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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Hannah Roberts

Shirley Ballas to take on ‘terrifying’ challenges to help prevent suicides

Shirley Ballas has spoken of her fear of heights before she embarks on a “terrifying” series of challenges for a suicide prevention charity this summer.

The Strictly Come Dancing judge said she became an ambassador for the Campaign Against Living Miserably (Calm) because “wanted to do more” for her brother who died in a suicide about 20 years ago.

Ballas told the PA news agency to help anyone that “suffers with any feeling that they want to take their own life” – and the charity – she will do a Skyathlon challenge – encompassing a zipline, a 700ft wing walk and 15,000ft skydive during August.

Speaking about her brother, Ballas said: “He was a strong, strapping chap, if he walked into a room, he was quite quiet.

“But he was just the most kind and wonderful, gentle giant. Nobody, if you’d have lined up 100 men, would have ever thought that my brother would have taken his own life.

“So he was struggling, he was miserable within himself but he never wanted to share because he never wanted to appear weak.

“I can remember when my mother wanted to take him to the hospital, and she had him in the car, and they pulled up, and he saw somebody he recognised, and he wouldn’t go in and maybe had he gone in, things would have been different.

“But he didn’t want to communicate, he didn’t want to share. It’s just what it was 20 years ago.”

Ballas said that she is “terrified” of heights, and is doing the Skyathlon challenge to “make it as exciting and as scary for the public” as possible.

“The public have got to really … get behind you, so if they think that this is an easy challenge for you, nobody really listens, but if they think you’re terrified they’ll tune in”, she said.

Ballas is a ballroom dancer, teacher and adjudicator and is known for being the head judge on BBC celebrity competition show Strictly, which is a platform she uses to further the discussion around mental health.

She said: “I have the platform with Strictly, I’m the ambassador for Calm, so if I can sense that somebody is feeling a little bit low or down, I always just go over and see how they’re feeling.

“Just ask, how’s your day going? And I’m monitoring, I can kind of tell if somebody’s having a little bit of an off day, sometimes. Not always but sometimes.

“It’s not necessary to hound people. But to check in with people (can be) quite nice.”

Ballas hopes that her Skyathlon challenge will raise about £200,000 for Calm, which runs lifesaving services, including a 24-hour helpline and webchat.

She will do the zipline on August 8, the wing walk on August 10 and the skydive on August 12.

According to Calm, 125 lives in the UK are lost to suicide every week and 75% of all of these suicides are male.

Other ambassadors with the charity include comedians Romesh Ranganathan, Rosie Jones, Russell Kane and Suzi Ruffell as well as former Coronation Street actor Ryan Thomas.

See for support and advice and for Ballas’s campaign.

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