Ed Balls explains how his stutter made him stronger


Ed Balls, former cabinet minister, famous cook and star of “Gangnam Style” Strictly, didn’t realize he was stuttering until he was in the thick of it.

The former Labor MP, who lives with his wife MP Yvette Cooper and their three children, talks about his stuttering in his new memoir, Appetite, which traces his life and relationship to food.

After speaking publicly about it, Balls, 54, became vice president of Action for Stammering Children and persuaded Colin Firth to join him. Together, they have spoken to many parents and children over the years about stuttering and what they have both learned.

When did you realize you had a stutter?

“I didn’t know it was a stutter until I was already in Cabinet. I discovered that I had a challenge in speaking in public in certain situations, ”he explains.

“Once I got the Cabinet job and spoke regularly on TV or in Parliament, my occasional ‘blockages’ – unexpected pauses when I couldn’t speak my words – became a serious problem, so far. point that the Conservative members opposite have started to fill the painful moments of silence with loud mockery, ”he recalls in his memoirs.

Today he recalls: “When I was chosen to be an MP in 2004, I spoke to my father after BBC Any Questions? and he said, ‘You have the same thing as me but I don’t know what it is.

“I spent two or three years trying to find out what it was and trying to figure out how to deal with the fact that sometimes my speeches ran dry in television interviews and in the House of Commons.

“It got worse when I became cabinet minister. We went to investigate and were told it was “internalized stuttering” (much like Colin Firth’s George VI in The King’s Speech).

When did you talk about it publicly?

“It wasn’t until two years later, when I first spoke about it publicly in an interview, that my father called me to tell me that he had read the interview and that he also had stammered.

“He was 70 years old and had been a university professor for 30 years and he never knew what kept him from doing television, and which meant he didn’t read scripts when he was in class. – he made them from notes in his head, it was because he stuttered.

Did anyone notice that you spoke differently when you were in school?

Appetite by Ed Balls (Gallery Books UK / PA)

“If you had my last name, there were other things you had the mickey removed for besides your stuttering.” But at school it stood out if I was in English and had to read a play, or in the debate club when I was speaking.

“But I bluffed and didn’t really think of it as something that was a problem. It was really only when it was happening live on television or in the House of Commons that it became a problem. “

Have you had any treatment?

“I did. I had speech therapy every week for three years. I was put in touch with a speech therapist called Jan Logan from City Lit, who said it was a stutter. spent six months arguing with her about whether it was a stutter or not, because I didn’t really believe it.

“She said, ‘You have to go public,’ but I said, ‘I can’t. I am a cabinet minister and we do not admit that sort of thing ”. It took me another two or three years before I finally agreed to go public and it was a very big liberating thing. “

What is your advice to people who stutter?

“My advice would be, everyone is different. You have to find out what works for you. Never be told, “This is what stuttering is and this is how you need to get help.” Some people like exercise, some people like breathing, some people like NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) but you have to find your way.

“It’s not something you catch or something that heals itself. It’s just a part of you. Owning it, accepting it and making it a part of you is really important. Hiding it or denying it causes huge problems in terms of avoidance.

What difference has stuttering made in your life?

“For me, being public makes a huge difference. I stammer all the time but I’m really good at driving it and handling it now.

“The reality is that a lot of the things I’ve done since, like Strictly, have been much easier to do after dealing with a stutter. It gave me the confidence to do a lot of difficult and fabulous things since then. If I chose again, I would choose a stutter.

Appetite by Ed Balls is published by Gallery Books UK, priced at £ 16.99. Available now.

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