The death of his father made JOSEPH BATES throw himself into high-pressured, dangerous careers. He was a man of action from the outside, but when Jodie Kidd became his girlfriend, he realized he was losing it.
Joseph Bates: Why did you join the Marine Corps? To experience something worse than the loss of Dad
My body was exhausted from another late night. I went to the gym and pushed my limits. I’d had a couple of hours’ sleep after entertaining clients in my job as an equities trader in the City before getting up and heading for my usual punishing two-hour workout. I hadn’t eaten properly for days.
My body felt tired as I ran the treadmill. Since I was a teenager, I’d thrown myself headlong into a series of the most intense experiences I could find, from a stint as a Royal Marine sniper in Iraq to rescuing hostages in Afghanistan with Special Forces – the more extreme the better.
While I had a successful career, I was feeling empty inside. I was on autopilot, feeling detached, as though life was happening in front of me and I wasn’t really participating. I wasn’t sleeping, eating or seeing friends. Drinking was a problem and I had to go to the gym. I needed to get help because I felt burnt out. I didn’t know how.
My 17-year old father’s death, Chris, was what caused me to spiral into the depths of despair. To block the overwhelming feeling of loss, I put myself in a series of extremely high-pressure situations. Until finally my inner self broke.
As the youngest child of three, I was raised in tight-knit homes with my siblings, parents, brother and sister. My father, Chris, ran Southwest Arts which provided funding for theaters and galleries. Jenny, an educator psychologist, was also there. Dad began acting strangely in my teens and becoming confused. He was diagnosed with Pick’s disease, a rare form of dementia similar to Alzheimer’s, and before I knew it he’d been hospitalised. Mum encouraged me to go visit him one day and let me know it was time for me to leave. Sitting in his room, there was nothing left of the man I’d been so close to, just a heavily medicated shell.
Only once did I cry after his death. As I stood by the grave of my father, a friend from his family reached out to me and inquired if it was okay. There was a flood of years-long grief that erupted in that one moment. After that, my instinct was to get so involved in something physically demanding it wouldn’t leave any room for emotions.
She was stunned when I announced to Mum that I would be joining the Royal Marines. The Royal Marines were known for being one of the most tough units in the military. But that is why I joined it. I was looking to lose my Dad.
Joseph with fiancée Jodie Kidd
Even though it was exhausting, it felt exactly like where I needed to be. The camaraderie and discipline I experienced, the adrenaline rush, the challenge of testing my limits, and the feeling of being tested myself were all things that I enjoyed. I applied to Special Forces when I was 19, even though I was told that I was too young. I was then selected for Special Boat Service. I went on tours in Afghanistan and was part of high-profile missions like the rescue mission of Stephen Farrell, a former New York Times journalist.
The level of focus required allowed me to put Dad’s death in a box and firmly close the lid. While there were some difficult times, it was not enough to cause me post-traumatic stress disorder. In my twenties, I felt ready for something new and made a decision to live in New York City. It was at that point, away from the intensity of military life, that the feelings I’d spent years avoiding began to catch up with me.
As a young man working in a hyper-masculine environment, admitting to feeling emotionally wobbly was far from encouraged. I did try therapy, but didn’t find a therapist I clicked with, so I kept pushing the feelings down. In the years that followed, I lived in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Sydney. My drinking habits and training were constant, and it was difficult to feel lost. However, the root cause of my problems never became apparent. Jodie was my catalyst to me tackling my problems. I returned to London in 2017.
Jodie helped me realise that I’d been suffering from an eating disorder for many years. I was so used to avoiding breakfast, never touching carbs and even pouring chilli oil over food to stop me eating too much that I’d never considered how unhealthy it was. I’d ‘spend’ calories on wine instead of dinner and purge whatever I did eat with a ten-mile run. Although I thought I was fit, my unhealthy habits made me a bad fitness addict.
The claims made about Jodie’s weight being the result of anorexia when she was modelling were false – actually, she suffered from crippling anxiety, which is why she left the industry. Now she owns a pub near our home in West Sussex and she’s a fantastic cook. It was because she came from a similar background that she could recognize signs and behaviors.
Indio, our nine-year old son. [Jodie’s child with polo player Andrea Vianini]When I started to pick up the language used about food it made a big difference in our lives. He’d ask how many calories are in a bowl of pasta, or say he was having a ‘cheat day’ if he ate a burger. He was not happy with the idea that I would pass his negative attitude on to him.
Being settled and happy with Jodie meant I finally felt able to unpick why I’d spent so many years seeking out challenges which took me to the brink; why I could never stay in one place for long; and why I could not allow myself to think about Dad. I started talking to a therapist once a week and recognised that every extreme thing I’d done, and the times I’d felt hollow, stemmed from his illness and death. I’d never processed my grief, and the more I had pushed it down, the more ways it had found to bubble up.
Joseph is four years old and is pictured with Chris his father in Tunbridge wells’ garden.
My life has been impacted by the loss of my Dad due to such a terrible illness. Watching the kind, clever person he was ebb away while I was a teenager, unable to understand what was happening, was so traumatic I couldn’t deal with it except by avoiding it. I still find it difficult to talk about him and to recall that time in my own life.
It has made a huge difference in my ability to understand the world by talking with someone who isn’t judgmental and impartial. When I understood why things had happened the way they did in my own life, I knew I wanted to be able to help others. Therapy is a new concept for men. It is not uncommon for me to have the same issues as I do and that many people can go a long time trying to forget them.
Jodie helped me realise that I’d been suffering from an eating disorder
That’s why I created an app, Halen, to offer access to therapy and other forms of coaching that is simple to use and aspirational. This app should make people proud. After all, we work our bodies in the gym – why not be open about looking after our minds, too? There are times in life when we could all use some extra help.
All the therapists and coaches have different skills, and once users have chosen one they can have video sessions with them via their phone, so it’s convenient. We have so far had more female users than we do males. But, hopefully, that trend will change.
Jodie is now my wife and we are happily engaged. There’s so much for me to be happy about. Sometimes the grief I feel when thinking about Dad can overwhelm me. But I know it’s far better to acknowledge the impact his death had on me, because it means that I can look forward to the future, having finally grieved for what I’ve lost.