The 3 Dads Walking – Tim Owen, Mike Palmer and Andy Airey – are about to walk twice as many miles as they did last year, in memory of their beautiful daughters, Emily, Beth and Sophie. Here, Tim explains why they will be walking to each of the four UK Parliaments this time
Last Autumn, three bereaved Dads walked 300 miles between their three homes in memory of their three daughters who took their own lives – and to raise awareness about the work of PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide charity. The initial target for Tim Owen, Mike Palmer and Andy Airey, AKA 3 Dads Walking, was a modest £3000 each, walking from Cumbria, via Manchester, to Norfolk, in memory of daughters Emily, Beth and Sophie, respectively. But with regular appearances on the BBC Breakfast red sofa, and celebrities such as Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman chipping in significant amounts, the epic walk exceeded all expectations.
Tim and his family’s world had turned upside down when, on the March 18, 2020, Emily decided she couldn’t cope with life under lockdown and attempted to take her own life. She died, five days later, in the hospital where she had been born 19 years earlier.
How has the past year been for him, Mike and Andy? ‘It’s been crazy, to get this exposure,’ he reflects. ‘We just thought it would be three dads doing 300 miles between our three houses, getting a bit of exposure between our friends.’
Since that walk, they have continued to be proactive for Papyrus. For example, earlier this year, 3 Dads Walking attended the Keswick Mountain Festival, which had a PAPYRUS stand. Tim recalls: ‘We met a young lad who said he was going to kill himself later that day – he came up and gave me a big hug and did the same to Andy and the same to Mike – that caused us to cry a few times. We are just three Dads, but we know where to signpost people.’
Suicide is the biggest killer of those under 35 in the UK, and Tim makes the point: ‘Over 200 school-aged children take their own lives every year – why don’t we teach our kids about this? The biggest killer of them is themselves. Why don’t we teach them the skills that will help them?’
The hope is that their next big walk, beginning on Friday, will provide a focus for continuing the conversation with Government about embedding suicide prevention in the Physical, Social, Health & Economic (PSHE) school curriculum.
‘It can be delivered in an age-appropriate fashion for school kids,’ says Tim. ‘The aim is for schoolchildren to be given skill sets for when they are in their 20s/30s/40s/50s…’
So how has this latest 600-mile walk, taking in the four UK Parliaments, come about? ‘We were wondering what to do next. and we had a letter from a GP in Scotland, saying ‘could you include the other countries?’ As Tim says: ‘It’s not a 300-mile problem. It’s across the UK. So where better than walking to the centres of power of those countries?’
On Friday, they will kick off with ‘a short walk in Belfast’, taking in Stormont, before flying to Edinburgh, ready for marking World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, outside Holyrood.
They aim to have a ‘rest day’, on September 22, and attend Suicide Bereavement UK’s international conference in Manchester – thought to be the biggest of its kind in the world. ‘The conference itself will get a lot of coverage,’ says Tim.
After that, they aim to be in Cardiff on the first of October and, finally, Westminster on October 10 – World Mental Health Day. The two awareness days act as ‘two bookends’ at the beginning and end of the walk.
The aim in the short term is to raise more money for PAPYRUS, which is accelerating its plans to take HOPELINEUK 24/7. Tim says: ‘Every £5 could save a life.’ The first walk raised more than £880,000. ‘We are desperate to reach a million pounds,’ says Tim. If they can reach this target, they will generate close to £1.5 million for the charity.
And he adds: ‘The aim of the walk is to continue to meet other people who have been bereaved. So many people don’t talk about it – we became their voice.’
They will be walking double the number of miles this time. Although Tim walked some of the Cornwall coastal path on a recent family holiday, on the training front, he admits: ‘Andy and Mike are a little bit ahead of me!’
Is there a plan of action as to how to get through it? ‘Just to keep it steady and take care of each other. We will keep plodding on – there’s no rush.’
He adds: ‘We’ve got accommodation sorted all the way. The generosity of the British public is just incredible we are just three Dads and people opening their houses to three strangers is really lovely.’ On the last day they plan to turn up on the BBC Breakfast red sofa still in their walking kit.
Tim sums up 3 Dads Walking by saying: ‘We are three people who would never have met, from three different backgrounds. Andy and Mike are brilliant blokes and so dedicated to this.’
What did he think Emily would have made of it all? ‘I don’t think she would believe it has got the coverage it has. But at the end of the day, we have a note saying do something positive and don’t be ashamed. All I’m doing is following her wishes.’
Featured image (left to right): Tim Owen, Mike Palmer and Andy Airey. Picture credit: PAPYRUS