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'The death of my brother helped me to appreciate life'

On December 15 this year, it will be a decade since James Wentworth-Stanley died. His sibling Harry tells Susannah Butter why it's vital for men to communicate

Published 13/07/2016

Sad end: James Wentworth-Stanley, who took his own life at the age of 21, with his mother Clare Milford Haven
Sad end: James Wentworth-Stanley, who took his own life at the age of 21, with his mother Clare Milford Haven
James' brother Harry

On the day James Wentworth-Stanley died, he and his younger brother Harry drove to their father's house for a Christmas party. Harry, who was 17 then, remembers: "I fell asleep in the car, which I kick myself for now. I had no idea that James was feeling depressed."

After they had arrived, Harry says: "I went to get a beer for us. The woman helping to cook rushed in and told us there had been a terrible accident. I wanted to go look but she told me not to."

While Harry was in the kitchen, James had taken a shotgun from his father's safe, walked out of the house and shot himself. He was 21.

"It was a whirlwind from there," says Harry, who was with his parents when it happened. They are Clare Mountbatten, a close friend of the Duchess of York, and Nick Wentworth-Stanley, a former Lloyd's Insurance boss.

"My initial reaction was that this was going to rip through our family and pull us apart," says Harry.

"You struggle to even register what you've been told. Suddenly life was not quite as it was before."

Later, his mother found a suicide note "scrumpled up in the bin" in James's room at Newcastle University, where he was reading Spanish and business studies and was known as "The Golden Boy".

Harry has not seen it and says, "I don't know if I necessarily want to.

"For James it might have been a moment of madness and a split-second decision, which I think it could have been because he was impulsive like that."

Ten days before his death James had an operation to correct a varicocele, an abnormal enlargement of the veins draining one of his testicles.

It went well but Harry later discovered that James had been unsettled by it.

"He went to an NHS walk-in centre and the doctor's note says he was feeling suicidal. They sent him to A&E. He sat in the waiting room and I imagine that after an hour he walked out because he wasn't seen. A&E is not the right place for someone with mental-health troubles."

On December 15 it will be 10 years since James died. Harry, now 27, works in property development at Savills estate agency and lives in London.

To mark the date he and some friends are rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Antigua.

Today they begin a 36-hour row-a-thon in Canary Wharf as part of their training.

The aim is to raise money for and awareness of James's Place, a network of walk-in centres where people in emotional distress can see experts at short notice.

"The row would have been right up James's street," says Harry.

"It wouldn't have been up mine but I had to do something to honour his name. As my older brother he always pushed me - in a good way.

"He has made me a more outgoing, adventurous person. But James struggled to be able to communicate how he was feeling. Had he been able to I'm sure we could have got him beyond doing what he did."

James and Harry grew up in Battersea and supported each other through their parents' divorce - James was a Crystal Palace fan who made Harry support Tottenham Hotspur because Palace were "his thing".

They both went to Harrow and, Harry says: "James was always there to help me. He showed me how to play football. He was funny. If you were at dinner he would be in the middle of the conversation."

He had a girlfriend, who Harry is still in touch with. "She visits his grave. I feel for her because the family had each other for support but she was slightly on her own when it happened."

When Harry meets new people he says he is "very open about James. The more people who know James's story the better. If there's anything James has taught me it's to communicate. Men put pressure on themselves. That, combined with too much pride and not wanting to show weakness, means you get into a spiral where you are putting strain on yourself but are incapable of talking and relieving it."

It was the strength of Harry's family that got him through and he says he is more protective of them now.

James's death helped him grow up "and appreciate that life is short so you have to make the most of the opportunities in front of you. When I meet my cousins one of the first things we do is raise a glass to James.

"I think of him every day and will forever do all I can to prevent more people doing what James did."

Belfast Telegraph

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