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‘It’s OK to talk’ – Brit-award winning band’s singer on sister Rose’s suicide

PUBLISHED: 06:30 24 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:49 24 February 2020

Humphrey Berney, member of classical vocal group Blake, pictured at the Humble Yard Vines, Vineyard. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Humphrey Berney, member of classical vocal group Blake, pictured at the Humble Yard Vines, Vineyard. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Archant © 2011

One third of Brit-award winning band Blake has reflected on the impact of his sister’s suicide ahead of a special Norfolk concert in her memory.

Blake singer Humphrey Berney with his sister Rose, who died by suicide in 2005 after suffering from depression. Picture: SUPPLIED BY THE FAMILYBlake singer Humphrey Berney with his sister Rose, who died by suicide in 2005 after suffering from depression. Picture: SUPPLIED BY THE FAMILY

Fifteen years ago, Humphrey Berney's world was turned upside down after his "amazing and talented" older sister Rose unexpectedly took her own life.

The woman he described as his "soul mate" died by suicide in 2005 after a lengthy battle with mental illness.

He has spoken out as mental health once again returns to the spotlight, with particular attention being paid after the death of Norfolk-born television presenter Caroline Flack , who died earlier this month, which Mr Berney said made the issue all the more prominent.

A previous BBC Choirgirl of the Year finalist, Rose was raised by her parents on a farm in Hockering, near Dereham, with her two brothers.

Humphrey Berney. Picture: Holt FestivalHumphrey Berney. Picture: Holt Festival

In 1991, at the age of 13, their parents divorced and Rose, who was at boarding school in Suffolk at the time, stopped eating. She was sent to a clinic to be treated for anorexia nervosa and by her 16th birthday she had made a full recovery.

Unfortunately the former charity worker went on to develop depression during her second year of university and then again in 2003. By early 2005 she was back living at home with her family in Norfolk and sadly that year the 28-year-old took her own life.

Mr Berney, who is married to his fashion designer wife, Charlotte, said he would never forget that time in his life and is determined to make sure his sister's memory lives on to help others.

Dad to daughters Ottilie, aged three, and baby Cecilia, he said: "Rose is always with me, in my thoughts and emotions, and it's important to try to continue her memory ."

Rose Berney, sister of classical singer Humphrey Berney. Picture: SUPPLIED BY THE FAMILYRose Berney, sister of classical singer Humphrey Berney. Picture: SUPPLIED BY THE FAMILY

When the classical singer joined Blake 10 years ago, he could never have predicted the fame they would go on to. The band, which received the Classical Brit Award for Album of the Year in 2008, have performed all over the world, sold over a million records, and appeared on countless television shows.

Even before he joined the band, with childhood friends Ollie Baines and Stephen Bowman, he had an impressive resume.

Aged seven, he was a church chorister. He went on to sing with the National Youth Chamber Choir as a teenager and was awarded a music scholarship to Gresham's School, in Holt, and then the Royal Academy of Music. Rose continues to be a huge source of inspiration for him.

He said: "Everything I do musically is a reminder of Rose, which is why Blake has decided to host a special Last Night of the Prom spectacular in Norfolk this summer.

Humphrey Berney (left) with band Blake in Washington, US. Picture: BLAKEHumphrey Berney (left) with band Blake in Washington, US. Picture: BLAKE

"What happened to Rose is a great tragedy and something which I believe could have been avoided. If there had better provisions in place then I think Rose would still be here with us today."

On June 27, Blake will be headlining the concert to raise money for mental health awareness and suicide prevention in Norfolk. The concert, with internationally renowned pianist Dominic Ferris, will be held at the family's farm.

Proceeds will go towards The Rose Berney Memorial Fund, which has been created with the Norfolk Community Foundation (NCF) - a charity dedicated to improving lives of people in the county.

Working in partnership with neighbourhood community groups and charities, including the Norman Lamb Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund and YANA for rural mental health support, NCF will ensure funds raised from the concert will support local people struggling with their mental health.

Blake with Humphrey Berney on the far left. Picture: Carter Bowman.Blake with Humphrey Berney on the far left. Picture: Carter Bowman.

Humphrey added: "I think of Rose every day and I think she would be absolutely delighted we are doing this.

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"She was an amazing singer herself - better than me but I wouldn't admit that to her - and it would have been a dream to have her singing with us.

"I know the money and awareness we raise from this concert will help change and save lives. That's a wonderful thing."

Mr Berney is incredibly open about his sister's journey and hoped the concert would encourage people to talk more openly.

"There needs to be a shift so that people recognise mental health isn't abnormal, it is something we can talk about and help with. Too often people suffer in silence and feel ashamed.

"I would encourage people to try and speak to someone, communicate with others, or seek some professional guidance. And if we are able to get that dialogue going then there also needs to be the right provisions ready for them to get help.

"We all need to be able to recognise the symptoms and communicate. "It's okay to talk."

Tickets for the concert are due to go on sale shortly.

Open up at Open: The line-up

Sabrina Johnson

Open Up at Open will take place at Open in Bank Plain, Norwich, on Friday, March 6 from 8.30am to 6pm.

The day will begin at 9am with a BBC Radio Norfolk breakfast debate, which will be broadcast live from the venue.

Among the panellists will be Sir Norman Lamb, who will also be discussing his mental health grass roots fund in a Q&A with David Powles, editor of the EDP and Evening News, at 10.15am.

From 11.30am to 1.30pm there will be a series of short talks from people who will be sharing personal experiences on the topic of mental health.

Actor Joe Tracini will be the first to speak, followed by former police officer Steve Hunt, blogger Carly Rowena, Darren Eadie and Craig Hill.

At 1.30pm there will be a panel discussion on children's wellbeing, followed by talks on tackling loneliness at 3pm and mental health in the workplace at 4pm.

The day will come to a close at 5pm with a mindfulness and yoga session.

A number of mental health charities and organisation will also be at the event with information about their work and specialisms.

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