Louis Strong’s got grit.

The 25 year old has a successful podcast Headstrong, his own independent theatre and film company, and a co-founder of a rum inspired by the Isles of Scilly – not bad going. But the road wasn't easy.

We all have a story to find strength, and although we may find ourselves in the moment before, the breaking point, or the rising action—the story’s trajectory and meaning remain the same.

Louis sets a reminder that cannot be overstated—life is worth living, and beyond that it’s worth taking by the reins and making dreams reality. Something he's expert at.

Our last names may not be Strong, but we all have the capacity to find it within ourselves. We spoke to Louis about business ventures, mental health and what it means to be HeadStrong.

Let’s kick this off with the beginning: tell me about your family, where you grew up, and your upbringing.

I was born in London, and after about eighteen months we moved out to Hampshire—a commutable distance cause my dad was still working in London. I had a really privileged upbringing. I was very lucky, in the sense that I didn’t really have any troubles.

I was in a very nice area of the world, I went to some very good schools, so ultimately, my upbringing was sheltered and didn’t exactly prepare me for the realities of life. That had its benefits: I had a lovely childhood but I wasn’t prepared yet for life. I hadn’t found my resilience or mental stability.

What age were you when you realized that life was more complicated than it seemed?

The first year of boarding school. I had boarded before, I wasn’t nervous about that. But it was new people and an all boys school so it was a hyper-competitive atmosphere, a lot of testosterone around. During my first term I had some really challenging times in terms of bullying; I was targeted and victimized verbally and excluded and it had an effect on me—to the point that I was going to leave.

I went home for long periods of time, I tried to get out of going to lessons. I spent two weeks in the school sanatorium, which is like the school’s hospital. I was pretending I was ill just because I was so anxious about seeing these people. I didn’t know what those emotions were. Since becoming more educated, and indeed talking about it—I better understand what was and that those were chemicals in my body responding to emotions. Understanding gave me perspective.

Can you take me back to a specific moment during this time and walk me through some of the things that got you out of those darker times mentally?

There was one occasion at school where someone verbally abused me, belittled me, made me feel completely insignificant and said that I shouldn’t be on this earth.

On what grounds?

He thought I had said something that I hadn’t and through Chinese whispers it fed back to him. Through the hierarchy of male boarding school, I was summoned to his room one evening and he proceeded to verbally abuse me. I was incredibly upset, but over the course of the next four to five months I was completely excluded. An entire year group refused to acknowledge my existence and I was living in a house with them. There were only fifty of us and they used all their power to make me feel insignificant, like I didn’t exist.

And maybe thats just children for you, because ultimately that’s what they were and what I was. But it doesn’t make it anymore acceptable, and how it affected me mentally, to some degree, still dictates some of the decisions I make today. My final year was the only year I felt I could be myself—when I could input the infrastructure that I felt was correct in terms of how you treat people in the younger years. Not the way they did it.

Louis Strong

Do you feel like you could forgive them today?

Yes. Completely. Happily. Because I know for a fact that he is going to be twenty six or twenty seven and he would reflect on it now and say that he had acted inappropriately. And if he wasn’t self reflective enough to admit that that was the case, not only would I forgive him, I would feel sorry—because what kind of world do you live in that you think that’s acceptable?

So you didn’t end up leaving boarding school?

I didn’t, no. I wanted to ensure that I fulfilled everything I could do at that school—it was too good of an opportunity. But every ounce of me wanted to leave.

In hindsight, are you happy you stayed?

Yes, because ultimately the last play that I did there I got signed by my agent. Everything has a silver lining. Acting was my escape, really. It was the only place that I felt comfortable to fully express myself. There was a select group of people in my year that did drama from the very beginning to the very end and I just felt so comfortable in their presence. You could say anything, do anything, be whoever you wanted to be. It was a judgement free zone. That gave me the ability to come out of my shell. If I didn’t have that, I would have left.

Which of your business ventures came first?

I was on my gap year in Australia, working at a school in Sydney and truthfully, I wasn’t enjoying it that much. My best friend from school was studying in the UK at the time and was also having a rough go of it. He told me he had written this script—so I said: let’s make it. He thought that was crazy, but I convinced him. I said: we’ll do it, we’ll make sure it happens and we’ll do it this summer.

