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Archive: Oct 2015

Some things are more important than my facial hair


Recently, I’ve had family members jokingly not recognise me, friends genuinely not recognise me and Grandpa mis-recognise me as my brother the moment I told him ‘I’m gay’. Why? I’ve grown a bushy beard. Not to boost my hipster credentials, but because I was bored of shaving.

Then I received a phone call from Movember, encouraging me as a 5-time veteran to sign up for 2015. I’d already made my choice. I couldn’t sacrifice the last six months and completely shave off my ‘distinguished beard’ (other people’s flattering description, not mine). This year, no mo for Joe.

But some things are more important than my facial hair.

The sickening feeling when a friend shares he has testicular cancer.

The grief and humility of returning to your school hall for a memorial service.

The confusion and failure you falsely see your life descending into.

Movember isn’t about facial hair. It uses moustaches as talking point and fundraiser for men’s health. I’ve enjoyed spending each November grooming a moustache and talking to people through my blog about cancer, mental health and my Dad’s legacy.

This time I don’t need to talk at people. I need to talk with them. I’ve challenged myself to have 30 conversations with 30 guys throughout Movember.

It could be a daring dating strategy, but the focus will be health and wellbeing. Influenced by Britain’s most quotable author, Matt Haig, I’ve learnt that ‘talk breeds talk’. The power of normal stories from everyone will break the secrecy and silence that still defines men’s health. Thankfully, through the work of Movember, CALM and Professor Green amongst others, it’s a shrinking silence.

Will you join me for a chat? I’d love to talk to any guys to hear their story and views. It won’t be a formal interview that I publish to the world. Instead, I’ll share what I’m learning each week on this blog. It’s my biggest Movember challenge yet; too big for me to worry about growing a moustache at the same time. That’s disappointing news for my Mother, who hoped the bushy beard would go.

Some things are more important than my facial hair. Chatting about men’s health is one of them.

If you’re interested and can join me for a face-to-face chat this month around London or Essex, please contact me. I’d also love to speak to people through Skype and other online platforms.

You can donate to Movember through my Mo Space and tweet me @JoeyKnock.

Would you #BleedForEngland?


‘If you have supported England on the pitch – your job’s not done.’ You might have thought it is, given our early exit from the Rugby World Cup, but the NHS is still asking people to ‘support England in a way that matters’ and become a new blood donor. The #BleedForEngland campaign features Jonny Wilkinson and the winning Class of 2003 donating blood for the first time, as well as this highly-emotive ad you might have seen on TV.

I had conflicting views when I heard about the campaign. There is a desperate shortage of blood donations across the UK, but I’m not sure if sports and patriotism is the answer. So I asked some of my friends who play rugby and donate blood for their thoughts.
Photo: Jack Smale
George is an amateur rugby player from London who’s donated blood 5 times

I first decided to give blood because I was interested to find out my blood type, After that I did work experience in Southend Hospital’s haematology labs which drove home the importance of donating blood and the impact of the shortage at the moment.

Using rugby heroes brings a more down to earth feel to the campaign, and makes it much more relevant to fans and players. It’s a shame it focuses on the men’s rugby team. Our women’s rugby team are more successful, and it’s a fast growing sport in the UK.

Becky from Coventry has donated blood 19 times

I remember getting a letter from the NHS blood donor service when I was 16 and immediately signing up because it was a great and easy way to contribute to saving people’s lives. I still do it knowing that someone out there has been helped through my donation, although donating has become special to me in another way. My Dad had non-hodgkins lymphoma, a kind of cancer which prevented him from producing his own red blood cells, so he was kept alive through weekly blood transfusions. That would not have happened without the donors of A- blood and my gratitude to those people is a precious thought, as well as the thought that I could be doing for someone what those others did for my Dad when I go to donate.

My top tip for a first time donor, especially if they’re worried about the pain or needles, is just to remember what an amazing thing you’re doing. It’s about ten minutes of discomfort which pales in comparison to the fact that you are saving a victim of a car accident; a new mother; someone undergoing major surgery; a cancer patient… Another human being. I had more years with my Dad than I would have had if he hadn’t been able to have transfusions, and they could not have happened without ordinary people donating.

Photo: London Broncos
Sean from Oxford is a professional rugby player with London Broncos

I haven’t donated blood before, because it hasn’t fitted with my rugby schedule. However, it is something I intend to do when I get a long enough break or stop playing seriously.

There’s an interesting separation between people’s awareness of the need for more blood donations, and the number of people who give blood. It seems that at present, it’s all too easy to give excuses, myself included! The more that is done to break down these barriers to participation, the better the conversion of public awareness into action will be.

The campaign is pretty effective. It normalises the process and makes it seem more accessible. Using rugby players like Jonny Wilkinson makes it easier to relate to the process as having watched these guys playing rugby, you feel you ‘know’ them on some level.

