EXCLUSIVE Roman Kemp: ‘I love being a nepo baby’

The presenter talks new tatts, fatherhood, and mental health with Olivia Buxton

roman kemp and his mum and dad

by heat staff |
Published on

Roman Kemp doesn’t care if you call him a nepo baby. Factually, he’s the offspring of ’80s stars Martin and Shirlie Kemp, and has enjoyed all the opportunities and perks that come with such an auspicious origins story. Who wouldn’t?

The point is, aside from all that, the 31 year old is really good at what he does. Whether it’s seamlessly moving from emotional stories to fluffier items on The One Show, dishing out funny one liners with his dad on Celebrity Gogglebox, or fronting daytime quiz show The Finish Line with Going Live! legend Sarah Greene, he’s a natural.

But, while showbiz may be in his DNA, he’s not impervious to mental health struggles and the fact that he has spoken so openly about them and used his platform to raise awareness – including some powerful documentaries – makes him a very good egg in our eyes…

What’s it been like presenting The Finish Line?

Filming the first episode of the first series, I was so bad! I called my mum and dad afterwards and I was walking through Belfast [where the show is filmed] and I was in tears. I was just like, “I am not good enough for this. I thought I was good enough for it, but I’m not.” But both my mum and dad said to me “Go to bed, sleep, and go into it the next day and know what you are going to look at.” They said, “You’ve got this,” and the next day I did it. And it just snowballed. It’s something that you learn, but one of the things about my career is that I like to challenge myself.

roman kemp the finish line
presenting the finish line with sarah greene ©BBC

Was it fun filming in Belfast?

There are a couple of reasons why I love filming there. One, because we get to come out of the bubble of London and now and again, it’s lovely to get away from it. Two, everyone is just so friendly in Belfast. In London, as soon as filming is finished, everyone’s out of there. This time around, we had one day off, and I went and got a tattoo.

Wow, what did you get?

I got a scorpion on my leg. It is big, but I love it. We had a day off, and I thought, “Let’s find a tattoo artist!” I’m at a point now where it doesn’t matter – I’ll be like David Beckham. Well, I have said no neck and no face. I promised no hands, but I’ve now got a small one on my thumb.

Are you sad now you’re no longer neighbours with Lewis Capaldi and Niall Horan?

They’ve moved, yeah. Niall is no longer part of my running path and we are no longer down the pub together. Lewis, I speak to quite a lot. His new music is great. That’s the thing with him, he’s just a hit writing machine.

roman kemp and his family
kemping it up: with dad martin, sister harley and mum shirlie ©Getty Images: John Phillips/Getty Images

Talking of hit machines – we’re still reeling from you interviewing Justin Timberlake without any pants on [Roman did a Zoom interview with Justin in 2020, but overslept, and only had time to put a T-shirt on]…

Yeah, oh my God, that was horrendous. They just caught me unawares with that interview. But look, when we were in lockdown, anything went. Do you know what I mean? Anything went in lockdown. In lockdown, we didn’t know if we were doing a radio show from home or a studio.

You got in a bit of hot water recently for saying your dad hasn’t got many friends, didn’t you?

I’d go as far as saying I’ve gotten a lot of stick, because I ended up saying my dad has no friends, which he doesn’t. But, like, again, it goes back to that thing of what is your happiness in life, and it was my birthday yesterday and everyone was like, “What did you do for your birthday? Did you want a day off?” and I went, “No”. I like being here, I like working.

Do you worry about the work drying up?

Of course – there’s one thing about trying to get as much work as you can. I’ll be the first person to tell you that, in this industry, you can be a flash in the pan. But then you look at people like Emma Willis and Davina McCall, and they’re still here, and they will tell you that sometimes you have to prioritise your time.

You work really hard – do you get upset when people call you a nepo baby?

It hasn’t hindered me having parents in the industry, but I’m not even obsessive over that. My honest opinion is, “I don’t care”. I find it fun. I love the nepo thing – it’s a hot word at the moment. The thing is, if you ask me who I’m most proud of, it is my parents. I love my mum and dad. We all do different things in our house and, for me, I can honestly tell you, if my dad could have got me jobs, I would have done them! In the same way, if you said to me when I become a dad, do I want to help my son or daughter get to somewhere else? Yeah, 100 per cent, and I think any parent would. I’ve learned everything from my parents and the main thing that you learn is work ethic – that’s been the most important for me.

Is being a dad something you want?

Of course. I am terrified about not having kids. That is my biggest thing. I even went to have a sperm check when I was 30. I’m such a family oriented person. I’m so grateful for the life that I’ve been able to have growing up with the childhood that I had, that I couldn’t think of anything better. I’ve always said to my friends, like, no matter what job comes up, they’ll know that I’m truly happy when I call them to say I’m going to have a baby.

You’ve been a huge advocate for people talking about mental health after being so open about your own…

I am still on medication [he started taking it when he was 15]. It has changed my life, but I constantly need to ask, “Has it positively changed my life and does it continue to do so?” And the answer is yes, so why should I change? I have tried to come off sertraline [a prescription antidepressant], but I have realised that way of life is not for me. The only time where I have had real suicidal and intrusive thoughts has been when I came off it cold turkey. But that’s not down to the medication – that’s just who I am.

You’ve used your experience and platform to help causes like the Here4U campaign. What can you tell us about it?

The government seemingly do not care, because they aren’t doing anything. Here4U was an amalgamation of a lot of people and a lot of the charities [six mental health charities] that came together and were like, “Look this is a real issue and the government isn’t helping. Schools were asking for resources, so we were like, “OK, we’ll make a film that can be shown in classrooms.”

heat magazine cover

The film you made targeted 11-14 year olds and gave them guidance on how to seek mental health support. Were you proud of it?

I am. It reached nearly a million children. That is where the focus should be, and that’s what is so sad about the state of people in power – they seemingly don’t care – and I’m waiting for them to say, “No, actually we do.” If that happens, I’ll be first to thank them.

You’re very passionate about the need for big changes to be made from the top, aren’t you?

In my last mental health documentary [Roman Kemp: The Fight for Young Lives], I wrote an open letter to the government asking them to raise their target of how many schools have mental health support teams from 36 per cent to 100 per cent. I was invited to No10 and spoke to high-up people, but it’s one of those things where they can promise something to my face, but are they going to action it? They have to realise that campaigning for better mental health resources is something that is outside their four-year plan and whether they can fit into their timeline and whether they want it or not, we’ll see. It is tough.

Does your ADD [attention deficit disorder] help or hinder you with what you’re trying to achieve?

I wish mine was hyper [ADHD], because I promise you that sometimes I am boring, but the main thing is that I struggle to concentrate. Another problem is that I don’t remember anything I have just read. But ADD can also become a great power, because you can become so determined not to let it get the better of you. I love any job when a new skill is involved or it’s something different to what I normally do.

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