Television star and soldier mental health champion Antony Cotton is being recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2022 with an MBE. He is to become a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his ‘service to the British Army, Personnel and Veterans’, during The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year.
Most people know him as Sean Tully in ITV’s Coronation Street but to the British soldiers and veterans he supports, Antony is an unsung hero. For more than a decade he has championed soldiers of all ranks, their welfare and particularly their mental health.
Speaking of his surprise at being notified of the state honour, Antony said: “It totally came out of the blue. I came home from work, saw an envelope saying On Her Majesty’s Service, opened it and burst out crying. I genuinely had no idea. I was completely blown over by it. It means a great deal to me, that it’s come from the Army.”
Antony, 46, explained his voluntary role with Army. “I help with the Army’s mental health practice and process and welfare policies, with the Army Sergeant Major, with friends and the chain of command,” he said. “And I’ve seen the difference the Army has made in their own approach, and I’ve seen how it’s got better, and I’ve seen how they’ve improved and listened.
His citation states: “Antony's sacrifice of his time and, on occasion, his own mental health, have been the epitome of selfless commitment. He has received no compensation or reward apart from knowing that he is preventing soldiers and veterans self-harming and improving people's lives. For his long-lasting support to the soldiers of the British Army and his service in support of mental health awareness, Antony Cotton is hugely deserving of formal recognition through a State award.”
Explaining how his work with the Army began, Antony said: “My friends at the time, a lot of them were serving. It was in the height of Herrick, the height of the Afghan war, and one by one people went away. At one time I had six very good friends, including my best friend, all away at the same time, so I made it my business to find out what they were doing and where they were going. I had a map of Nad-e Ali on my office wall. It just became part of my life.
“Over a two-year period I was sending about 12 boxes a week to Herrick. If I found out somebody on a tour didn’t have any family, or they weren’t getting any boxes being sent, I’d box one up and send it via friends – it was a connection. Certainly, from my point of view, it’s something I will never forget.
“In a way, it helped me get through my friends being in danger, it gave me a purpose, and gave me something else to think about rather than the war.”
‘Honoured and proud’
Antony’s citation also says: “His efforts to date, directly with the Army or on behalf of SSAFA and Help for Heroes, amount to thousands of hours of voluntary work supporting the mental health and welfare of the British soldier. He has single-handedly been responsible for signposting over 30 to suicide prevention charities.”
Antony, who has been in Coronation Street for 19 years, said: “I do have to acknowledge how the Army has changed. In the time I’ve been working with the Army, I’ve seen how they’ve improved their systems and improved the way they approach the subject of mental health, and I’ve felt very honoured and proud to be part of that change.
“But there is further to go, further improvement to be made. And this award give me impetus to carry on what I’m doing with the people that I’ve been supported by, and I’m supporting. And to know that what I’ve been involved with has made a difference.
“Genuinely, what the award has meant to me, it’s validated my work. It says that what I’ve done has done good. I’m very honoured and privileged to be in this position. For a lot of personnel and veterans, the war isn’t the hardest part, the battle begins when they get home.”
Antony has been a driving force behind improving links between established charities, Regimental Headquarters and the Army's leadership around veteran support. And his personal engagement with very senior officers led to his participation in internal communications campaigns that have deepened the effectiveness of the Army's new mental resilience training.