Rhianna from London has donated blood about 10 times

There was nothing in the #BleedForEngland campaign that resonated with my experience of donating blood. I give blood because I am privileged enough to be able to, and because I care about the people who need it and I want to help them. I don’t do it for ‘England’, I do it for people, and I wouldn’t care if the blood I donated wasn’t used in this country. It’s turned something that to me is simple, happy, peaceful and altruistic into something showy, self-righteous, divisively patriotic, and exclusive.

I imagine there is a minority of nationalistic right-wing types who will love the campaign and be encouraged to donate. But thankfully, they are a minority. I think most people will think it’s a stupid, thoughtless and insensitive campaign and be slightly sickened by it. Instead, I’d encourage people to donate blood by showing them testimonies of regular donors and footage of donation centres. There is such a nice, friendly atmosphere!

Sam is an amateur rugby player from Essex

I would like to donate blood but I’m squeamish with needles. The #BleedForEngland campaign has certainly made me think if I could overcome that phobia I would want to donate. Rugby fans like myself will obviously see legends of the game and may follow their example, but there’s no guarantee. I think ads that are more hard-hitting would be good, like with road safety ads. If no blood donor is available, the consequences should be made clear; the ‘shock factor’ is key.

Chris from Billericay has donated blood about 15 times

I decided to donate blood as I felt it was a service that I might depend upon at any time in my life, and as I would then depend upon donations made by other people, it was only right that I donate to help others in return. It also helped that both parents had a history of blood donation. I’ve continued to donate because it’s very simple, straightforward process and I’m now aware that I have O-negative blood which can be given to anyone and is particularly important.

I should really talk to more people about my experience. I don’t think I’ve ever had any conversations about it in the workplace. One of the most powerful motivating factors I’ve seen for myself and others is knowing someone else who can talk you through it and allay any fears new donors may have.

Louise from Southend has donated blood about eight times

I decided to donate when I was 17 when I was first allowed to. I wanted to help people that needed it and this was an easy way to do that. The video definitely matches my experience, they just need to add some biscuits at the end! It’s a friendly environment. The hand movements and chair set up is all exactly as I experience when I donate.

If you’re considering donating, give it a go. If it doesn’t work for you you never have to go back but it’s a simple thing to do, only takes an hour and you’ll be saving lives. I often discuss giving blood with people and encourage them to try it. Just explaining what happens seems to help.

Tom is an amateur rugby player from Brighton

My first time giving blood was five years ago. My mum was going to our local town hall to do it and I thought I would go along too. I was surprised at how simple, quick, painless and easy the whole process was. It gave me a sense of pride afterwards as I knew that somewhere down the line my small amount of blood could potentially save someone’s life. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t done it since. Seeing some of my rugby heroes doing it has encouraged me to do it again and reminded me how easy it is.

Hannah from Switzerland has donated blood 4 times

I decided to donate blood because I thought, “Why not?” I was the right age, weight, and was healthy so I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t use that to help someone. My experience of donating blood isn’t one where you sit around with mates having a chat like in the campaign video. The nurses are always friendly enough but it’s not like a pub gathering, nor does it need to be.

The campaign doesn’t change how I feel about donating blood, but it does add to already uncomfortable feelings about the amount of things we try to connect to patriotism. A lot of nationalism already makes me uncomfortable, because I believe that the whole world is ‘part of one team’. It also seems to mean by default that if you can’t donate blood, whether because of illness, and/or being a sexually active gay or bisexual man, that you are not part of ‘the team’, which I imagine could feel very isolating, particularly to groups that are already a shunned part of society. I would prefer the message to be more inclusive.

John from Coventry has donated blood 21 times

I decided to donate blood because I think it’s helpful and helps saves lives. It’s made a lot easier by how lovely, friendly and appreciative the staff always are. I dislike giving blood and it’s a mental battle every time not to freak out and faint at the needle and blood.

I’d recommend to anyone donating for the first time to drink loads of water or squash beforehand and after, rather than tea or coffee and don’t look at the needle! Be friendly and chat with the nurses as they’re often very happy to chat and keep your mind on other things. When giving blood comes up in conversation I do encourage others to go, if I can do so without making them feel guilty.


The campaign seems to be succeeding. So far 72,000 new donors have registered, the pre-step before booking an appointment and donating blood. But the nationalistic overtones sends a poor message to those who want to but can’t donate blood as if you’re letting down you’re country by being gay. You don’t choose your health or sexuality.

Like many of my friends interviewed above, I believe the passion to donate doesn’t come from patriotism but personal stories of lives saved, friendly staff and knowing how to cope with a needle sitting in your arm. I’d start a new campaign called #BloodBuddy to encourage donors to share their experiences, explain exactly what happens at a donation appointment to their friends and go along and support them. Both John and Rhianna looked after me when I almost fainted after donating blood in Coventry.

I’m a #BloodBuddy. How can I help you?