Hollywood-backed bereaved fathers plan new UK-wide suicide-prevention challenge

Mike Palmer, Andy Airey and Tim Owen – known as 3 Dads Walking – will undertake a month-long, 600-mile mission to promote mental health awareness.

20 July 2022

Three bereaved fathers who raised nearly £1 million for a suicide prevention charity after their sponsored walk went viral have announced plans for a UK-wide challenge.

Mike Palmer, Andy Airey and Tim Owen, known as 3 Dads Walking, caught the attention of Hollywood stars Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman, among others, with their 300-mile sponsored walk between their respective homes last year, discussing mental health and raising awareness of suicide prevention.

The trio – who had all recently lost daughters to suicide – now plan to walk to the Parliaments of the UK during a month-long, 600-mile fundraising mission, which they hope will help encourage people to “quash the taboo” and get suicide awareness on the school curriculum.

Mr Palmer said he was partly motivated to “do something positive” due to his own regrets over the death of his 17-year-old daughter, Beth, in March 2020.

3 Dads Walking charity trek
Tim Owen, Mike Palmer and Andy Airey at the start of a charity walk in memory of their three young daughters who died by suicide (Papyrus/PA)

He told the PA news agency: “I’d never talked about suicide before, I never had the conversation with Beth.

“Why should I? ‘Beth’ and ‘suicide’ never went in the same sentence.

“I look back now and I feel I missed signs, and I will carry that with me for the rest of my life. I took my eye off the ball.

“People say it sounds like I am blaming myself but I am just being realistic.

“So I guess my advice is just for people to reach out – and for others to be aware of the signs, not ignoring them, and not being afraid to have difficult conversations. Bring it up – be open, honest and supportive.

“We want to quash the stigma.”

3 Dads Walking charity trek
Beth Palmer, 17, took her own life in March 2020 (Papyrus/PA)

Mr Palmer, from Sale in Greater Manchester, said they were “absolutely overwhelmed” by the reaction to their first walk, having set themselves a modest target to raise around £10,000.

They eventually earned nearly £900,000 in sponsorship, thanks in part to donations from the likes of film stars Ms Kidman and Mr Craig, and hope their next challenge will take them past the £1 million milestone.

They were joined along the route between their family homes in Cumbia, Greater Manchester and Norfolk by many bereaved parents keen to talk about their own experiences.

“We needed to do something positive,” Mr Palmer said.

“We had no idea that it would take off like it did. But it shows you what is going on in the world.

“People are affected by mental health and suicide and they don’t feel comfortable talking about it, but hopefully the stigma is being broken down bit by bit.

“People with just heart-breaking stories came to find us on the route because they said they had not been able to speak about their bereavement properly before; for some this was going back decades, others had lost someone a couple of weeks earlier.”

The fundraisers, who did not know each other before being bereaved, said they want the school curriculum to include compulsory age-appropriate lessons on suicide awareness, in an attempt to encourage children to talk about their emotions and reach out.

The three men will visit Stormont in Belfast on September 9 as a prelude to starting their walk from Holyrood in Edinburgh on September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day.

They will then head down to the Senedd in Cardiff, before completing their trek to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster on October 10, World Mental Health Day.

They have been offered free accommodation by bereaved families, supporters and businesses along the route, and will be joined by a support team throughout.

Mr Palmer said: “We are three ordinary old dads, probably not in the best nick, which is why we are walking and not running the route.

“Losing Beth nearly destroyed me, but this is giving me a purpose.

“We had some sore feet, but there was never a day when we woke up and thought ‘Oh god, not this again’.

“We wanted to walk, to speak with people, raise awareness and a bit of money.”

Ged Flynn, chief executive of suicide prevention charity Papyrus, praised the trio for “channelling their energy to help save young lives”.

He said: “They have already helped to start conversations in homes where families were unwilling to discuss suicide.

“It is remarkable that these proud fathers, who are each trying to deal with their own grief in their own way, have found a positive path forward together.”

Details of the charity walk are available at https://www.3dadswalking.uk/

– For practical, confidential suicide prevention help and advice contact Papyrus HopelineUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967, or email pat@papyrus-uk.org

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