Jools Holland: ‘People lose their sense of purpose when they leave the Armed Forces’
An international rock ‘n’ roll star, television presenter, and session musician who has worked with Sting, Eric Clapton, Bono and various Beatles, Jools Holland OBE is a man who knows a thing or two about confidence.
“RBLI is about giving disadvantaged Armed Forces veterans some confidence,” he says when asked why he decided to become a patron of Royal British Legion Industries, one of the four charities being supported by the Telegraph’s annual Christmas Charity Appeal. “People who are confident are generally more successful – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; they’re confident because they’ve experienced some success in what they’re doing.”
Despite having no military background himself, Holland is an honorary colonel of the Royal Engineers regiment and deputy lieutenant (a ceremonial role which essentially involves acting as a representative for the Royal family) in his native Kent, and has become active in supporting the Armed Forces in the county.
“In my role with the Royal Engineers, I visited rehabilitation centres which specialise in helping Armed Forces personnel who’ve undergone traumatic injuries,” he explains. “What I was always struck by was the amount of people who were having to think about what would come next in their lives. They’d done these amazing things on the battlefield but hadn’t had the same success in the civilian world – they lacked confidence and sometimes felt they weren’t sure what they were supposed to be doing with themselves.”
It was this realisation in 2022 that led Holland to the RBLI and Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Co, a social initiative offering work to veterans manufacturing signage for roads and railways.
“A lot of ex-service people have a very positive attitude and just need a little bit of support,” says Holland. “When they’re not in the Armed Forces anymore, people can lose their sense of purpose – just like anyone else. Once you’re not doing a job, especially when that job is your whole life, like the Army is, it’s disorientating and that can lead to mental health crises. If you give people the chance to contribute to work then they have a purpose. It’s a lot easier to get up every morning when you have a reason to.”
Work, Holland believes, has a natural way of giving people problems to solve, questions to answer, things to take control over. “Thinking about something else and diverting the mind away from distractions allows you to refresh yourself and go back to what you do best with a better mindset.”
For Holland, that wellbeing was found in his beloved model railway layout. “I was working on a record with Rod Stewart who has one of the biggest model railway layouts there is,” enthuses Holland.
“He said to me, in the way a guru might say to a young disciple; if you enjoy having one, having a bigger one will give you proportionally much more pleasure – and he was right. Just like how RBLI offers these opportunities to veterans, I’ve found real pleasure in that you’re solving different problems. You’ve got orbital roads to build, one-way systems to figure out, stations to fit in, social housing to build, grand houses to build, mountains to move, woodlands to place. It’s a small thing but it helps.”
The old adage is that it takes a village to raise a child, but the lesson that Holland has learned through his various bits of charity work over the years is that often it takes a village to raise any of us. “It’s not just a child who needs it, everyone needs it,” he says.
“Particularly those who’ve left the village, gone away and been in horrid circumstances or have been traumatised by war or even left the Army and things haven’t worked out – suddenly you’re disconnected from everything and the community you’ve grown used to is gone. I think it’s simple things that are the important bits which will help lay the building blocks of reclaiming some form of routine.”
It’s for this reason that he was particularly inspired by his visit to the RBLI village in Aylesford, Kent, which offers accommodation to disadvantaged veterans and their families in addition to work.
“It’s not just a place where you go to work and then go home again,” he explains. “It’s all well and good getting people to work, but if they go home again and they’re left alone at night, that doesn’t help much either. That wasn’t the case there because everyone finishes work and walks home together. There’s a real community spirit.”
By evoking a spirit of neighbourliness among residents, the village continues to help residents avoid feeling isolated. “It’s simply talking to a neighbour or saying good morning to people as they go out to get the paper,” Holland says. To the majority, these might sound like small things, but the hope is that it can provide an important foundation to people’s recovery and journey towards mental good health.
It’s all about giving people a chance to prove themselves. “Meeting people who’ve given me a chance and been open to ideas has changed my life, and I’ve been lucky in that,” says Holland. “But other people can find what they love to do too. It’s all about giving them chances. Those small things like low self-esteem, low confidence, isolation, can build into bigger and bigger problems; however, if people are given a chance to prove themselves those things get eroded away. The RBLI breaks those cycles in a lot of different ways.”
RBLI is one of four charities supported by this year’s Telegraph Christmas Charity Appeal. The others are Age UK, Macmillan Cancer Support and Action for Children. To make a donation, please visit telegraph.co.uk/2022appeal or call 0151 284 1927