‘I lost part of my future that night. I’ll never get over it, but I have to get on with it’ WORDS KATH STATHERS PORTRAITS VANESSA TAYLOR
t was a chilly December night in 2006 when James WentworthStanley made the irreversible decision to take his own life. He was at his father’s house in Worcestershire, where his parents, siblings, half siblings and step-parents were all gathered for a family weekend. That night their lives changed forever. “It was such a complete shock,” says James’s mother, Clare Milford Haven. “I couldn’t comprehend what had happened. It was so sudden and so horrendous.” Milford Haven had James when she was 24. “I was a young mum and in a sense the two of us grew up together. We had a very close bond.” James was popular, outgoing, sporty, handsome and loving. Everything a mother could wish for. Milford Haven and James’s father, venture capitalist Nick Wentworth-Stanley, had had two more children, Harry and Louisa, but had divorced amicably in 1996. Milford Haven married again, to George Mountbatten, the Marquess of Milford Haven and a cousin of the Queen. She lived the life of a modern aristocrat, an accomplished polo player who had been the society editor on Tatler magazine. “I’d never experienced anything like it,” she says of her son’s death. “I was just catatonic really.” On the day after James died, her son Harry said to her. “I’m worried that if this destroys you it will destroy everything.” That was when Milford Haven realised she couldn’t let the tragedy ruin her family – she had to make something good come out of it.
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It hasn’t been easy “accepting the unacceptable” as Milford Haven says. “I am generally very positive. I enjoy life. So it was a real struggle to come to terms with something so negative and awful. I lost part of my future that night. I’ll never get over it, but I have to get on with it.” Eighteen months after James’s death his parents set up the James WentworthStanley Memorial Fund (JWSMF). The launch night raised £500,000. What surprised Milford Haven even more, however, was the number of people who told her how their lives had been affected by suicide. “People I knew, but I had no
James was popular, outgoing, sporty, handsome and loving Clare Milford Haven and son James
idea they’d encountered suicide, because they never spoke about it,” she says. “Suicide has a stigma – it’s so important we talk about it and get rid of that.” Her family were always very open and spoke a lot about James. “We couldn’t run away from it. By being quiet you’re not going to help anyone,” says Milford Haven. And there are a lot of people who need help. Every year in Britain more than 6,000 people take their own lives, almost a quarter of them men aged between 16 and 24. In the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Over the 10 or so years since James’s death Milford Haven has thought very hard about what could have made a difference for her son. He had no history of mental health problems, a strong network of friends and a loving and supportive family. His problems started just 10 days before his suicide, when he had an operation on a testicle to remove a varicocele – similar to a varicose vein. The operation had been a success, but James convinced himself it had left him impotent. He emailed his surgeon and saw his GP, who tried to reassure him that everything was okay, but his anxiety was spiralling out of control. He went to a walk-in medical centre where he told a nurse he was feeling suicidal. She referred him to A&E as a low-priority case. James waited in a queue at A&E, but left before he had seen anyone. Three days later he was dead. “That’s the terrible tragedy,” says Milford Haven. “He did try to get help, and by doing that, to my mind, he was saying he didn’t want to die. If that nurse
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James Wentworth-Stanley killed himself aged 21. His mother Clare Milford Haven wants to help other families avoid the same fate