“Riding A Bike Didn’t Help Me, But The People I Met Riding Did”
Photography and film by Mr George Marshall
On an August afternoon, with the blue unclouded sky above him, you could be forgiven for thinking that Mr Leon Cerrone was unaccustomed to darkness. At 38, he cuts a lithe and charismatic figure, densely tattooed and subtly stylish. As he wheels his bike through a north London park, he might feasibly have stepped from any of the modelling assignments that occasionally fill his days, while his dress and demeanour – even in this downtime – suggest something of the eye for detail which, no doubt, informs his work at Savile Row’s Richard James.
One thing tailors and psychiatrists understand is that appearances can be deceptive. Two and a half years ago, Mr Cerrone attempted suicide, and not for the first time. That he is here today he attributes in part to a confessional act that removed the veil between his public appearance and private reality; an Instagram post beginning: “My name is Leon Cerrone and I suffer from severe depression… this isn’t a cry for help, this is me not hiding it anymore.”
Disclosure, friendship and the allure of gruelling exercise have all played their part in soothing a profound disquiet that first presented in his early twenties in his hometown of Birmingham. “I was born in Peaky Blinders territory, Small Heath,” says Mr Cerrone in an accent that would tell you this if he hadn’t already. His love of fashion is entwined with that for his father, and Mr Cerrone’s parents are a staple of his Instagram feed.
“My name is Leon Cerrone and I suffer from severe depression… this isn’t a cry for help, this is me not hiding it anymore”
“We played and went to football all the time, Birmingham City. My dad and all the lads he played with were really into fashion. This would have been mid to early 1990s, so a lot of Moschino and Armani. Ralph was making a big comeback then. It was all those kinds of labels that I first paid attention to, because that’s what all the guys were dressing like at the football on a Sunday. I remember nicking stuff out my dad’s wardrobe that was way too big for me, and that’s kind of where my interest started. Got my first job as a Saturday boy at Diesel. Now here I am, managing a Savile Row establishment…” He laughs a little as he says this, perhaps in healthy astonishment at his progress.
“I was just turning 21 the first time I tried to take my own life,” he recalls. “I’ve never been able to truly put my finger on why I started having the feelings that I got then, and still get.” It is often surprising to those who haven’t been there quite how indistinct desperation can seem. We assume there must be drama, but the decision to end your life can present as mundanely as the decision to check your email. “You kind of get to a point where you don’t think there’s any other way, I guess.”
“I took an overdose, ran away from Mum and Dad so they couldn’t get me to a hospital. Dad managed to find me in an alleyway somewhere.” That Mr Cerrone relays this with such candour is, one hopes, testimony to how talking it through previously has helped him come to terms with it. The survivor’s guilt of the suicidal is present, too, if equally understated. “I feel bad for putting Mum and Dad through it more than anything. I remember my dad in that alleyway in Birmingham, bawling his eyes out and asking me to get in the ambulance, so I feel pretty sad about that.”
We might grow into our fathers’ clothes, but their mindsets can prove a harder fit. “The thing I remember so much, and why it took me so long to talk about it, was hearing my dad say, ‘He’s not depressed, he’s just sad. Pull your socks up and get on with it.’ Those words stuck with me for a while, and that’ll probably horrify Dad, to hear that. But back then, men didn’t talk about their feelings. Birmingham is a tough town. My dad is Italian and he’s quite a tough man. He’s very passionate about football, food and wine, but not so passionate about discussing emotions. That wasn’t something that was done. In hospital, I remember vaguely hearing, ‘We can give him some anti-depressants,’ and again my dad was like, ‘He’s not going on those!’ It was a massive taboo back then. I plodded on, self-medication. Filed it away.”
Yet some things won’t stay filed. Mr Cerrone reflects that he was “up and down” for the next 15 years, keeping it to himself until circumstances brought matters to a head again. A change of job “exacerbated how I was feeling mentally. I hated work, hated the alarm going off. More self-medicating, drink and drugs, stuff you try and do…”
One of those things was cycling. “I had my riding, and that helped me block things mentally, but after a while, even that stopped working. I’d get to work and be the happy-go-lucky guy, laughing and joking on Instagram. Visibly, I had a great life, and then I’d go home to my partner at the time and I was a dick, for want of a better word. It’s not an excuse, but you feel like you can take your shit out on the ones you love, and I was. Obviously, that pushed her away. At the end of 2017, we broke up and I moved out of the flat we had together. That was really the start of it, I started feeling even worse. I was drinking even more. Then I had a bike crash, sober, two days before New Year’s Eve. I shattered my left arm in six places and had to have an operation.”
