears when shopping.
And it hadn’t just been people in the street who’d had words of praise for Lee, either. Devon and Cornwall Police Inspector Kev Morley tweeted his thanks to the radio presenter, saying that Lee had saved Chris’ life. He wrote that Chris had gotten assistance from the police department’s officers.
Morley told Twitter users that the happening had been nothing out of the ordinary for the police. He wrote, “This is a very typical call for us sadly, and December is a hard month for many.” The officer said that the police would be trying to do more for Chris. He said, “We all have a role to play in supporting those that are struggling.”
Lee’s listeners didn’t spare the praise either, with one of their number giving him the title of “real-life hero.” The listener wrote, “Hope you are okay. This can be traumatic.” And they had some advice for the radio present in case of his own need. They said, “Don’t be too proud to ask if you need help.”
Other listener echoed the positive words. One wrote, “I have suffered with mental issues in the past, and if it was not for friends and family being there for me, I dread to think what state I would be in now. Iain did something amazing on Wednesday night and should be praised not criticized.”
Another of Lee’s listeners had words of praise for him, but they also had acknowledgement of Chris’ bravery in reaching out to him. They tweeted, “Brilliantly done. Thank goodness Iain has the empathy to keep him talking, and even more importantly Chris found the courage to talk. Wishing them both well.”
After the show had ended, Katherine Boyle too had something to say about it. She told her followers on Twitter, “Well, I’ll never forget tonight’s show. Off home to kiss my sleeping kids. Be kind to yourself.” And Chris will surely never forget the kindness shown to him by Lee.