Ed Balls couldn’t hold back his tears as he emotionally interviewed Gareth Gates about his stammer on Good Morning Britain on Wednesday.
The presenter and former Labour cabinet minister, 56, who has previously spoken about his ‘decade-long struggle’ with a stammer, described Gareth, 39, an ‘inspiration’ after he was last week unveiled as the winner of this year’s Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.
Speaking alongside co-host Susanna Reid, Ed credited the singer and actor for ‘showing him how’ to be in the public eye with a speech impediment.
Breaking down in tears, Ed said: ‘You inspired me, you really did. I thought if Gareth Gates can do this, I can too.
‘I thought if he can be public, I can be public and it was really hard but I did it because you showed me how to do it.’
Emotional: Ed Balls couldn’t hold back his tears as he emotionally interviewed Gareth Gates about his stammer on Good Morning Britain on Wednesday following his own 10-year battle with the speech disorder
‘Inspiring’: The presenter, 56, described Gareth, 39, an ‘inspiration’
Giving Ed a hug, Gareth replied: ‘Thank you for saying that it means a lot. Bless you. Just never give up!’
He added: ‘I’ve proved to people you can have an affliction and don’t let it dictate who you are. Your able to achieve whatever you want in life. You just have to be strong.
‘My speech is massively affected if I’m tired, stressed. Under pressure. That’s the nature of the show [Celebrity SAS]- to push you to your limits. It was hard. I’m much more confident now. I got quite a lot out of the show’.
Gareth, who was runner-up in the first series of the ITV talent show Pop Idol in 2002, went on to say that he was ‘pleased’ to have a stammer when he was finding fame.
He added: ‘It made me stand out from the crowd. I was actually pleased I had a stammer!
‘It is a battle every day. You aren’t able to be the person you want to be. You’re held back by your affliction. It’s made me a lot stronger person.’
In 2016, Ed spoke frankly for the first time about his ‘decade-long struggle’ with a stammer and how then Prime Minister David Cameron’s taunts led him to go public with his affliction.
The former Shadow Chancellor said he was not actually diagnosed with the condition – which caused him to seize up during speeches and debates – until he was 41.
‘You showed me how to do it’: Ed credited the singer and actor for ‘showing him how’ to be in the public eye with a speech impediment
Breaking down in tears, Ed said: ‘You inspired me, you really did. I thought if Gareth Gates can do this, I can too. It was really hard but I did it because you showed me how to do it’
Giving Ed a hug, Gareth replied: ‘Thank you for saying that it means a lot. Bless you. Just never give up! I’ve proved to people you can have an affliction and don’t let it dictate who you are’
In his book, Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics, he recalls how Cameron would lead the jeering from the Commons front bench – and nicknamed him ‘Blinky Balls’.
The jibes eventually persuaded Ed to publicly reveal his problem – at first in a newspaper article, and then in a radio interview after which, he admits, the ‘tears welled up’.
He first noticed his stutter when appointed to his first ministerial job in 2006. In every TV interview ‘there was at least one moment when my voice would seize up and my eyes stare as I clenched my throat and fist,’ he wrote.
‘It didn’t take long for people to pick up on it. I learnt I’d acquired the nickname ‘Blinky Balls’ in Conservative Central Office, supposedly courtesy of Cameron.
‘As the Tories got a chance to see me up close across the dispatch box, a new phenomenon started: If I hesitated when answering a question, they’d shout ‘Errrr’, which made me hesitate more, and the laughter and mocking ‘Errrr’s would grow louder.’
In the Commons a year later, as Schools Secretary, he tried to read a statement – ‘but for seconds, I couldn’t say anything. As I eventually sat down, I heard the late, great Gwyneth Dunwoody say in a very loud voice: “He’s supposed to be the Secretary of State and he can’t even get his words out”.
When one of his aides suggested he consult the website of the British Stammering Association, his first instinct was to think: ‘Why am I reading this? I don’t have a stammer.’
But he was diagnosed with an ‘interiorised stammer’, commonly known as a block. ‘I thought: ‘Here I am, aged 41, a Cabinet Minister, and I’ve only just found out I’ve got a stammer’,’ he recalled. The aide put him in touch with a therapist.
‘I’m ashamed to say I was both sceptical and a bit worried at the prospect,’ said Ed. ‘It all felt a bit Cherie Blair and Carole Caplin.’
The therapist taught him to slow his speaking tempo, ‘calm down and get in control’. He was also advised to go public with his problem but he feared it might be seen as a sign of weakness.
Ed then got to know former Monty Python star Michael Palin who has campaigned to raise awareness of stammering as a serious problem. He visited Palin’s Centre for Stammering Children in London in 2011.
There a father whose child was struggling with a stammer said Ed was a ‘coward’ for not coming out about his own. ‘Why don’t you give these kids some hope and confidence that you can have a stammer and become a Cabinet minister?’ he asked him.
Ed was ‘mortified’ – and wrote an article for The Times, admitting to having the affliction.
The stammer, however, came back as he responded to George Osborne’s autumn statement in 2012.
‘I suddenly had a really bad block, and there was a gale of noise and mockery from the Tories, with David Cameron leading the laughter,’ he recalled.
The incident persuaded him to speak the next morning on Radio 4’s Today programme about his stammer and how it could affect his Commons performance.
‘I came out of the Today interview, my phone exploding with messages saying ‘That was brilliant’,’ he wrote.
‘But then as tears welled up I sat disconsolate in a room on my own for ten minutes, thinking: ‘Why make myself so exposed?’.’
Last month, Gareth became emotional while talking about growing up with a stammer on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.
A tearful Gates, who finished second to Will Young on Pop Idol in 2002, said: ‘For me, growing up was hard – at school, having a stammer.
‘School was just… [I was] verbally abused, physically. Lads just holding me down and shouting things,’ said Gareth who occasionally took breaks to wipe tears from his eyes.
‘I think that’s why I’m here, to show myself that I am stronger, and that hopefully this time, I won’t break.’
Last week Gates was announced the winner of the 2023 military-style series, beating competitor, the disgraced former health secretary Matt Hancock.
Discussing how much winning a reality TV show means to him, he said: ‘When I was a 17-year-old boy, I entered a TV talent show. I made the final, but didn’t win.
‘But 20 years on, I wanted to prove to myself that I am strong and I can make it right down to the end and hopefully even win.’
He later described the win and glory as ‘cathartic’ over two decades after losing to Will on the show.
He said: ‘I thought at last, I’ve actually won a talent TV show and not came second this time. It was a massive weight off my shoulders. I’ve finally redeemed myself from being the biggest loser in the UK back in 2002.’
After Pop Idol, Gareth went on to score several big hits, including the million-selling cover of Unchained Melody and Stupid Mistake.
He made a return to TV in recent years, including competing on Dancing on Ice, The Big Reunion and now, Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.
Gareth beat fellow recruits Matt Hancock , 45, and Danielle Lloyd , 39, after the other sixteen celebs failed to make the final.
Chief Instructor, Billy Billingham MBE QCB and his team of Directing Staff (DS), Foxy (Jason Fox), Rudy Reyes and Chris Oliver decided that Gareth was the only celebrity who had the mental and physical strength and resilience to pass the course.
After his name was announced a shocked Gareth become emotional and said: ‘Thank you, staff. Wow. Thank you.’
Overcome: It comes after Gareth broke down in tears as he successfully completed the Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins training course
Success: Chief Instructor, Billy Billingham decided that Gareth was the only celebrity who had the mental and physical strength and resilience to pass the course (L-R) Matt Hancock, Gareth Gates, Danielle Lloyd