“I knew I needed to get help, but also knew the only way I’m going to get help is if I admit it. And the only way I’m going to admit it is if I force my hand”
Alone on New Year’s Day, he came to a realisation. “I knew I needed to get help, but also knew the only way I’m going to get help is if I admit it. And the only way I’m going to admit it is if I force my hand. That’s when I wrote that big post on Instagram and Facebook. I wasn’t asking for help from my friends, but it was a way of me holding myself accountable, once I’ve put it out there, then I’ve gotta go and do it.”
Ending his outer silence didn’t quell what was taking place inside even as it laid the foundations for his recovery. Before he could get to the doctors, he made another attempt on his life. “My plan was finish work, pick up a few bottles of beer, bit of Dutch courage. Sit on a park bench and that’s it. Thankfully, George and my other friends talked me down.”
Escorted and supported by his friends, including Mr George Marshall, who directed our film, Mr Cerrone sought treatment, was diagnosed, received medication and therapy from the NHS and continues to see someone privately. He is alert to the irony that a social media channel often accused of fostering mental ill health via our tendency for comparison would prove instrumental to his survival.
“That was something I struggled with, a lot of my friends are really successful; own houses; had kids, were married. Looking back now, I know I’m successful in the field that I’m in, but back then, I couldn’t really see that.” We need the collective to connect us back to our better selves sometimes.
“Riding a bike didn’t help me, but the people I met through riding a bike did. George, Rob, James, Kelly… there’s hundreds I could name here – it would be like an Oscar speech. But they were all connected back to the bike. One of the reasons I didn’t ride the bike after admitting what I was going through was because my arm was in plaster and had pins and screws in it. Physically, I couldn’t ride. But it was another form of exercise – running – that helped.
“It’s another way of hurting yourself,” he says, “I’d go out and smash myself on the bike to forget about what was going on in my head. But even on a bike, you have to be switched on because you’re waiting for a driver to swerve out. What I found with running was I could more or less turn everything off and just run. And that’s one of the things that helped me the most. I still ride my bike, but not to the extent I was before as my arm is too sore.”
While the pain in his arm abides, other aspects of Mr Cerrone’s life have strengthened. “Back to my dad. We had a good relationship, but it wasn’t super strong. It is now. I think part of it is that I’m a bit older and we’ve gone through this together. It got really dark, but then it’s changed a lot of things in my life for the better.”
This is perhaps how things are meant to progress. We do something our forebears wouldn’t have done, don’t blame each other, and so grow as a whole. Mr Cerrone is in a new relationship and considering having children of his own: “That’s the chat at the moment. We were going to get married this weekend, but a certain virus got in the way.” In the meantime, there’s a crate on his bike that the couple’s Jack Russell rides in. The proverbial black dog of depression reconciled with a puppy, perhaps.
“I still post about my feelings and how I’m doing, because I do still struggle. Every day, I’m learning to spot signs of it, I’m learning to deal with things. What’s been nice and cathartic or therapeutic – whatever word you want to use – is the number of people who have reached out to me on Instagram. DM’d me and gone, ‘It’s great what you’ve done, it’s really helped me, I’m now going to get help, I’ve now admitted it to my family, I didn’t think you could do it’, or ‘I was embarrassed.’ Hopefully now more men will speak about this. If somebody’s read my posts or reads this, maybe they’ll go and get some help before they leave as long as I did. If this stops somebody doing it for that long on their own, then I’ve done a bit of good.”
To celebrate the power of sport to bring us together, MR PORTER has partnered with cycling lifestyle brand Rapha to create an exclusive collection of three unique cycling jerseys. All net profits from the sale of this collection will be donated to the MR PORTER Health In Mind Fund powered by Movember, our initiative dedicated to helping men lead happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives. You can find out more about this fund and donate using the link below.