A former Manchester City director has used the 25th anniversary of his mother’s murder at the hands of GP Harold Shipman to speak publicly for the first time about his battle with depression.
Chris Bird is the former COO of Man City and is now the chief executive of multi-million pound business Sports Tours International and the founder of PR firm Bird Consultancy.
His 60-year-old mother Violet was a patient of Shipman in Hyde, Greater Manchester, and became one of the murderous doctor’s 215 victims when she was killed in May 1993.
Bird has never spoken publicly about his battle with depression and decided to break his silence on the eve of the 25th anniversary of her murder by speaking at BusinessCloud’s ‘Entrepreneurs and Mental Health’ event at UKFast campus this week.
The businessman reduced many of the audience to tears as he spoke about his personality change, battle to save his marriage and finally being diagnosed with clinical depression.
“This is probably the most vulnerable I’ve felt in my life, because what I’m going to talk about I’ve never really spoke about” was Bird’s opening line to the 70-strong audience.
“I’ve had the opportunity to wear a number of masks over the years and I’ve worked behind those masks,” he admitted. “Because I’m really good at pitching an idea, I’m really good at solving other people’s problems and I’m really good at running a business – I know that.
“What I’m not really good at is me; I’m not very good at talking about me. I’ll talk about what I’ve done and I’ll talk about where I’ve been, but I won’t tell you much about me.”
Bird recalled the events of May 13th, 1993, when he received a phone call from his mother telling him that she wasn’t feeling very well and that the family’s doctor would be visiting soon.
After hanging up the phone, he turned to his work colleague and said: “My mum’s not very well, but what can I do?”
“I’ll remember those words to the day I die and they still haunt me every day,” Bird told the audience.
Two hours later Bird received another call from his mother’s doctor telling him she had passed away from a ‘massive’ heart attack.
It wasn’t until six years later in 1999 when Bird was told by police that his mother had in fact been murdered by her own GP – Harold Shipman.
“When something like that comes to light it’s pretty difficult to deal with,” he said. “What you now have to deal with is that your children who were much younger back in 1993 are much older now and they’ve already gone through their grief.
“I’ve never yet grieved for my mum. I don’t know why, but I haven’t. So you then start to think about all the things that you’ve got to do but the one thing that stuck in my mind were the words that I said back in 1993: “But what can I do?”
“What I could have done was go home, what I could have done was be there and the doctor wouldn’t have done what he did and she’d have still been here. That’s what tortures me.”
Bird said he tried to hide his secret anguish for years but it surfaced in him making bad decisions in his professional and private life.
Speaking to BusinessCloud editor Chris Maguire for our Inside Tech podcast he said: “In 2010 I made a big life error and I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. I couldn’t carry on. I needed to see the doctor and tell them what was wrong. I was diagnosed as being clinically depressed.”
The entrepreneur said he didn’t believe the diagnosis at first but started to “piece things together” when he recognised the symptoms of depression.
“It was getting harder to get up in the morning,” he recalled. “I wanted to be on my own more. You have periods of self-loathing. A lot of people are quite shocked when I tell them what’s going on because they don’t see it.”
Bird said he decided to speak out at BusinessCloud’s ‘Entrepreneurs and Mental Health’ event after 25 years because he couldn’t live a lie and he wanted to help other people.
“If I don’t speak out I’m being dishonest,” he said. “Good mental health, for me, is more important than health and safety or the finances in my business.
“I run a multimillion-pound sports operation, I’ve got a successful PR company and I support many charities, but all of that means nothing without all my people being well.”
• Bird was one of 10 entrepreneurs to share their mental health story at the event. The hashtag #BCmentalhealth received more than 1.5 million impressions on Twitter.