It was complete and total naivety from us both, but we did it. We raised the money, produced, directed, and acted in it. Then shot the short film for four days on location, on budget. I have no idea how it happened—as eighteen year olds—but we did it.

How did you raise the funds?

We tapped into a load of different networks, and ultimately ran a crowd funder and did it through there. It was an incredibly bizarre experience.

Louis Strong

Coming from an acting background, what do you think the relationship is between art and mental health?

I think it’s two fold really. Observer and participant. Creating art comes down to that freedom of expression and being able to do what you want to do. I just love the feeling of it. I am absolutely crap at painting and drawing, but I’m still in the arts. I’m moderately okay at performing, and I’m moderately okay at holding a conversation with somebody on a podcast.

I love to nail a performance but also know I can continue to do better. No show will ever be perfect, but it gives you the opportunity to wake up and do it better the next day. To learn from my mistakes.

So where does that initial nudge to start the podcast come from, specifically about mental health?

So I left university in July of 2018. Sort of umm-ing and ahh-ing, I didn’t have any structure in my life. And I wasn’t in an institution for the first time in what seemed like my whole life. I had odd jobs, but was still self employed and I was going through a break up, so all I was left to do was sit in my own thoughts—which was completely unproductive. I had no aspirations whatsoever, was probably drinking too much which led me down the mental health woes.

So I thought, what would I have liked in that situation that I would have benefitted from—because ultimately I had time on my hands. So, what would I have enjoyed? I would have liked to watch people that I look up to talking about their own experiences to make me feel better, or at least that I’m not alone. I had this thought of just chuck it together, and see what happens. And it went really well! The first series was great, my friends were really, really supportive but there was a little bit of white noise of people saying, oh is this a cry for attention?

Why do you think that is?

Jealousy is immediately something that comes to mind. If we were all off social media, I think there would be a whole lot less jealousy in this entire world. I am a very all or nothing kind of person, and you know, a white middle class male having a podcast—oh here’s another one. I was aware of those thoughts.

So how did you want to be different, what was the intention?

My intention was for it to be an outlet to discuss mental health. Because if it was just an interview podcast: A) I am no one of significance to be hosting that B) There’s no spin on it. And I know there are other amazing mental health podcasts. But I felt like I had the ability to put in the hours to research these people and ask them questions they aren’t normally asked.

Even for my first ever episode, I remember half way through he was like: Oh, god you’ve done your research! Immediately, I thought—there, good—this isn’t going to be any old podcast and hopefully inspires people to feel better about themselves.

What does mental health look like physically to you? Was it anxiety, depression, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning? How does it live in you?

In terms of anxiety, I always have a lot on my plate, and that leads me to being stressed and stress leads me to being anxious. It’s one of those vicious circles. The biggest thing right now I need to start to eliminate from my life is social media. I think thats the biggest bit for not only depression, but not being active. You always think its five minutes, fifteen minutes and then an hour later you’re like—what the hell am I doing? The problem with that is when you’re promoting stuff you have to use social media as a platform so its finding that careful balance really.

At the time of boarding school, I think I was definitely depressed. I went to see somebody—which I’m not ashamed to say at all. I learned visualization, breathing exercises, how to control and manage my emotions and thoughts and was able to detach from reality a bit. It calms you down, puts life in perspective. I held everything in for four, five months and then I burst. That’s why I’m so open and willing to talk about everything now.

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So you had a positive experience in talk therapy?

Yes. I think therapy is absolutely fundamental. I’d happily go to get a tune up, almost like going to see a chiropractor. Friends and family are amazing to talk to, but are they qualified to know what you’re going through? No.

Even the toughest people, when they go through something as serious and debilitating as say losing a loved one—I’d like to see them try to hold it in and not talk about it. That’s the most extreme side of the scale: nobody is taught how to deal with that kind of emotion.

Outside of talk therapy, what were the other things that helped you?

Back then, it was surrounding myself with the right people and fulfilling my passion of acting—being absorbed by something good. Now, things like taking my dog for a walk. I’m a massively social person. I’ve probably become more isolated because of lockdown than I’d like, but in some ways it was a blessing in disguise because I was able to connect with people across so many geographical locations. I love talking to people. Be that, over a drink or podcast.

You define Headstrong as: “to believe in yourself, to talk about your vulnerabilities, and reinforce your self-worth”. Did you come up with this?

