Military Wives songwriter ‘saved’ by choir after turning to drink over stress

A songwriter for the Military Wives choir today reveals how the singers helped him through as his life hit a desperately low note.

Composer Paul Mealor turned to alcohol to relieve stress as his hectic workload took a toll on his wellbeing.

Speaking as the Military Wives movie is about to be released, he says he took time off to seek counselling.

And among the first to offer support were the Wives and their founder, choirmaster Gareth Malone.

Paul, 44, helped catapult the choir to stardom by composing their first hit Wherever You Are – which they performed in front of The Queen.

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His songs – inspired by the wives’ stories of heartache and longing for soldiers at war – touched millions across the globe.

And the singers were there for him when he needed it most.

He says: “Gareth and the Wives were among the first to message me once they had heard of my troubles.

“They offered support and friendship as did many fans, students, friends, colleagues and the public.

“Many messaged me with similar stories. It’s amazing how many people suffer in silence. They don’t have to.

“Help is there and is good. All we need to do is realise it and seek help sooner rather than later. We need to break down the stigma.”

Paul says he had begun to feel anxious and friends and students pointed out he wasn’t himself.

He adds: “I sought help and support and found it.

“I also decided to speak openly about men’s mental health issues and, even though it proved incredibly difficult to pluck up the courage to speak about it on an international platform, in many ways it helped with my development.

“My composing has never been stronger and I have found the beginnings of peace.

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“I feel revitalised and ready for new challenges. I suppose, in many ways, the Military Wives’ strength has found itself as a melody inspiring the chords of my inner music.”

Now in good health, Paul is excited about the Military Wives movie – out on Friday – and is “delighted” to have a small role.

He says: “I was asked my advice and I’m even more delighted to have played a small part in enabling the Wives to open their voice to the world.

"I’m so excited about the movie and what it will do to bring even more attention to these wonderful women and all they do.”

The film, starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Jason Flemyng and Sharon Horgan, follows a group of women in England whose partners are serving in Afghanistan.

They form a choir and find themselves at the centre of a media frenzy. Paul was already a renowned composer and one of his pieces was performed at the royal wedding of William and Kate.

And when Gareth asked him to work with the Military Wives he was thrilled.

Paul says: “We decided that the women themselves should write the lyrics and Gareth asked them to send me, via post and anonymously, photocopies of their letters to and from their partners/husbands/sons.

“I received a huge pile of papers with some of the most emotional words I’ve ever read.

“These were women who believed at any moment they might not see their loved ones again. Immediately I was drawn to one line – ‘Wherever you are, my heart will keep you safe’.

“It’s important to say, I didn’t add anything, but instead just sculpted the lines to rhyme. These are all the words of the Wives except one line from St John’s Gospel: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’.”

The finer touches came as Paul walked the beaches of Scotland and his native Wales.

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He explains: “I spend ages walking along the beach, always thinking, always singing – it must appear strange to most people who see it! As if by chance, the music speaks to me.

"Then, I sit down at the piano and write. I think the whole process probably took about three weeks in this case. Then the song is born!”

Paul faced an anxious wait for approval from the choir. He says: “Gareth wasn’t convinced. He said he’d try it at rehearsal and get back to me.

"I was on tenterhooks until he phoned, with the Wives crying and cheering in the background, and he told me, ‘this will work’. I was very relieved!”

Paul describes the Royal Albert Hall performance of the song as “a feeling I’ve never had before or since”.

He says: “For a group of women who had come together only weeks before it was a performance of true magic. One professional musicians can only pray for and composers only dream of.”

In 2012, Paul wrote In My Dreams for the choir and adds: “As they delight in telling me, it knocked Bruce Springsteen off the No 1 spot!”

And in 2016, he conducted the Wives during a trip to America – including a sell-out concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall, featuring another of his pieces, My Song.

Now Paul is excited by talk of an Australian tour next year. He adds: “Who knows if this will happen but, with the Military Wives Choir, never count them out.”

Blessing: The Music of Paul Mealor, out this month on Signum Records

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