Wyatt Wendels Road 2 Rockstock 2 - Winter 2019

You may be surprised to learn that every year 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem. A really sad fact is that there are about 6,000 suicides in the UK each year and it’s the biggest killer of men up to the age of 49. Often described as hidden illnesses, mental health problems have generally not been understood by the public and this has resulted in stigma and discrimination. However, it’s promising to see that attitudes are starting to change. This is of course hugely welcomed news but there is no room for complacency. It’s so important that anyone who may be suffering is able to reach out to someone. That someone could be you. If it is, please listen without making judgements, ask them what would help, reassure and signpost to practical help or resources such as a mental health organisation. One such organisation is Mind who offer information and advice to people with mental health problems. It also works to raise public awareness and understanding of issues relating to mental health. However, to provide these important services and meet the increasing demand they need funding. And this is what brings us to one of the most important Rock Today articles we’ve ever produced. This is a feature which focuses on how the vision and determination of one man can move mountains. Planet Rock DJ Wyatt Wendels is known for his work to create awareness around mental health problems and the inspirational endurance events he has undertaken to raise funds to help those in need. These events have included cycling 1000 miles in 1 week as part of 2016’s Road To Rockstock and also running the London Marathon in 2018. This year, Wyatt is undertaking an event where people are questioning if it’s even possible. On Friday 22nd November, he begins Road 2 Rockstock 2: a 2,000 mile cycle around the UK in 2 weeks where Wyatt will also visit 15 venues in 15 days. It doesn’t end there though. He has also brought together his rock star friends as the Planet Rock Allstars to record a charity single, You’re The Voice, a rocked up version of John Farnham’s 1986 hit. We catch up with Wyatt in the days before the cycle ride begins to discuss how everything is coming together…

Creating awareness of mental health issues is something you have been passionate about for many years.  What was it that made you connect with this hugely important issue so powerfully?

It’s the obvious connection. It’s personal experience because I truly believe you can’t fake something like this. It’s very easy to pay lip service to certain charities. It’s very easy to say ‘this is a good thing’. It’s a lot more difficult to become less superficial and more involved because with all due respect to all people who aren’t necessarily involved with charity from a personal point of view, you can’t delve into it personally if you don’t have a personal experience. That’s why this makes a difference for me because I have been affected with mental health issues and the struggles and the darkness. So it’s easy for me to relate to it, so I know exactly what this is like, but to be able to express that to others who might have been, or may be in the same position as me, and therefore take it forward. To relate, empathise and say ‘I’ve been there, I know what it’s like, this is what happened, these are the kind of things that can happen, but it’s not the end, it’s not all doom and gloom, we can strive and find our way out’. Without it sounding too contrived or too martyr-ish I wanted to say ‘I’ve been there, this is what can work and what worked for me, and hopefully it will work for you’.

After the huge success in 2016 of your 1000 mile Road to Rockstock cycle in one week, where you raised over £70,000, you are now doing something quite incredible, and never has the phrase ‘doubling your efforts’ been more appropriate! Firstly, from Friday 22nd November you will be setting off from the Planet Rock studios in London to cycle 2,000 miles in 2 weeks, averaging 135 miles a day. With just a few days to go, how are you feeling and what sort of things are going through your mind at this time? 

Well to be honest, I was just saying earlier today, what kind of fool would try and arrange such a massive event and try recording and releasing a single on exactly the same week as this event because in all honesty I’m all consumed, rightly or wrongly, with finishing off the single and getting all that in order. To be completely honest it’s been to the detriment of my training schedule. I haven’t trained anywhere near as much as I should. There have been some health issues I’ve alluded to before. I’ve had some long-term stomach issues with bacterial infections that weren’t diagnosed for a long time. The treatment of it has not been particularly pleasant. The tablets I’ve had to take have just wiped me out. On one hand I’m really relaxed, because it’s not my first rodeo. I’ve done a lot of big events before. On the other hand I’m thinking I’m sort of second-guessing myself. I’m thinking am I too relaxed? Am I not taking this seriously enough? The truth is, and I’m being honest about it - I’ve deliberately been very honest with myself and others, I’m not trying to kid myself - I am undercooked. I am not trained enough. It doesn’t mean I can’t do it! It doesn’t mean I won’t do it! But I’m nowhere near the levels of fitness and physical condition that I was in 2015/2016 and it’s helped me being honest with myself about that because I know that I’m not bluffing. I’m not lying to myself. I’m not doing anything that I think a lot of people do at some point in their life where if you keep telling yourself the lie long enough you start believing it. When it all starts to unravel, it’s like ‘Oh, what’s happened here?’. This is the toughest challenge of my life! Without a shadow of a doubt in terms of an event! Physically and mentally it’s into areas I’ve never been close to in my life. The most miles I’ve ever done in my life is 1,000 miles. I’ve never ridden more than 1,000 miles in any event so to then double it with nothing in between is, even for me, monumental.         

