Danny John-Jules on stripping, dancing, biking and crashing our website to raise awareness
Best known for his roles in cult comedy classic Red Dwarf and drama Death in Paradise, actor Danny John-Jules tells us how being an ambassador for our Stronger Knowing More awareness campaign led to stripping off and dancing on national television, and why he’s been riding motorbikes across the Caribbean to raise awareness of prostate cancer.
Before getting involved with Stronger Knowing More, were you aware that 1 in 4 black men – compared to 1 in 8 men generally – will get prostate cancer in the UK?
Danny: Not in the slightest! The first person I heard talking about prostate cancer was Benjamin Zephaniah [who is also a Stronger Knowing More ambassador]. He’s a Rastafarian talking about stuff that Rastas don’t usually talk about. He kind of broke the stigma; he went into mainstream media and was reaching the black community.
But it wasn’t until I heard a prostate cancer survivor tell his story at the Stronger Knowing More campaign launch event that it really hit home. It was a rude awakening for all the black people in the room – both men and women. You could literally hear a pin drop. Despite the fact it can often be successfully treated if caught early, awareness in black communities remains relatively low.
Since then, you’ve been stripping and dancing on TV to raise awareness of the disease. How did that happen?
Danny: I was approached to take part in the first series of ITV’s The Real Full Monty because of the work I was doing for Prostate Cancer UK. It was a great laugh, and the night it aired, your website crashed because people wanted more information. The show was also nominated for a TV Bafta, and it was while Wayne Sleep and I were dancing down the red carpet at the awards ceremony that I met one of the producers of Strictly Come Dancing.
You also rode a motorbike around the Caribbean raising awareness.
Danny: I’ve been making motorbike shows with my good friend Steve Keys for many years and we’ve been all over the world – but never the Caribbean. Which is amazing, considering I filmed seven series of Death in Paradise on the island of Guadeloupe, and both my parents were from neighbouring Dominica.
So after my final series, we decided to do Two Wheels One Love and ride around both countries speaking to men and raising awareness of prostate cancer. As we got chatting, some did reveal they either had prostate cancer or knew someone who’d had it. One of the French-speaking producers working on Death in Paradise revealed he’d been diagnosed.
How about back in the UK? Are things beginning to change?
Danny: We probably all hear the word 'cancer' every day. But it isn’t until someone well-known, like Bill Turnbull, talks about it in the press that men really seem to sit up and listen. Someone who used to be on the TV every day is so familiar to us – like a family member. That’s when men take a reality check and stop suffering in silence.
By continuing to raise awareness and funds, we are giving our sons and grandsons a fighting chance of a better diagnostic tool and treatments. My son is 12. Because I work with you, he already has an understanding of what prostate cancer is. I’m not preaching to him, it’s just part of our normal everyday conversation.
What would your advice be to black men over the age of 45 – particularly with a family history of prostate cancer?
Danny: Some men are still unaware that you can go and get a simple PSA blood test. On the whole, it will start and end with the blood test unless something is seen to indicate there is a problem. It’s pretty simple. So my advice would be: go and speak to your GP about whether the PSA blood test is right for you.