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Mo-ment in the spotlight

The Movember campaign in St Andrews

It’s November, which means I come bearing bad news — it’s dodgy facial hair season (devastating to anyone who has the misfortune of fancying boys). It also means that I’m sitting in my living room, and in a move that feels suspiciously like one of Billie Eilish’s Vanity Fair videos, catching up with two of this year’s Movember team.

It’s Bruno Steel’s second year as an ambassador for the charity. He’s a fourth year studying geography and international relations and plays rugby for the 2nd XV. “But I’ve always been interested in charity work,” he tells me, “I started volunteering when I was sixteen. My dissertation is actually on the refugee aid sector and volunteerism”.

Nakul Gupta, the other ambassador for St Andrews (new to the role this year), is in his third year reading psychology. “I’ve been hearing about Movember for years, but always thought about it as just a month to grow moustaches”. Having been on the committee in a smaller role last year, he realised “that it’s so much more than ‘just a moustache charity”.

The pair of them are responsible for organising and co-ordinating the university’s campaign. The most important thing is engagement, “along with setting up some great events”. Nakul tells me, “”Every small bit helps”, as they say, and who knows maybe our small bit that we do here can be the difference”.

Though linked with the wider charity, the university ambassador teams are granted a lot of independence. Following a training day in London with all the other universities present (it’s “good vibes” apparently), they are for the most part left to their own devices. “It’s very much “here’s all the knowledge at the start of September, and then make of this what you will”.

So what have they got planned this for this year? Kicking things off on November 3rd was a pier jump, followed by Movember Sinners on the 8th. The popularity of last year’s Mo Darts has prompted it’s return — though as with all good events these days, it’ll be taking place in Main Bar. The pair have also planned partnerships with Amen and VS, though at the time of our interview the dates for these were yet to be confirmed. And finally, Mo Ball will be returning to the Old Course on 26 November. As usual, there’ll be a host of impressive prizes up for grabs at the post-dinner auction (mutterings of dinner dates with committee members), though I’m sad to report that Bruno has declined to get another Movember-themed tattoo. Perhaps he’s right and one was enough.

As for their personal challenges for the month, Bruno tells me that this year he’s “trying to do something a bit less intense”. Every three days, he’ll be doing a murph workout — “it’s a bit less boring than just running for ages which is what I did last year. I’d like to do something crazy but I’m also trying to run the campaign and do my degree. And I’m just going to grow the best tash I can. Which is not that impressive… it just doesn’t really link up in the middle. It looks horrific basically, and my girlfriend hates it”.

Nakul, for his part is lifting 18000kg twice a week, in honour, he tells me, of the 118000 Indian men that we lose to suicide every year. “I’m also pretty much auctioning my hair off… if I raise a certain amount, I’ll get a moustache shaved into the back of my head. I will be sporting very little (through no desire of my own), very dodgy facial hair, and I am so excited to do so”.

Movember started in Australia in 2003, “as all good things do” — a group of mates in a pub discussing how they could raise some money for charity. Someone floated the idea of growing stupid moustaches, and the rest, as they say is history. More and more of their mates got involved, and eventually they settled on three cause areas they wanted to fund — prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and male mental health.

“For prostate cancer, it’s all about prevention and raising awareness — when you turn 45 you should go and get a PSA test”. In the UK, it’s the most common male cancer diagnosis, with more than 1.4 million men recieving a diagnosis each year. According to Public Health England, the five-year survival rate for someone living with a prostate cancer diagnosis is 88% (the third highest), though there are can be a number of symptoms which have an affect on quality of life. A PSA test (blood testing) is absolutely vital — “the difference between early and late detection can be life and death”. Through the True North campaign, Movember aims to improve the quality of life of men living with a diagnosis, and beyond treatment.

Meanwhile, their campaign, Nuts and Bolts, helps men through their “journey” with testicular cancer — from diagnosis, to treatment, and life afterwards. Though it only makes up 1% of male cancer diagnoses worldwide, at least 10,000 men die from it annually — and it’s particularly common in young men. “Checking your testicles — they call it know thy nuts — being able to identify if you have a lump or anything down there is really important. If you go and get that checked out and get an early diagnosis, the prognosis can be really good”.

I’m curious to know what prompted them both to get involved with the charity. Bruno was initially inspired by the fact that charities dealing with male-specific issues weren’t the ones he heard about. “I was attracted to it because it’s so easy to get involved. It created a community at university at a time we hadn’t experienced that before (because of COVID). And then really… the more I’ve learnt about it, the more I love it. Last year all the universities in the UK raised £1.537896 million, which is a lot of money for some incredible causes”.

Nakul replies, “I think we've all been or known someone who has gone through mental health issues issues, and there's a lot of stigma around men especially reaching out and saying "Hey I’m not okay and I need someone to talk to", especially where I come from. So its important to me so that we can help break that stigma around it and let guys know that talking to someone is important”.

In the past, it’s been somewhat easy to assume that the Rugby club are the only people who get involved. “I’m not a rugby boy myself”, Nakul tells me, “there’s definitely this misconception, but at the end of the day men’s health applies to everyone not just those into sports. So I’d say its much, much more than that, and much bigger than just for the rugby club”.

“It is hard when you are a rugby boy trying to send that message but no, it’s not true at all. I feel like I’ve spent the last two years trying to disprove it. I wouldn’t say it’s inherently a rugby thing”. Bruno does concede, however, that the club does make up a huge proportion of the university’s total fundraising. Having raised £17,000 out of £39,000 last year, it’s certainly a commendable effort, though he’s keen to stress that that is the effort of both the male and female clubs.

As for how anyone can get involved, Nakul is quick to stress that “the possibilities are endless”. There are three (main) ways that people raise money for Movember — growing a tash, moving for Movember, or hosting events. “Then there’s mo-ing your own way. There really are so many ways you can get involved”.

As we wrap up, I ask Nakul and Bruno for three sentences to trying and get people involved. Nakul replies, “Think about the men in your life. Everyone has someone they know that is affected by these ailments, Let's be the change”. From Bruno, it’s “Check in on your mates. Check in on your balls. Oh, and when you are 45, go and get a PSA test”.

Get involved @ustamovember. Photos courtesy of Bruno Steel.

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