“We want to make love, compassion and empathy the new cool.”
‘The Naked Professors’ is a new mental health podcast series by TV presenter Matt Johnson and life coach Ben Bidwell which is aiming to be at the forefront of change for men.
Our new favourite podcast is ‘The Naked Professors’, which stands out from the tsunami of pods by dealing with mental health issues in a remarkably honest and inspiring way. It is the product of a meeting of minds between presenter Matt Johnson and life coach Ben Bidwell, who were brought together through a chance meeting on a flight to Ibiza and bonded through open conversations about their deepest problems, a simple idea carried through onto the podcast itself. With guests like Matt Willis, rugby player Jim Hamilton and Davina McCall, the individual episodes are revelatory on topics such as addiction and the limits of Alpha maleness, but also have a larger purpose of changing the values by which people live their lives, in a way which they hope will bring more fulfilment.
Here Matt and Ben delve into the origins and ambitions of ‘The Naked Professors’…
Ben: It’s lovely how it started actually. All started from a chance meeting on an aeroplane with Matt and I just chatting.
Going to or coming back from Ibiza?
Ben: Going to.
Matt: Nobody talks on the flight going back.
Ben: Matt wanted two hours rest but unfortunately he had me chewing his ear off.
Matt: The thing was I’d just flown in from New Zealand from the Lions tour, so I was ruined. I was so jet lagged, and then this massive tall Greek god of a person sat next to me, and I thought, “oh for Christ sake, I just want a Bloody Mary and a sleep.” And then we started chatting. I’m a bit grouchy when I’m jet lagged, and I don’t like small talk, and luckily neither does Ben, so we just went straight into it. Ben discussed his vulnerabilities, and because he’d shared his, I shared mine, and it was a beautiful moment. And that’s all we’ve done since, had these deep conversations, whether in a restaurant or a bar or somewhere. We don’t make small talk, we just go into the deep end, which I think is a far more interesting place to be.
Ben: Originally I was doing a podcast myself and we agreed Matt could come on as a guest. We did that and it was great, and Matt and I stayed in touch, chatting more and more, and having more great conversations. It got to the point where we said, hang on a minute, lets record these conversations that we’re having authentically anyway, and do this together. Our messages were very much aligned and the energies were great – a podcast company came in, and the next thing I knew, Matt and I were recording with Davina, and the thing just naturally rolled.
The concept of the podcast
Matt: Every episode is going to be slightly different, because of the topics, because of the people we talk to, but the idea is that we just capture our conversations. The one early conversation that really pops into mind was when a friend of mine passed away, and Ben and I were talking on the roof of Soho House. We talked for two hours and it was just a really deep and interesting conversation, but also with humour, just two lads talking about life and what it’s all about basically. We didn’t want to lose that. We thought we’d try and incorporate interesting people of note so we can try and attract people to these conversations, because they’re worth having and worth sharing. The episodes might differ in tone but essentially it’ll be myself and Ben and the guest having these deep and meaningful conversations about stuff that matters. We’re discussing ideas and trying to normalise the wider discussion about mental health.
Ben: I think we’re coming at it from an angle of relatability. We don’t want to baffle or bamboozle people with long words or philosophies, we just want to talk openly about things that actually matter that are often taboo subjects for men. And hopefully by being relatable men we can encourage others to do the same.
On getting men to open up
Ben: Men do to be shown how to do it because it’s not seen as manly. From being a kid you think of a man as being strong and all the rest of it; certainly not talking about emptions. Talking from your head not your heart. You don’t say to your mates you love them and how proud of them you are and you’re so happy to have them in your life. You take the piss out of them. That’s how it is growing up and that’s what you’re supposed to be as a man. Matt and I both had our reasons to look introspectively about the way we were living, and that led us to make changes and become different, improved versions of ourselves. But a lot of men don’t go through that they just keep living in that default way, with their mask on, not showing people their emotions. And it does take people to challenge that.
Matt: In certain pockets of the media the discussion is getting better. I live in London and am from Cardiff, and my friends work in the media and they’re all aware and easy to talk about it with. But the statistics are still horrible where people suffer the most. In Wales, in Swansea, Bridgend, the Valleys, people are still suffering. There’s a lot to be looked at there. There needs to be an understanding, a sense of belonging, and that why with a podcast is great, you can listen to it in the car, in a van on the way to work, and you don’t have to publicise that you’re listening to a mental health podcast if you think that’s a taboo. Eventually within the conversation they’ll realise that it is alright to talk about these things. Right now these discussions have to take place.
On being lads
Matt: Personally when I talk about my personal experiences with a suicidal episode and bad depression, the way I deal with it is with dark humour. Coming from Wales, you make it relatable to people using a comedic stance. We’ve just done a podcast with Josh Patterson, a lovely guy from Made in Chelsea. We talk about serious stuff but it’s funny. It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom.
Ben: I entirely agree. Mental health is a very serious topic and we do go deep but it doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. Matt’s very good at talking about his challenges in a very open and shameless way. Because no-one’s perfect. The more we can normalise it and have these conversations in an open way, people can see they have these problems but it doesn’t have to define them. It’s not about bravado, it’s about more acceptance of who we are.