What you have just described reinforces the fact that this is an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Tell me about the thought process you had when you came to decide to do this. Were you thinking ‘it has to be bigger than 2016’? 

That was exactly it. I said, and I very cleverly and clearly worded it this way in 2016, that I’m never doing this again. And what I was saying at the time when I finished in December 2016, I was never going to do 1,000 miles in a week ever again. That was a one time deal. But what I wasn’t saying was that I wasn’t going to do an endurance event ever again. Everything I’ve said I would or I wouldn’t do I’ve stuck to. I said I wouldn’t do anything in 2017 – I took that off. I ran the marathon in 2018, because I’d never done that and I thought that would be a good challenge and I raised some more money for mental health charities. I then spent a bit of time earlier this year, and to be honest it came together earlier in the summer. I’d love to tell you about how it’s been brilliantly organised over a year and how loads of people have diligently gone over things for hours on end but it came together really quickly. Over the summer of this year and for a couple of days I thought ‘well, what do I do?’. It was just the most obvious thing! I’ve got the infrastructure there, the concept and template of one week and 1,000 miles – what else could I do? The answer was just staring me in the face: just change the alliteration! One thousand miles, one week to two thousand miles, 2 weeks. Just up the amount of venues, same principle, same structure and just get on with it so to speak! So I got planning and that’s pretty much where I’ve got up to now in November.

Now you’ve mentioned visiting venues along the way. You’re going to 15 venues in 15 days. Is there anywhere in particular you are looking forward to visiting?

I’ve always had, and I always go there every year even if it’s just for a weekend, a love affair with Scotland. I love it there. My family are from there and I’m more Scottish than people realise. I went there in 2016 but this time I’m going to be there for nearly a week. It’s going to be brutal weather! I’m going to the highlands. I saw a photo of the highlands today and the snow looks beautiful. I’ve no idea what it will be like to ride a bike in it. I am looking forward to going back to Edinburgh. I love Edinburgh. I’ve never been to the Glasgow Barrowlands. I went to King Tuts in 2016 so I’m looking forward to seeing there. Inverness: I love that part of the world. I’m looking forward to the scenery, the highland cows… the Inverness Ironworks is a venue I’ve never been anywhere near so I want to see that. John o’ Groats actually has no rock n roll connection but it’s got so much cycling tradition as it’s one of the starting points for the famous end to end route for Lands End/John o’Groats or vice versa. So I’m going to Inverness, let’s make the trip there and then let’s come right back down through Scotland. To be honest it’s Scotland and the North. Obviously I’m from the North. Birmingham:Black Sabbath Bridge, Redditch: John Bonham memorial, back to Scotland the Bon Scott memorial which I really wanted to get to in 2016 but the mileage just didn’t work out… I’m really looking forward to the first 10 days and the last 4 days I could be anywhere. I’ll probably be punch-drunk on cycling by then! (Laughs!)

You have already achieved over £24,000, which is 32% of your £75,000 goal, which is absolutely fantastic. Those donating have also left messages of support and shared their own stories about how they have been affected by mental health problems such as depression. How does it make you feel to see this support and to connect it to real people for whom this event is all about?

It’s brilliant! It’s beautiful! It’s not beautiful in what they are going through or what they’ve been through but it’s the fact that it resonates not necessarily just with our audience. I get messages from people who don’t even like me. They don’t like the way I sound or they don’t like me as a radio presenter or they don’t like me as a person. They’ll get in touch to say ‘I respect you and I respect what you’ve done and I can relate to it’. I just think it’s an all encompassing event and the perfect sequel and a real continuation of 2016 which was a very similar thing. And when the event happens people come out on the streets and people will stand in the most rural and modest places because they want to meet me - not because it’s me but because it’s part of the experience. People said to me in 2016 ‘I just wanted to be here to experience this event because of what it represented’. It’s not necessarily about ‘Wyatt the cyclist’ or ‘Wyatt the radio presenter’ or musician or whatever, it’s about what I’m representing. I’m not trying to be a hero, I’m not trying to win brownie points, I’m not trying to get likes online. For me the real payoff is when anyone said ‘it has made a difference’. Any kind of difference, whether it be ‘I’ve been happier to get up today’ or ‘I’ve spoken to someone today’. Yes, there have been people who have said my work has saved their lives and that kind of stuff makes it all worthwhile. People say ‘why are you doing this? You don’t have to do this’ but it makes it so much more relatable if someone isn’t just talking about helping people. It’s quite symbolic for me personally, just as it was in 2016, that I am putting myself through physically and mental turmoil to represent people who are going through the very same. For for me there’s a personal symmetry which makes it even more relatable and it’s no coincidence that interest picks up in this where it actually starts. At the moment it’s a giant preview but for the 2 weeks it’s happening it just takes on a life of its own.

