We talk to Clive Branson, MND, cancer and mental health speaker.

22nd Jun 2023

Clive Branson, MND, cancer and mental health speaker chats with Jane Farnham, Director of Great British Speakers.

We learn from mental health speaker Clive Branson how we should surrender to our vulnerabilities rather than feel ashamed of them.

Clive Branson, a dedicated mental health speaker, served in the Royal Air Force for three years and later spent seventeen years in the Ministry of Defence specializing in Industrial Relations.

Since 2017, Clive has encountered personal grief, received diagnoses of two life-limiting diseases, and underwent a seven-week period of treatment in a psychiatric hospital.

Clive’s current mission revolves around actively showcasing our capacity to triumph over adversity. Resilience, hope, and positivity are fundamental principles in his life, and he approaches the next chapter with stoicism and a smile.

Now a highly accomplished mental health speaker, Clive candidly shares his personal struggles with both physical and mental health, emphasizing the importance of embracing our vulnerabilities and learning to coexist with them in order to achieve success, rather than feeling ashamed of them.

Contact Great British Speakers today to book mental health speaker Clive Branson for your next event.

Here’s the full transcript of Motor Neurone Disease, Prostrate Cancer & mental health speaker Clive Branson‘s chat with Jane Farnham of Great British Speakers:

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00:00:08:15 – 00:01:02:54
Jane Farnham
Hi, I’m Jane Farnham from Great British Speakers, and I’m here today chatting to the most extraordinary mental health speaker Clive Branson. Now, as you’d expect, areas such as mental health and serious diseases like cancer are something all of us care about. And we’re asked an awful lot with Great British Speakers about those subjects. So to this end, we do have a number of notable medical experts and of course, TV doctors who talk about these subjects in great depth. But Clive is different to all of these people. But who is Clive? Well, he’s like you and I. He could be a brother, you workmates or next door neighbour. Except we’re about to find out why he’s not. Clive has blown us all away with his story and incredible resilience, backed up with hope and a huge amount of compassion. So before we get into the health aspect, Clive, and thanks for joining us today to start off with. It’s really lovely to see you and to meet you properly.

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00:01:03:30 – 00:01:06:34

Clive Branson

Thank you, Jane. Thank you and it’s nice to meet you, too.

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00:01:07:17 – 00:01:14:52
Jane Farnham
So tell us a little bit about your normal, whatever normal is what your normal life was up until, you know, up until a few years ago.

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00:01:16:04 – 00:01:45:21

Clive Branson

Well, if I’ve ever been normal, that would be, that would be a feat in itself. But no I’ve been happily married for 25 years. We have four sons, we have three grandchildren. And I had a successful career within the MOD, within industrial relations. And when I left the MOD, I started up my own health and safety consultancy. So life was busy.

00:01:45:37 – 00:02:01:57

Clive Branson

Life has always been busy. But my wife and I, we worked very hard and family has always been our focus. So we’ve built a home together and we’ve raised our children. So that was the background.

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00:02:02:58 – 00:02:14:45
Jane Farnham
So what happened that was so devastating, is about five years ago. Did you, did you see any build up to what was going to happen? Talk me through what your experience has been.
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00:02:15:46 – 00:02:46:08

Clive Branson

Well, looking back, I think the, the first key moment would have been my dad really Jane. And he, he was very poorly for a number of years with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. So watching that, as anybody else that’s been through that will know it was a very difficult time and then when eventually he passed away, it obviously had a huge impact on me.

00:02:46:22 – 00:03:23:40

Clive Branson

But I remained in top gear. I didn’t grieve. I didn’t even get upset, which is, when I say that out loud, it’s almost bizarre. But the pace of life was such. And, my default position was obviously just to maintain focus, be busy. But that was clearly a key moment. And then the diagnosis for the Motor Neurone Disease would be the next obvious key moment, really, both in terms of…

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00:03:25:35 – 00:03:25:55
Jane Farnham
Your Condition? Okay.

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00:03:26:44 – 00:04:01:21

Clive Branson

That’s right, I had a mild weakness in my left foot periodically, and I just thought it was cramp or maybe a trapped nerve somewhere, but it never concerned me. And I was seeing a neurologist in Birmingham at the time because I was suffering from bad migraines and I just happened to mention this to him. And a long story short, that started a three year, 2 to 3 year period of him tracking my symptoms and I had to go every six months.

00:04:01:21 – 00:04:29:56

Clive Branson

And it became a little frustrating because the symptoms became slightly worse, mildly worse. But I had no answers. But eventually, Jane, he said he thought that I’d got Motor Neurone Disease. He made it perfectly clear that if that was the case, there was no treatment and there was nothing he could do. And he was referring me to Oxford, which is the center of excellence for Motor Neuron Disease for confirmation of that.