I came up with a version, and then I sent it to my best friend Fred who did an English masters. Not that my English is poor, but he fixed it up for me. It’s the question I ask my guests at the end of my podcast. It’s always fascinating to hear the answers, because some are traditional and some are really out of the box. Ultimately, it’s a question they will never be prepared for. I try not to send them notes beforehand, because it puts them on the spot. Like if I were to ask you what do you think Headstrong means, what would you say?

I think its something along the lines of having the capacity to know that you can make decisions and choices that fuel you and what you want regardless of the thoughts, feelings, opinions, and noise that surrounds you. It’s a hard thing to manage, which I think is the whole point, why we’re talking about it. Since starting the podcast, have you noticed any mental health trends, positive or negative?

It might sound really obvious, but that everyone has a specific moment. Be that over a period of time thats a build up, or a snap—people hold it in. Which is why people are so willing to be vocal now. It’s like a balloon bursting.

Since doing 77 episodes, what are some of those stories or moments that stay with you – and make you think, yeah—this is why I did the podcast

You know what, it was actually in my first series. I’ll always remember this, and I don’t even know if I still have it. I got an instagram message in my requests. It was a message from a mum: her son was having really bad mental health challenges, and she had written to me that he listened to the podcast and that that was enough for him to not take his own life. And I just thought, I am happy to finish the podcast because I’ve achieved more than I ever set out to do.

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As these conversations grow, and it becomes more of a trend within the public eye —what do you think we are missing when conducting these conversations?

If I knew the answer - I’d be doing it. Whatever happens, the act of suicide will always exist — the same way cancer exists, it unfortunately will always be part of a statistic. Mental Health isn’t going anywhere. Especially when we have things like social media, which I think is a huge part of depression, particularly in young adults.

Why do you think it’s more prevalent in younger generations?

Expectations. A young person who is born now has so much pressure on their shoulders for success. Success is defined by you and you alone, and so it should be. But unfortunately, we are so ready and willing to judge others for what success should look like. If everyone went, alright, let’s all delete our apps in three, two, one—gone. We would be immediately removing a massive problem.

If there was a button that erased all social media right now, would you press it?


What do you think would change, in terms of mental health?

First of all, physical interaction. If people only connect through technology, which can we great to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to; but forty years ago if we wanted to meet you might have sent me a letter. Why do people post pictures to social media? Because they want instant gratification—but you’ll always be chasing.

People say: I have to go there, I have to wear that, I have to go to the gym to look better for other people. No, you should go to the gym to feel better mentally. Not for other people. Who’s to tell you that you look right or wrong?

While doing the podcast, what do you believe to be the most important aspects of conducting conversations about mental health that make it possible for people to speak openly about their experiences?

I would deem any conversation I have with one of my guests to be a safe space, and I use that loosely because I never use that. When I have a guest it’s either on a zoom, one on one, or in person so immediately it’s less intimidating. As soon as there is more than one person, you get worried about what someone else is thinking. Which I think boils down to how much we’re exposed to, specifically with technology.

I know the temperature in the Maldives right now—why do I know that? It’s completely irrelevant, pointless information. Everyone has an opinion, because that’s the way life has been shown to us.

A few years down the line, say HeadStrong has a huge following and big platform, what do you do with that power? What do you hope to bring?

I’d love to start an anonymous platform for a community of people that support each other, cutting down the trolls—exclusive, but still feels accessible. I’d also love to, down the line, do HeadStrong live in front of lots of people. Not to sell tickets, but because there is nothing more powerful than a conversation live in real time.

Last but not least—what does HeadStrong mean to you?

I would break it down, and no ones ever asked me it outside my definition. I think you break it down two words: Head and Strong. You have so many thoughts and feelings in your head that are rushing around constantly and while being exposed to so much in this world—it's exhausting. I think to be HeadStrong is to have control over those thoughts to make your decisions rationally.

It’s not about being strong, it’s about being level-headed. Control the things you can control. I’ve always loved that moment in Lion King—when Rafiki bangs Simba with a stick, and Simba says that hurt and the Rafiki goes yes, but you can either run from it or you can learn from it. And I think that’s what it’s all about.

You can listen to the HeadStrong Podcast on Apple Podcasts weekly