09 January 2024

TV presenter JJ Chalmers: We shouldn’t be waiting for people to reach ‘crisis point’ before getting help

09 January 2024

It’s nearly 13 years since JJ Chalmers suffered life-changing injuries in a bomb blast, while serving as a Royal Marine Commando in Afghanistan.

But despite surviving that ordeal, nearly losing his arms and facing five years of complex surgeries and rehab – and going on to get married, have two children and carve out a career in broadcasting – mentally, he says 2023 was his toughest year yet.

“If I’m being completely honest, here I am 13 years later and in a day-to-day sense, [2023] in particular, I would argue my mental health has been the worst it’s ever been,” says the Scotsman, 37.

“That might sound quite shocking. But I certainly feel like I’m most in need of looking after myself as I’ve ever been – mentally.

“What I’ve realised is that, in many ways, the issues [I’ve been facing] are not about what happened to me on the 27th of May 2011, when I got blown up. I’m quite OK with what happened that day,” adds Chalmers, who lives in the countryside with wife Kornelia Chitursko and their children Hayley, seven, and James, four.

“Actually, it’s what’s happened because of that, and some of the decisions I’ve made along the way, and the way I’ve lived my life because of that.”

Chalmers considers himself “extremely lucky”. Taking part in the inaugural Invictus Games in 2014 (he competed in trike cycling and took home three medals) was a “beacon of light” as he got to grips with living in his post-injuries body, and it’s what led him towards a career in TV (as well as an enduring friendship with Invictus royal founder the Duke of Sussex).

After telling his story and then landing a spot hosting the Games in 2016, opportunities tumbled in – he has since presented Paralympics coverage for Channel 4, appeared on series such as The Last Leg, and even made it to the quarter-finals on Strictly Come Dancing in 2020. Not to mention the work he’s done raising awareness of mental health support for veterans.

“But I’m not going to lie, all of this comes at a price,” he says. “I work extremely hard, and you’ve got to, and that’s why we’re here to talk about this type of thing – but it does come with a price. I feel the stress and strain.

“I think I’m definitely in a phase in my life, 13 years on from injury, where I’m starting to realise that what I once did for a living, and what I lived through as a result of it, was ordinary at the time but in hindsight, perhaps not as ordinary as most people would expect.”

Being honest about finding this past year challenging is important for Chalmers, as it highlights there’s no timeline to recovery. Things can catch up with us years down the line, and sometimes it is in day-to-day life where struggles start showing up.

“I kind of stepped from a life of doing [full-on military work], into recovery which was obviously 24/7, and then into the world of TV, and I found comfort in the fact it worked in a somewhat similar way as my routine did in the military,” Chalmers reflects.

But, he’s in a different phase of life now and becoming more mindful of boundaries and self-care.

He has teamed up with Op COURAGE, NHS England’s mental health and wellbeing services for veterans and their families, as well as serving personnel due to leave the military. While not new, the service has undergone updates in a bid to create more consistent standards of care and streamline signposting – making it easier for people to know where to turn, whatever help they may need.


“Because you need a little bit of everything sometimes,” says Chalmers. “That could be as simple as a cup of tea with a like-minded individual, or it could be sitting down with a professional.”

It could also be help with addiction, substance abuse and eating disorders, or relationships, employment and housing – people can be signposted via Op COURAGE to relevant charities and local organisations that can help with things like this, too.

Something else the telly personality is keen to highlight is that “we shouldn’t be waiting for people to get to crisis point before doing something”.

He recalls occasions when he’s chatted with people about getting support for themselves, but they haven’t thought they needed it – “not because they didn’t think they were having a bad time, they just didn’t think their suffering was significant enough or warranted help,” he explains.

“They’d looked at me with a physical injury and thought, well that’s what being wounded is. But no – it can come in different forms, and of course we have invisible injuries too.”

Chalmers does not regret joining the Marines, however: “The best decision I ever made was to become a Marine, I love it to pieces. But the person I am, the thoughts I have in my head and the care that I will require, will always have some element attributable to the decision I made to serve in the Armed Forces,” he adds.

“And that will be the case for anyone who served in the Forces, it shapes who you are as a person, for good and for bad, and ultimately you will have to, I believe, have some level of support.”

He’s become more mindful of his own work-life balance – like “trying to put a circle around school holidays” and not constantly being on social media, which is often part of the picture when you work in TV.

“That stuff takes a conscious effort to be able to change your behaviour,” says Chalmers. “Trying to carve out as much time as I can with my family is hugely important. I always say to my agent, ‘Get me home by bath-time’, that’s what I will absolutely strive for.

“And then physically speaking – this is the diva in me, the one thing that’s on my rider as a broadcaster, and I won’t kick off about it if it’s not possible, but to have a bath in my hotel room,” he adds, laughing. “I like to absolutely boil myself at the end of the day. I’m not one of these lunatics that does ice baths or anything like that, but I discovered doing Strictly that my body responds much better if I bath myself.

“And the reason that’s important is not just that it makes me physically better, but the physical toll of living with a disability and living with pain, has a mental manifestation ultimately. It exhausts you, and it means you’re never going to be able to run at your best. It’s just that niggle that will always live with you.

“And it will always be part of me, and I accept that,” says Chalmers. “But it’s then incumbent on me to do as much as I possibly can to alleviate that for myself.”

To find out more about Op COURAGE, visit nhs.uk/opcourage

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