Matt: We have to find a way to approach the everyman. Luckily we are the everyman! I’m from Caerphilly and Ben is a rugby lad – we know what it is to be a lad and we have a conversation in that tone. This may be a way to get across to those guys. We had on the podcast Jim Hamilton, international rugby player, 6 foot 8, tattoos, massive, alpha, tough as they get and got him talking about how his dad never loved him and how he overcompensates with his kids and gives them so much love, and that’s what matters to him. This shows other men, I don’t care how alpha you are, this guy is more alpha than anyone and he still talks about love and his dad and his relationships and his kids and everything else. These alpha guys are so valuable for us, – go chop wood, grow a beard, have big muscles, be that alpha man but then still have that bit of vulnerability and love.
On the message
Matt: One of the biggest things I’ve learnt over the last ten years is that vulnerability is our biggest strength. Men are trying to find their identity now because our purpose is changing and that’s ok. But what is important is to be able to be vulnerable. One of my greatest strengths is to be vulnerable – you see people like Jim Hamilton being vulnerable with us and get strength from it. You feel solid about it.
Ben: We want to make love compassion and empathy the new cool.
Matt: We want men to realise that is actually being strong. To be compassionate and kind. And to be open and honest. It takes more strength to be like that. It’s much easier to push things down and to pretend to be something you’re not. To be transparent and vulnerable is inner strength and that’s something we can hopefully make guys have.
On masculine learning
Ben: We want to do a special with our fathers to talk about what it was like in their day, because it really was ‘Man Up’ for them. Now we’re in the stage of rebelling against manning up and talking about more about how a man can be both strong and vulnerable. We’re not saying stop being a man, lose the bravado lose the strength, but being vulnerable is about realness, about showing you are accepting you’re not perfect and being OK with that, not having to hide it or wear a mask that protects you from people seeing it. There’s a big movement at the moment and hopefully matt and I can be at the forefront of it because we care about it.
Matt: It’s not about men vs women, it’s about helping people become the best people they can be. Knowing what you want is so important and knowing where you can go is so important. Instead of just being bombarded with someone else’s life being thrown at you on Instagram, if you know what your purpose is, you won’t worry about that so much. If you are in touch with all these emotions it will help you in your life, it will take a weight off your shoulders. Kindness and compassion are one of the greatest things out there – if you can be those two thing you can be a lot in life.
Ben: Being kind is good for your mental health.
On uniting people
Ben: My relations with women have got so much better from my learnings. The relationships I had with women in my 20s were very surface. Now I’m so excited about getting into a new relationship with a woman and seeing the depth of emotion they’ve got and feeling their heart, because that to me is where a real relationship can flourish. I hope we can lead a breed of men who women can really embrace, to actually finally connect and see their husband’s heart, instead of just having to talk to a head for so many years. Matt and I are embracing a better way for men and women to live together and have more authentic relationships together.
Matt: And we’re not just looking at male/female we’re looking at gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, all the people, all the issues, we want to talk to absolutely everybody. It sounds cliched but we’re all in this together and we need to listen to people’s stories to understand. We want to create this wider conversation and not just with podcasts, we want to move forward with books, we’re going to be having our own retreats, our own pop-up festivals where people can come to us or we can go to people to help. This is only the start.
On the triggers to change
Ben: I lived pretty vacuously through my twenties and would have kept living that way had I not had this issue around sex. I was struggling to get much sexual satisfaction if you like, and at the age of 30 I thought I want to have kids at some point and have a fulfilling relationship with women, and I wanted to know what problems I had going on. That led me to working with a life coach. I remember thinking, ‘When are we going to get to the bit about sex?’ And the sex bit never arrived we just talked about how my thinking patterns and mindset. I was becoming more connected and a more inspired human being – I thought this is really transformative, and the disconnected relationships I’m having don’t have to be my future, I’m learning a new way here. I became a coach myself, and a meditation teacher and I learnt all these things that were good for my mindset. I’m of the belief, having gone through that, that our minds can be changed just like our bodies. It’s been the most exciting journey since then.
Matt: In 2009 I got to the tail end of a four year battle with depression and I nearly took my own life in Dec 2009. Luckily I didn’t and since then it’s been a self-exploration for me. I came out publicly about it in 2013, went on This Morning about it, and it was really amazing the feedback was wonderful. From 2013 to the start of this year I’ve been wanting to find a way to help people but I realised I had to help myself first. I did a documentary this year which kicked things off, and when I was talking to people in the documentary and talked to my father about it, it was important to see that now I can talk about it without feeling the pain. But I wanted to do more. So when we decided to do a podcast together everything came together. It wasn’t one moment, more of a sequence of moments that led to this wonderful organic place.
We’re at the end of the year, and I personally can’t think of more exciting way to start 2019. It will be 10 years since my really dark year, so to be doing this is really poignant. It’s an incredibly beautiful thing to be part of.
Ben: We do this with an open heart and an open mind, and who knows where it goes from here.
You can listen to ‘The Naked Professors’ podcast here:
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