Joey Essex On His Powerful New Documentary, Grief And Me

The TOWIE star opens up to Grazia about losing his mum at 10, and explains why men find it harder to speak about their problems.

joey essex

by Bonnie McLaren |
Updated on

We all might think we know Joey Essex, the boy who shot to fame on The Only Way Is Essex for wearing watches around his ankles and saying ‘reem’. But his funny antics and light-hearted personality were only what we saw on TV. As he became a household name in his early 20s, Joey was continuing to struggle with the death of his mother, Tina, who tragically took her own life when he was ten years old.

But, as he thought about turning 30, Joey finally wanted to get help. Despite rarely talking about his mum, he bravely made the decision to seek professional help from a therapist. It was filmed for the BBC documentary, Joey Essex: Grief and Me, which offers a candid insight into how his mother’s passing impacted his whole family. The documentary also shows Joey making steps like visiting the house he lived in with his mum, and watching old home movies. Something he previously would never have done.

The night before he meets his therapist - who he is still seeing weekly - Joey had a panic attack. In the past, he has ended up in hospital due to them - and while Joey can cope with them better now, that’s because, over the past few years, he’s learnt coping mechanisms. ‘I'm so glad I actually opened up about that on the documentary,’ he tells Grazia. ‘If I didn't get that panic attack, I probably wouldn’t have spoken about it.’ Because of his fame, when Joey has had panic attacks in public his friends have tried to hide him, with Joey telling us his mates have hidden him under a towel before on holiday.

It’s only now that Joey has felt ready to deal with his trauma, with the reality star telling Grazia that he only really started to speak about his mum three years ago. ‘It’s not something I ever wanted to do, it just gradually happened,’ he says, talking about the documentary. ‘If you’d have asked me four, five years ago - I was getting offers of doing this doc - it would have been “Nah, move on”. My managers have notified me before and I’ve turned it down.’

Recently, there has been a boom in celebrity-led documentaries - covering topics from racism (Leigh-Anne Pinnock{ =nofollow}’s, Race, Pop and Power) to revenge porn (Love Island’s Zara McDermott) to bullying and body image (Jesy Nelson's Odd One Out). In fact, these stories resonate so strongly with viewers the National Television Awards have added a category for Authored Documentary. ‘I feel like, with celebrities, people only see what they want to see; there’s the glamour, the money, the celeb lifestyle,’ he says. ‘No one sees what’s really going on. And we’re all human - we’ve got feelings and shit we deal with. That’s why I say you have to be kind in life. And I feel these show are often opportunities for people to see what is really going on in their life.’

Along with cousin Chloe Sims, Joey’s sister - Frankie - also takes part in the programme. Unlike Joey, who has always struggled to speak about his mum, Frankie is the polar opposite. She’s always spoken about Tina to her friends, and has photos of her up in her house. Joey, on the other hand, had to be convinced to put a family portrait in his Chigwell mansion. In the show, Frankie points out that her brother has probably had more difficulty opening up because of gender stereotypes. Does Joey think this is right? ‘In my family, that’s definitely correct,’ he says. 'None of the men in my family talk about it, whereas my nan and my sister are quite open about it. I mean, I’m an example, I’ve not spoken about it for 20 years.’

‘I guess it was because my sister was correct: like she said in the documentary, men have got this persona about them, and try and say “Yeah, I’m tough”,’ he adds. ‘That's been my mentality ever since I was a child. I’ve always said to myself “You’re tough, nothing’s ever going to hurt you.” But I’ve gone through the most painful experience of my life, nothing is ever going to put me through that much pain. So why would I want to talk about it, when I was thinking “I’m tough, I don’t need to talk about it"?' he asks.

In Grief and Me, Joey speaks openly about his desire for a family, which, ultimately, he thinks will make him content. But he says the other thing which will ‘put a smile on [his] face’ is if this helps anybody - particularly men, who might struggle opening up - going through something similar. Because Joey didn’t have access to that.

‘When I was in school, I was playing Snake on my Nokia, I wasn’t on Instagram, looking at some guy who’s going through the same experience as me,’ he says. ‘Back then, there was no help. Nowadays there is, but people still find it hard to take that step - whether you’ve been dealing with it for two months, two years or, like me, 20 years, it’s still a very painful thing to do. One way to fill the gap of happiness in my life would be to have kids and a family, but if me talking so openly and doing this documentary can save lives, help families, help children, then that will put a smile on my face. And that will create happiness in my life.’

Joey Essex: Grief and Me will be ­available on BBC iPlayer from 6am on June 3 and air on BBC One at 9pm.

READ MORE: 10 Years On, A Look Back At TOWIE's Most Iconic Moments

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