“I want to do whatever it’s going to take to stop suicide being the number one killer of men under 40 in this country,” says actor and comedian Rufus Hound. “This year I lost a very close friend to a disease – mental illness. It’s tough coming to terms with it because I’m of that generation where the idea of being depressed still attracts a response of: ‘Go to the pub, have a few drinks and you’ll feel better in the morning. Pull yourself together’.”
“Even though my friend would talk openly about suicide and he would be incredibly lucid about what a stupid idea he thought it was, that still wasn’t enough. In that long, dark, tea-time of the soul, there he was – he just felt like there was nothing to keep him going and he took his own life.”
Yesterday, Hound took part in the annual Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride (DGR), an annual vintage motorbike ride that takes place around the world, to raise awareness of men’s mental health and prostate cancer. It was his fourth DGR and he spoke proudly about joining over a thousand other riders in London to wear ‘dapper’ dress and enjoy a circuit that took in the Olympic Park, Tower Bridge, Westminster, and Whitechapel. “These campaigns aim to encourage men to find help when their world has crumbled,” said Hound at the end of the ride. “I don’t have any specific answers as to how to solve this problem, but I believe we should spend time and money working out how to end this scourge that is wreaking lives. Every suicide is a pebble in a pond and the shockwaves ripple through countless many other lives, as I’ve discovered myself this year.”
Now in its fifth year, the DGR aims to raise £3.7 million whilst breaking stereotypes and getting men talking about their health on a global scale. Yesterday, more than 70,000 riders took part around the world, revving their way through 95 countries and 600-plus cities on vintage-styled motorcycles. Tweed and waxed moustaches were everywhere to be seen at the event, which was was inspired by a photo of Mad Men’s Don Draper astride a classic bike, wearing his finest suit.
“Whilst it’s aimed at men’s charities, the maleness here is not exclusionary,” insists Hound. “There are hundreds of women either riding pillion or riding their own bikes. It’s welcoming and open … but at the same time it does smell somewhat of motor oil!”
“In the past people would have been put off by the old values associated with motorbike culture – of gangs, drinking, punch-ups and very manly manliness of the old kind. But there’s a modern aesthetic right now to do with making old things functional and brilliant and beautiful and I think a lot of people have been drawn to motorcycling because of a love of bikes and hanging out with other blokes.”
“In a world where Robert Webb is producing a treatise on modern manhood and men are being asked what it means to be a man in light of a fairer society and women are saying they won’t put up with the same old bulls*** (and rightly so), it’s hard to know what maleness you are trying to promote.”
Hound rode a Triumph Street Scrambler for this year's DGR. He says he became an ambassador for the British bike maker after an appearance on the X-Factor. “I was at the Little Mix final show and whilst everyone else was fawning over the celebrities there I was fascinated by the Triumph bikes being used to take the winning band on to the stage,” he explains. “I got talking to the people who look after them and I’ve been lucky enough to represent Triumph ever since.”
“I saw some footage of the first DGR taking place in Australia on Twitter and I thought it looked amazing! I retweeted it saying how I wished they’d hold a ride like this in Britain … about 30 people immediately tweeted me back saying ‘we do you moron’! That’s how I got involved.”
For Hound, this year’s event – a precursor to the global Movember campaign in November – held particular significance because of its focus on depression. However, he's keen to emphasise that we need to promote an all-round awareness of men’s health issues. “My life has been enormously affected by someone choosing to end their own. I’m very aware of the impact it can have, but equally most of the people I love die of cancer. I feel it’s vital to raise awareness for male cancers too - especially with so many of us men still being of the school that thinks ‘Oh I’m sure it will be fine’.
"Both causes deserve equal respect and support.”
For more information and to help change the face of men’s health, visit Movember.com