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Square Mile Moments

Daniel Howell: "I felt like a complete fraud"

YouTuber, comedian and mental health advocate Daniel Howell talks sexuality struggles and the joy of performing in the latest Square Mile Moments

Daniel Howell

Daniel Howell is a man of many talents. YouTuber, stand-up comedian, author, mental health advocate and all-round good egg are among the entries on Howell's CV. 

Yet Howell's journey has often run through bumpy roads and troughs. As a young man, he struggled with his sexuality. It took him many years to come out – even while inspiring millions with his openness on mental health. 

He describes meeting fans on his standup tour. "They'd talk about mental health and really be opening up to me, sharing something quite vulnerable. I felt like a complete fraud because I knew in that moment that I was being completely inauthentic with them." 

As you can imagine, Howell makes a brilliant guest on the latest Square Mile Moments – insightful, funny and wise beyond his years. Read some edited extracts and listen to the full interview below.

On Arthur the Aardvark

I had a fairly uninspiring childhood where I wasn't encouraged to think much. I was never told to play an instrument and then I saw Arthur the Aardvark playing Feur De Lise the piano. Still as an adult to this day that's one of my medative hobbies – trying to teach myself how to play the piano. It's not always something that comes from your immediate environment can make a profound impact on you.

On struggling with his sexuality

I have had a very turbulent relationship with my sexuality throughout my life. I grew up in quite a homophobic environment. The saying 'that's so gay' with 'gay' as a synonym for bad. When I was 14, thinking 'maybe I'm a bit gay' ended up being 'maybe I am fundamentally bad.' From that moment I was running away from this fundamental truth. For my whole life, I thought 'maybe I'll say I'm bisexual, that's easier for some people to understand.' It just makes you sound hearty! It's less confrontational.

Daniel Howell

On the physical reality of touring

When I went on tour for the first time, it was a very different experience for me. For years, I never felt like anything was real because if you just see likes on a Facebook account or a comment saying 'this was cool' it's hard to realise. But when I stood on stage and I said something and I saw people actually laugh, I thought 'oh my God this was real!' The moment I started meeting people physically, and they talked to me about what I did, that made me think 'yeah. I don't have many regrets as I thought!'

On the importance of self-authenticity

A big regret for me was doing so much in my career while not yet being authentic in who I was. Coming back to the whole sexuality thing, it's more than just being honest: it's your ability to really enjoy life by feeling authentic and present. If you've got a wall up and you're not being real, you can't really appreciate what you're doing all the time. For me personally, not being honest about my sexuality kept me scared from forming new relationships, friendships with people.

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On ripping off the plaster

When I'd previously meet people on tour, they'd talk about mental health and really be opening up to me, sharing something quite vulnerable. I felt like a complete fraud because I knew in that moment that I was being completely inauthentic with them. Sure, there were lots of aspects of my life that I could be open with and that was helpful but I still felt like I was fundamentally lying and pretending. Life is very, very short and the fastest you rip that plaster off, the faster you'll be able to appreciate it.

On mental health

Mental health is not a mystery. We think of it as very ephemeral, we can't understand how emotions – but actually the human-monkey brain is not as complicated as we think. We're all just trying to hide in a cave from the scary lightening sound we heard outside – and that's anxiety. And when you break it down – this is what causes stress, this is what causes depression – you realise you have more influence on how you feel than you thought.

Daniel Howell is currently touring We're All Doomed with two shows at the London Palladium on 23rd and 28th September. Get your tickets here

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