Quite remarkably, your fundraising this year isn’t confined to only a 2,000 mile Road 2 Rockstock 2 cycle. You have joined forces with rock royalty for a Planet Rock Allstars charity single – a rocked up version of John Farnham’s You’re The Voice. This really is an exciting project and the list of those contributing really does read like a who’s who of rock (the track will feature members of Def Leppard, Black Stone Cherry, Iron Maiden, The Darkness, and many more). The rock community more than any other genre has a reputation of a really coming together to support important courses and there is perhaps no better example than this. With the single being released on 6th December, how does it feel to look back and reflect on all the support that has been given from so many incredible artists?

I know for a fact that after 6th December I’ll be a lot more reflective and nostalgic. I’ll probably feel a lot more satisfaction than I do now. I do now but I’m still currently in this sort of post-production phase, but even now it’s like I’m impressed and amazed in a way that it’s come off. A lot of it has come off so last minute. You the listener will hear this and go ‘this a song and it’s got all these people on it’. If only I had known on day one that I’d have all those people on it but I didn’t! It really was a case of who is available? Can they do it? Will they do it? We had scheduling to factor in. There’s a lot of people who couldn’t be on it and there’s that sort of tinge of disappointment coupled with the excitement and optimism of what I know is coming. There’s quite a few people I really wanted to be on it – and who also wanted to be on - but for touring reasons, health reasons or scheduling couldn’t be on it. When I think about how quickly it happened, I would love to sit here now and say this has been a life-long ambition, I’ve been planning this for years and years but the truth is 26th July 2019 was when I first had the idea and it was 28th July that the studio was booked, and guests didn’t start saying yes they could do it until the first few days of August this year. That’s how quick this came together. 

Now we’ve made reference to the date Friday 6th December. This is also when you will be completing stage 22 – the final stage of the 2,000 miles cycle. How do you think you will be feeling as you cross the finish line at Rockstock 2 and how do you intend to celebrate?

I think I’ll feel pretty awful to be honest! When I did the first one back in 2015 which was called the Ride To Rockstock, which was the overnight, 1-day ride, then when I did the Road To Rockstock in 2016, I deliberately stopped about a mile from Porthcawl which is where Rockstock is, and I changed my clothes and I had a drink and I just freshened myself up. Maybe it was a little bit of vanity. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t look like I’d been on a bike for hundreds of miles. I wanted to look a bit human. This time I’ve already said no, I’m going to go straight in raw and keep going because on that final stage I set off at 5 in the morning and I should aim to finish around 3 in the afternoon. There’s going to be no stoppages outside to freshen up. If I go in and I’m broken and I’m in tears then so be it. It will be very, very authentic. You will see me exactly as I’m feeling at that point of finishing. Celebrating-wise, crikey! I think I’ll celebrate with a good sleep and a bag of pick ‘n’ mix! I’ve got nothing elaborate planned. Rockstock starts on a Friday and I’ll probably be going to work! I’ll probably be interviewing a few bands and be straight back at it 4 or 5 hours later. I’ll celebrate with a power nap and some pick ‘n’ mix!

As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on how wonderfully inspired and proud we are of Wyatt. This is such an important cause and the whole Rock Today team are right behind him. We will be following Wyatt’s journey and tweeting his progress throughout each day. We will also be catching up with him when he reaches Blackpool on 1st December. 

We would also ask you to consider what you can do. Please visit Wyatt’s Just Giving page at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/r2r2 and consider placing a donation. Every little bit helps! If you are unable to donate, perhaps just read some of the comments people have made. Buy the new single You’re The Voice on it’s release on 6th December! Follow Wyatt on Twitter at @WyattVW and send him messages of support. Perhaps think about whether you may know someone who might have a mental health problem. Reach out to them!

Follow all the action with us on Twitter at @rocktoday from Friday 26th November. In the meantime, enjoy the video for the original John Farnham version of You’re The Voice below.