And again.

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00:04:31:48 – 00:04:32:49
Jane Farnham
And you were working throughout all of this time?

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00:04:32:51 – 00:04:55:52

Clive Branson

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I just took a couple of hours off. I went to the appointments on my own. I wasn’t expecting any diagnosis at that point and so I was thinking, well, how it is, how do I relate that back to my wife? What do I do? And I thought, Well, well, we’ll just wait until we go to Oxford because I might not have Motor Neuron Disease.

00:04:55:52 – 00:05:19:26

Clive Branson

And what is Motor Neuron Disease? If I’m honest, I could only ever think of Stephen Hawking. That was as much as my, my, my awareness was really. So we went to Oxford and within, within a couple of weeks of that appointment, and they did some very simple tests and they confirmed that I’ve got a slowly progressive Motor Neuron Disease.

00:05:19:58 – 00:05:42:56

Clive Branson

And again, I don’t want to martyr myself here Jane, but I was absolutely terrified of how this would impact my wife and my children. I couldn’t, I just thought, well, am I going to become a burden? And the financial implications, how, how are we going to cope? What position am I going to leave them in?

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00:05:42:56 – 00:06:02:24
Jane Farnham
Well, of course, because if your only relation to this is Stephen Hawking, if that’s all you can think about and you think if that’s the worst case scenario. Right. And how people, but some people I suppose, can live with it and it’s different levels of any illness. So there must have been a lot going around in your head at that time.

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00:06:02:24 – 00:06:31:33

Clive Branson

Yeah. Yeah. That, there really was. And then obviously in my, in my wife and my children’s as well. So, so, I carried on, you know, again only in top gear and then things started to crumble. I became incredibly anxious to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed. I was terrified of the outside world and I was terrified.

00:06:31:33 – 00:06:44:58

Clive Branson

I mean, if, if the wind was blowing, I thought that the roof, I could imagine the roof was coming off the house. I certainly couldn’t go to the supermarket. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t take my children to school, my youngest to school.

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00:06:45:34 – 00:06:51:43
Jane Farnham
Did it happen very quickly, or was there, was there a period of years that, that got gradually worse?

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00:06:52:26 – 00:07:19:15

Clive Branson

It obviously did get worse. But when it really hit me and stopped me in my tracks, I have to say it was quite quick, you know, it was quite quick. And I was in the office, I was working and I just, I can remember just being on the floor in the office and somebody there obviously tried to ring me, they came to the office.

00:07:19:15 – 00:07:46:06

Clive Branson

They may they had a number for my wife Vicky. So they rang her,and I went and I got home and I never recovered from that point. That was the breaking point, and I had a number of, the crisis team were called and at various, various points they came to see me and they tried to help. But the fear and my terror of the outside world just got worse.

00:07:46:31 – 00:08:19:28

Clive Branson

I mean, I just could not function at all. And I couldn’t articulate anything to the point where I was taken into a psychiatric hospital. And again, that’s a huge key moment in the story because, you know, it was, it was an incredibly difficult time. And I ended up having seven weeks in two hospitals, one in Shrewsbury and one in Tamworth.

00:08:19:28 – 00:08:44:56

Clive Branson

And looking back, I just have no idea how my wife held it together, you know, kept the family together, visited me, protected our youngest from everything, although he’d seen and heard too much. I just don’t know how she did it. I just don’t know how she did it. Because every time she came to see me, she was buoyant, she was full of stories, she was full of humour.

00:08:45:23 – 00:09:11:22

Clive Branson

And then she must have got back to the car and burst into tears. I don’t know. So I have to say, Jane, my wife’s a force of nature, and she’s absolutely fundamental to any success I’ve had. I’ve known her since we were 14. So. Yeah, so so so the psychiatric hospital was, was a huge, huge difficult period for everybody.

00:09:11:22 – 00:09:32:54

Clive Branson

And when I came home, I had to almost find myself again. I had no identity. I’d obviously lost my income, but I’d lost my position in the family, and I was no longer the big, loud dad, you know, telling everybody what to do and going out and doing the normal things. I was lost and I felt like I was a real burden.

00:09:32:54 – 00:09:57:57

Clive Branson

And I had counselling for a period of time and it helped Jane, but it didn’t really, I had to find myself. I had to find, very, very slowly and very surely I had to find the ability to have the confidence to take the dog out for a walk or.

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00:09:58:04 – 00:10:20:40
Jane Farnham
Sorry to interrupt, Clive. Would you say that as much as people can try to understand that painful process of healing, do you think unless you’ve experienced it, to truly comprehend, the how difficult it is to heal yourself and what a long journey it is?

