Alex Beresford on his mental health documentary Black Boys Can Cry and that Piers Morgan row: ‘I was trolled so much in that period’

Alex Beresford (ITV)
Alex Beresford (ITV)

For a brief moment, Alex Beresford was everywhere. Not because the ITV weatherman was beaming into the nation’s living rooms every morning. But because he suddenly found himself embroiled in an international controversy for having had the temerity, while live on air, to take Piers Morgan to task over his treatment of Meghan Markle.

This fall-out, over Morgan saying he didn’t believe that Markle was being truthful when she said she had felt suicidal, led to the former Good Morning Britain anchor storming off the set in a petulant huff. It’s a moment that made headlines from London to LA, and inadvertently raised Beresford’s profile higher than ever.

The row came just months after Beresford had lost his close friend to suicide – a loss that has inspired him to make a new ITV documentary about mental health, Black Boys Can Cry. When I ask Beresford whether his friend’s death played a part in his defence of Markle, he speaks cautiously on the topic. “As a television presenter, obviously you have your own life experience as well,” the 42-year-old tells me over the phone. “When you are on camera, and when you are asked to speak about serious subjects like suicide, and you’ve had your own experiences with that, it’s hard to not draw on those experiences when you enter into conversations on that particular subject.”

Beresford locking horns with Morgan on-air, and Morgan’s subsequent exit from ITV, resulted in the weatherman being thrown under an unanticipated spotlight. For all the support that Beresford received for his handling of the conversation around racism and mental health, he was also subject to heavy trolling from those who took issue with his stance. At one point, Beresford received daily harassment from one anonymous social media user, who would send a negative message every time he’d appear on screen. More than two years later, he can easily recall how it felt.

“When you share your experience, or give your opinion on something – and I’ve become very aware of this – someone’s always going to have something to say,” Beresford says. “If people disagree with you, that’s absolutely OK; everyone is entitled to their opinion. But throughout social media, you are susceptible to being trolled, racially abused. You’re accessible. During that period, I absolutely felt it. There was obviously lots of positivity, but also that element of being trolled. I actually logged out of my social media, just to focus on myself. Otherwise, it’s endless. Where does it stop?”

Today Beresford is glad to report that he’s in a much better place. “For a long time, I don’t feel as though I’ve had to pretend to be happy,” he says. “Genuinely, I feel really happy at the moment. Part of that happiness is kind of going through everything that’s happened over the last couple of years.” He credits his “big Guyanese family” as being a part of his support system, as well as his wife, Imogen, with whom he celebrated one year of marriage in September. “She is so level-headed; I can lean on her, and she can lean on me. We have good, open conversations.”

He’s also happier because he’s spending less time online. “If someone replies to my tweet, I read it and move on,” he says. “I’m kind of numb to it now – and I don’t know if that’s a good thing, that you have to go through that to get to where the words don’t hit you the way they used to.”

You wanted to appear tough, be strong, we had to ‘man up’

Beresford was moved to make Black Boys Can Cry after his friend Martin Walker died in 2020, 18 months after attempting suicide. After the attempt, Walker – also known throughout Bristol by his rapper stage name, Sirplus – incurred a hypoxic brain injury and died a year-and-a-half later. Having grown up with Walker and his brothers, Leon and Marvin, Beresford was rocked by the loss of his close friend. “Martin passing was obviously quite a moment in our lives; I say our lives, because our families are very close,” he tells me. “His brother Leon is also my best friend. To watch people close to you also go through those kinds of things, you want to scoop them up and help them. But it’s a real journey that we’ve been on. We’re still on it.”

So when the opportunity came along, to bring stories of Black men’s mental health struggles to light, Beresford felt compelled to be a part of it. In Black Boys Can Cry, Beresford meets several Black men from across the country who have experienced mental health struggles. Shocking statistics reinforce a glaring disparity in mental health diagnoses; it’s revealed that Black men are the most likely demographic to be diagnosed with a serious mental health issue and five times more likely than others to be sectioned. Early on in the film, we meet the rap artist Shocka, who speaks openly of the experience of being sectioned four times after a professional disappointment led to a drastic decline in his mental health.

Alex Beresford and rap artist Shocka (ITV)
Alex Beresford and rap artist Shocka (ITV)

On camera, it’s clear that Beresford’s conversation with Shocka is a moment that touched him deeply. “I see similarities between Shocka and Martin,” he says in the film. His voice thick with choked-back tears, he continues, “I think about how I have to watch my best friend go through his life, now, without his brother.” Showing vulnerability on screen didn’t come easy. “One of the reasons the film is called Black Boys Can Cry is because growing up, me and my friends were told that we can’t,” he tells me. “You wanted to appear tough, be strong, we had to ‘man up’. Sometimes you get caught up in playing into a perception of what Black men are supposed to be. When you want to cry, you don’t.”

Despite this, Beresford has been a frequent advocate for mental wellness. He features as a part of ITV’s Britain Get Talking initiatives, the network’s scheme encouraging people to express their feelings more openly, and notes his exercise habit as being a key component of keeping a healthy mind.

Beresford hopes that Black Boys Can Cry will help to reverse any ideas that “real” Black men don’t or can’t show vulnerability. “I remember being in the barbershop when I was younger, and one man was giving a kind of sermon, holding court with this stuff about being a Black man,” he recalls. “One thing he said to me was, ‘You mustn’t cry. You mustn’t cry.’ I remember those words. They resonated, and I took that on.”

But with the participation of younger Black men, like rapper Shocka, who are being frank about their struggles, Beresford hopes that the film will reach the people who need it most, and help them to feel less alone. “It takes a lot to say, ‘Hey, I’m going through something and I need help,’” he says. “But once you’ve said it, it becomes a lot easier. The visual, of seeing these Black men being vulnerable, is actually going to become a sign of strength.”

‘Black Boys Can Cry’ launches on ITVX on 1 October, and airs on ITV1 on 8 October at 10.45pm