A Royal Team Talk: Tackling Mental Health, BBC One

I’ll admit I held out little hope for this, based on an assumption that anything featuring Prince William would be as cringe-making and embarrassing in execution as it would be iffy in concept. It's an assumption rooted in the rather awkward figure he cuts when undertaking formal royal duties in front of television news cameras and because squatting in my Mind Palace in a Blackadder ruff and curly-toed slippers is another princely TV intervention, 1987's notorious It’s A Royal Knockout.

But confounding expectations, both the programme and its royal guest can consider themselves a hit. Perhaps that’s because the subject was so serious: mental health in men, as viewed through the prism of one who lost his mother at a young age and lives his life under the public gaze, and five others whose ability with a football has brought them wealth and popular acclaim but also problems and pressures. That they too often lacked the tools to deal with these stresses and felt unable to ask for help was part of the story. In the background, a stark fact: the biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide.

Joining the Prince were amiable sports presenter Dan Walker and footballers Jermaine Jenas, Danny Rose, Gareth Southgate, Peter Crouch and Thierry Henry. The setting was a changing room at the ground of English League Two side Cambridge United – small and un-flashy enough to feel intimate and un-pretentious – and the men sat on three sides of a square. And they just talked. Rose spoke about being put on medication for depression, how his uncle committed suicide and how difficult it had been for him to open up to the press about his mental health issues. Crouch spoke about the abuse he received for his size and physique – he’s six foot seven inches tall and still thin as a pin – and Southgate opened up about how it feels when you lose your job and have to tell your family, and the feelings of stress and worthlessness that causes. Prince William talked about losing his mother, mental health issues in the army, how his job with the air ambulance service affected him and – the underlying point of the programme – how encouraging men to talk about mental health was an important part of tackling its effects.

In a second strand to the programme, four football fans with mental health issues had gathered on the pitch outside to be interviewed about their own struggles. What they didn’t know was that they were about to feature in a royal kickabout. Cue gobsmacked looks when one by one the players emerged from the tunnel.

On paper, none of this should have worked. But through the participants’ honesty, bravery and sheer force of personality, somehow it did.