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00:10:21:37 – 00:10:42:46

Clive Branson

I think there is an element of truth in that, Jane. I’ve been, I hear some people say you need to have lived the message to deliver the message. And I kind of signed up to that because whilst there are an awful lot of people, certainly a lot cleverer than me that can explain why these things happen and the best ways to get yourself out of it.

00:10:43:21 – 00:11:09:30

Clive Branson

There is no way I can relay, accurately exactly how that journey impacts me as Clive Branson. I got, I don’t think there’s those words in the in the English language to articulate that correctly. It was a it really was a difficult time and it took a long time, very, very slowly for me to come out of that period.

00:11:09:34 – 00:11:51:25

Clive Branson

I mean, suicide is an incredibly difficult topic to talk about for obvious reasons. But I, I didn’t try and commit suicide, but I was definitely suicidal. I was absolutely convinced while I was in that hospital, totally convinced that my loved ones would now, would now be far better off without me. Far better off, you know, the burden that I felt I was putting on them and moving forward in the future, I thought, well, you know, they would be far better off without me.

00:11:51:25 – 00:12:18:59

Clive Branson

And that it sounds really corny to say, but I was the last person you would ever think would be in that position. I’ve got, I’ve got red hair, just, and a big mouth. And I’ve always had confidence. I’ve always been front of the queue for something to say. So for me to be terrified of the world and convinced that I shouldn’t be here, I wasn’t a candidate for that.

00:12:19:19 – 00:12:20:33

Clive Branson

But it just goes to show.

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00:12:21:07 – 00:12:45:19
Jane Farnham
Yeah, and it goes to show that, you know, it can happen to anybody. And, some of the strongest are the best at hiding it I think sometimes. Very true. It’s double check. You know, making sure that you check in on those friends who may be alone and come across as very strong and together. Especially with what’s happened in the last couple of years. But from what I understand, you know, Clive, that’s not the end of the story, is it?

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00:12:46:12 – 00:13:19:33

Clive Branson

No it’s not. No, it’s not. As, as I was rebuilding a life and my confidence grew. I was hearing a lot of the adverts, when I was 48, 49, and there was talking about prostate cancer and every guy should whether you’ve got symptoms or not, it’s a simple blood test. You should have your prostate checked. I was giving blood regularly because of the MND. I asked the GP if he would include that test in the next round of blood tests, which he did.

00:13:20:11 – 00:13:49:46

Clive Branson

And my PSA count was just, only just over. But the computer triggered something the doctor told both myself and my wife, Look, don’t worry, but I have to refer you now. I was referred, I had an MRI scan, had a follow up appointment to say you’ve got prostate cancer and the cancer is on both sides of the prostate. My initial reaction was right, there must be surgery to take the prostate out.

00:13:50:33 – 00:14:05:31

Clive Branson

And again, long story short, we met with a consultant in Stoke who was just an incredible guy. So compassionate. And after all these investigations, and with the MND, he said, I can’t do the surgery Clive. And.

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00:14:06:07 – 00:14:07:21
Jane Farnham
Why not?

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00:14:07:21 – 00:14:40:35

Clive Branson

Nobody, nobody within in MND world had advised him because they said that the muscles, because it’s a big operation, it’s a bigger operation than I, that I thought. So when he explained the operation and the potential damage to your bladder, etc., the MND experts at Oxford said I couldn’t have the operation because my muscles wouldn’t recover and I would definitely be incontinent, but I could lose, possibly the use of my legs.

00:14:41:15 – 00:14:41:34

Clive Branson

You know.

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00:14:42:39 – 00:14:47:07
Jane Farnham
There must have been so much going through your head at that stage. So yeah. What did you do?

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00:14:47:07 – 00:15:19:12

Clive Branson

Well, I because of, because of the skill and the compassion and the experience of the consultant at the time it made it made me accepting that so much easier. You know, I totally understood and my wife totally understood that you are where you are. It’s just not an option. And so I have blood tests every three months and I have biopsies every 12 months.

00:15:20:25 – 00:15:43:49

Clive Branson

So the last biopsy before October time said that it’s grown slightly, but it’s not aggressive. So we’ll roll on for another 12 months. But again, it was, it was just, how am I going to go back and tell my wife this? Well, you know, it’s almost like really?

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00:15:45:34 – 00:15:46:15
Jane Farnham
A catalogue of errors…

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00:15:46:31 – 00:16:14:56

Clive Branson

Yeah, yeah. And in between. In between. Sorry, in between times. My, my wife lost her father to lung cancer, and he lived literally down the street from us. And I had, I enjoyed an amazing relationship with Carl. He was a real character. So she was propping me up and losing her father. So it was a, it was horrendous, and then.

