Frank’s Motoring Editor Phillipa Sage is the ex-PA to Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May on their 12 year-long live tour. A single mum to her 15-year-old disabled son, she is a first-time author and Equine Facilitated Coach.
She lives in Hertfordshire surrounded by countryside and a small menagerie. Here she tells us how a “car crash” moment in her life led her on the road to transformation.
In May 2016 my world as I’d known it came crashing down. My long-term relationship ended and, along with it, the job I loved. At the same time my father had a life-changing accident that left him needing 24-hour care.
This crash was the big one, the life changer. I had been working for Top Gear Live which took me around the world like a rock star, as a PA to Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. Work felt like one big joyride, often flying first-class or by private jet staying in luxury resorts, villas and hotels. It was fast-paced and non-stop. We worked hard and played harder.
On this crazy ride, I also fell fast and hard in love with Jeremy. My life at home was in stark contrast. I was a single mum and I used to come down to earth with a bump at the end of each trip. Although I was happy to be back with my loveable, affectionate son, the reality of looking after Alfie (who due to Fragile X Syndrome is on the autistic spectrum, has severe developmental delay and physical problems) was hard.
These decadent trips provided much-needed respite from single parenting a special needs child. When that was taken away it was truly the lowest point in my life. However, it was to be the glorious turning point. The upside of the lowest point in your life is there is only one way out – up!
I have suffered from depression since my teens and have been on a low dose antidepressant since my early twenties. This latest life upset required me to up my daily dose. Until this point I had muddled through many ups and downs and periods when I was unable to work.I worked alongside colleagues and had friends with hugely successful lives who I continually measured myself against. I was bemused. Fundamentally, we are all made from the same stuff. Why couldn’t I cope where others could? Now it was time to find out.
For over a year I had been meaning to connect with a new neighbour who ran an Equine Facilitated Therapy centre. It specialised in working with children with autism, which was my initial interest. Now I had the time to join a taster class and see how it worked in practice.
On the day I felt relaxed as I was so happy to be in this idyllic setting with my favourite four-legged friends. I volunteered to be the first to go in the corral, along with one of the coaches.
When asked to select a horse I was drawn to, I chose a beautiful, cuddly-looking black Dales mare. I felt like I needed a strong reliable hug from a dependable sort and Dales ponies are renowned for their hardiness and good nature.
As soon as I stepped into the corral I felt my emotions rising and tears coming. As instructed, I took my time to connect with Bow, I moved in slowly and quietly to stroke her shoulder and gain comfort from her soft, thick fluffy fur, covering her sturdy form.
She wasn’t as keen to be so close to me, though. My coach Jo spotted Bow swishing her tail, a sign of agitation (Equine Therapy works as the horses are so intuitive and react to the vibe of the people around them – it’s a vital skill linked to their survival instincts).
Jo asked how I was really feeling. And then it all came out. This was the first time in months that anyone had asked how I really was. I was almost inconsolable, struggling to speak and explain myself. I was encouraged just to let all the emotion out and to take my time.
The session forced me to face how I really felt. To move forward I had to deal with the grief and the many repeated patterns and behaviours that I was allowing in my life, including my depression. I was determined to understand it and myself better.
I soon signed up for individual therapy sessions and group programs, I was so impressed with the results that I decided to train as one of Learning to Listen’s coaches.
It was an incredibly intense and challenging journey to finally qualify as a fully-fledged Transformational Equine Facilitated Coach in 2019. I nearly gave up on two occasions as there was so much course work and I am not an academic, but I did it!
Having committed to this incredible way of self-development I have continued to grow, gain resilience and create a truly happy life, which in turn creates happy people around me.
My advice to anyone struggling with mental health is get help, learn to love and respect yourself, do not feel guilty for having regular “me time”. Invest in you, itwill pay you back immeasurably. I have reduced my antidepressant dose and aim to get off them one day, but only if that’s right for me.
I have always been passionate about people being truly happy. I love being able to facilitate that in the dream environment of Mother Nature with these magically intuitive horses. And although I am still partial to a little adrenalin rush – and still dabble in a little high life now and then – it’s all about balance.
I have also completed a project that I started whilst touring with Top Gear. I wrote my book: Off Road with Clarkson, Hammond and May – Behind The Scenes of Their Rock and Roll World Tour and you can order it right here.