MasterChef’s Brent Draper says he ‘thought he was dying’ during his darkest point of anxiety

Article in - Monday 14th June 2021

In what’s been labelled ‘the most pivotal moment in MasterChef history’, the moving scene where affable tradie Brent Draper raised his hand and confessed to struggling with his mental health to breaking point has resonated with hundreds of Aussies.

Draper’s choice to leave the competition and “rest his mind”, as judge Jock Zonfrillo put it while handing over a set of worry beads, was a first for the program, and a watershed moment for mainstream TV.

But speaking to today, the 31-year-old said it was just the first step in a tough journey he’s beyond proud to have embarked on, describing the darkness he felt when he arrived home.

“To be honest I was probably at the worst then,” he said of reuniting with his wife Shon and toddler Alfie.

“Because my symptoms were physical, I legitimately thought that I had a liver disease or something. My brain had tricked me into thinking that I was dying,” he said.

A conversation with a trusted longtime GP helped him see anxiety was at the root of his symptoms, a moment which saw “the weight lift” as the realisation that he wasn’t dying, and could seek help for his problems, sunk in.

Watching the episodes back at home has formed part of his recovery, too, with Draper noticing he’d lost the glint in his eye as his mental health deteriorated.

“Going through those cooks when I was really struggling, I could feel the pain then, and at home watching the episodes, I could see it.

“I could just see it in my eyes, the light and the spark was gone,” he said, adding that he had endured sleepless nights after a number of panic attacks during filming.

Since last night’s emotional MasterChef episode and Draper’s Instagram video follow-up, the response from fans has been overwhelming with praise for his courage.

At a time in history when heightened awareness of mental health is at the forefront, with Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open a recent example, the humble dad says knowing he’s managed to help some people has been heartwarming.

“The amount of young males reaching out to me saying this has helped them so much,” he said.

“I’ve had a lot of wives reach out saying they’d never seen their husband cry before so just to witness that was such a big thing for them. Others said they just cried together during the episode. I’ve had 58-year-old plumbers reaching out saying, ‘I was a mess.’

“A lady reached out saying she watched it with her family. All the kids were crying and asking questions and talking about life and mental health. These are kids from ages 10 to 18.

“Even my brother, he’s 17 and that’s a tough age … he messaged me saying that he’s proud of me and that’s something I never thought I’d hear come out of his mouth.

“I think it’s helped a lot of people,” he said.

As for his two-year-old son, Alfie, he hopes to show him the episode one day to teach him the importance of mental health awareness.

“This is my responsibility now,” he said.

“After going through this I need to make sure Alfie knows we are all emotional human beings, that’s what we run off – emotions.

“I want to tell him, if you find that you wake up in the morning and just feel sad – it’s OK. He’s going to see this episode one day and see me break down on it, and I think it’s going to be something that’s really powerful.”

As for what he’d pass on to those facing similar struggles of their own, his message is simple: “It ain’t weak to speak.”

“There’s nothing weak about going and getting help from a professional,” Draper stressed.

“There’s nothing weak about going to your mates and saying, ‘I’m having a really tough time at the moment’, or your wife or your girlfriend or your boyfriend. I just did on national TV.

“Nothing bad can come out of it. I’ve gone and dealt with and learnt so much; it’s been nothing but positive since I opened up.

“I like that line: If you’re not speaking it you’re storing it and storing it gets heavy. Especially for us males, we need to not just go to the pub and talk about the footy score, but talk about how your week was and what you’re feeling … and then the footy score after that,” he joked.

So what can we expect to see next from MasterChef’s favourite meat-loving tradie?

According to Draper, there’s a lot to come.

“The world is my oyster at the moment,” he said.

“I’m going to start with creating content, YouTube, maybe a podcast.

“I’ve just bought a bus so we’re going to do a trip around Australia at the end of the year so you’re going to see some Wild Thornberrys stuff … Just gonna keep working on it and see where it takes me,” he said of his cooking journey.