Alex Fontaine MBE
Alex Fontaine was on The Queen's Birthday Honours 2007 and awarded an MBE for Outstanding Service to Disadvantaged Women by founding The Yellow Heart Trust.
What made you set up The Yellow Heart Trust?
Dedication and kindness of others: I was amazingly lucky to receive top care and treatment. At 32, after years suffering depression, unresolved trauma and undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder I was treated at The Priory, Roehampton by Dr Mark Collins. He specialised in a new trauma treatment Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprogramming (EMDR). When my medical insurance stopped paying for my treatment I was deeply touched by the generosity of professionals and friends. This kindness overwhelmed me and from then on I was determined to pass this kindness onto others.
Why is it called The Yellow Heart Trust?
During an EMDR trauma therapy session I visualised and described that I felt my heart was like an Edam cheese, yellow inside and encased in a thick red wax which stopped love and happiness entering and leaving my heart. Gradually through the treatment I felt the red wax melt away and I was left with a yellow heart.
How did you get started?
During the two years after I was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction and Bipolar Disorder, I took a four day a week job in a PR agency. The spare day I devoted to having counselling and attending self-help meetings. I made some wonderful friends, one who moved to New York and very generously gave me her car as a gift. Later I was able to buy myself a car and I sold the gifted car for £300 and used that to start The Yellow Heart Trust. I took myself on a trekking ‘holiday’ in Morrocco which turned out to be a route march in the snow without the expensive and needed equipment. I wrote to everyone I knew asking to sponsor me to set up a charity to help others suffering from mental health issues. I think my friends were relieved I was doing something constructive and no longer a "bumbling" wreck! I managed to raise £2,000 which enabled us to start running our first residential therapy weekends. These were an enormous success and led to fulfilling my dream that I would raise enough funds to pay for other people’s treatment.
What made you decide to set up The Antonio Vasconcellos Fund?
I met Philip Robinson and by chance he saw I had written the four letters PTSD on a notebook which he asked about. It unfolded that both of us had come through post-traumatic stress disorder and he wanted to give back and help others with PTSD. We swapped experiences and I told him about The Yellow Heart Trust. He said he wanted to do a couple of sponsored events and I suggested that we set up a PTSD fund in honour of those who died and survived in The Marchioness Tragedy. The fund is dedicated to post-traumatic stress disorder.
What kind of people have you helped with The Yellow Heart Trust?
We have helped men and women between the ages of 20 and 75 who suffer from all sorts of mental health issues. Those from all walks of life, from students to lawyers, doctors, accountants, teachers, health workers, TV producers, actors, Civil Servants and the unemployed or disabled. Mental health problems hit the lives of many and may not manifest until later in life. A sudden tragedy or accident may happen and your life is turned upside down and changed direction forever. We have helped those with PTSD, survivors of violent assaults, near death experiences, crashes, fires, sexual abuse and many other atrocities. We also help those suffering from long term mental health problems such as Bipolar Disorder, alcohol and chemical dependency, depression and all mental health issues.
What was it like to meet HM Queen Elizabeth II?
The Investiture at Buckingham Palace was an incredibly moving and humbling day. I made HM Queen Elizabeth II laugh by telling her she ought to be granted at least 20 weeks holiday a year as she works so hard and deserves it. She told me it didn’t quite work like that! Before we lined up, all those receiving medals were given drinks and told what to do. It was extremely humbling to be in a room full of amazing, kind, selfless people. Of course, I felt I shouldn’t have been there but I discovered that everyone else felt like that. There was a beautiful energy in the room which I will never forget. The lady in front of me told me that her son also suffered depression and was too ill to see her receive her medal. That was a profound moment. My parents were extremely proud and I felt relief that they could witness a positive outcome to all those terrible school reports. My dearest friend Robert took us to lunch at The Savoy and presented me with commemorative chocolate and I ended the day by attending the self-help group I belonged to since 1999.