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00:16:14:56 – 00:16:37:10
Jane Farnham
It sounds like you had every reason with your strong family unit to, you know, to fight and to be the person you are today. So tell me who you are today. Oh, and how, so, you’ve, you, you obviously monitoring the cancer the MND is being monitored as well, I would imagine.

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00:16:37:28 – 00:16:37:48

Clive Branson

Yep, it is.

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00:16:38:07 – 00:16:41:09
Jane Farnham
Mentally how were you, where are you now?

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00:16:41:09 – 00:17:05:02

Clive Branson

Well, I have to say that I’m, I’m lucky enough to be aware on a daily basis that my wife and my children, my grandchildren and everybody around me deserve to have the very best version of me. And they’ve all been there for me and continue to be there for me. And I am absolutely determined to be the very best version of me.

00:17:05:02 – 00:17:28:28

Clive Branson

And I think talking about it, but this is a new stage for me, talking about it. It helps. I think it, I think it’s, a it’s a bad decision to make these things taboo. I think it makes it harder to cope with it mentally. Unless, if you can talk about it and you can share your experiences, I think it helps.

00:17:28:53 – 00:17:30:35

Clive Branson

So I’m in a good place, Jane.

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00:17:30:35 – 00:18:04:35
Jane Farnham
Good. I’m really glad to hear that. After all you’ve been through, that’s really, you know, warms my heart. So, so tell me, how then did, you obviously say it’s it helps to talk. I’m exactly the same, I find talking completely cathartic when I’ve got woes and issues and I can’t even compare my, my, my minor issues to what you’ve been through. But, you know, it helps to talk. I find it really cathartic. It really helps just to kind of get it out. So is that why you’ve kind of moved into speaking and how, how did that happen?

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00:18:05:47 – 00:18:35:16

Clive Branson

Well, if I’m honest, I was thinking about, how can I move forward now? How can I maintain this positive mindset? And I realized that sharing my experiences and talking about it, they don’t just help me, but they have the potential to help others. You know, I found reserves within, within me that I would never, ever have imagined I got and I had to draw on all of them.

00:18:35:56 – 00:19:06:09

Clive Branson

I, whether that be consciously or subconsciously, and I can actively demonstrate to people that we do have the ability to overcome adversity. You know, everybody’s different, everybody’s circumstances are different. And I totally understand that. But with certain coping mechanisms that I’ve learnt and the experiences that I’ve been through, sharing my story in a positive way, I think could help others so that I feel compelled to do that.

00:19:06:25 – 00:19:09:32

Clive Branson

And that’s what led me into the field of speaking.

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00:19:09:32 – 00:19:21:45
Jane Farnham
So tell me about your speaking engagements to date. What really, what do you really get a buzz out of and have you seen any real tangible positives that have come away when you’re talking to an audience?

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00:19:22:26 – 00:19:49:28

Clive Branson

Yes, I have, because a good example of that is there’s a, there’s a large agricultural university quite close to us. And I offered my services to them because they have a, the mental health issues, are challenging in that university because a lot of the students and the staff come from sort of isolated areas. They’re all working away from home, they’re under pressure, etc.

00:19:49:53 – 00:20:17:04

Clive Branson

So I spoke to the HR people there and I was so welcomed, and the idea that I could go there and, and help share my experiences, mentor some of the students and they have me talking to all sorts of people from sports teams to staff within HR. And it, and it bounces, the positivity bounces right back to me.

00:20:18:10 – 00:20:20:52

Clive Branson

So I really really take a lot from that.

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00:20:21:46 – 00:20:44:45
Jane Farnham
I see that. I can see that. And you know, it’s a truly inspirational story that you’ve got. Clive, thank you so much for joining us today. I know it’s been really powerful listening to your journey and I’m so glad that you’re on the road to full recovery and with the help of your amazing wife and family, they sound amazing.

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00:20:45:10 – 00:20:53:00

Clive Branson

Oh, they really are. They really are. They, you know, it’s when it goes quiet, I know something’s wrong, Jane. 

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00:20:53:52 – 00:21:35:02
Jane Farnham
I get that – it’s like having kids here. Yeah. Well, thank you so much for your time. And of course, if you would like to book mental health speaker Clive to chat to your audience, your employees who might be struggling with everything that’s happened in the world over the last two years. And it seems that major events are still continuing. So if you feel that you would benefit from a truly inspirational story from the heart and it would help your audience, then simply contact myself or Steve at Great British Speakers on 01753439289 or you can email bookings at bookings@greatbritishtalent.com.
Clive, thank you once again and best of luck for the future.

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00:21:35:02 – 00:21:36:37
Clive Branson
Thank you very much, Jane. Thank you.

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Clive Branson, mental health speaker at Great British Speakers

Clive Branson, mental health speaker at Great British Speakers

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