Former sprinter Iwan Thomas tells Harry about his battle with depression

Former European sprint champion Iwan Thomas has spoken publicly about his battle against depression for the first time, telling Prince Harry how he suffered when his career was cut short by injury.

As the two men flipped burgers at a Kensington Palace barbecue, the sports star said, with hindsight, he now realises he was experiencing mental problems as he fought to remain a force in world athletics. 

Thomas was among a group of high profile sports stars invited by the mental health campaign group Heads Together to the event to speak about their psychological problems, and most were joined by the vital person that helped them, to encourage others to reach out for help.

Former England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand and Olympic gold medallists Victoria Pendleton and Dame Kelly Holmes were among the guests, and by their sides was a partner, relative or sports psychologist who had helped them through their darkest moments.

In the relaxed atmosphere of the barbecue, staged at a sports pavilion at Kensington Palace on July 14, Harry chatted to the sports stars.

As they stood behind the hot coals wearing aprons the Prince asked the former 400 metre sprinter how the spate of injuries that ended his career affected him: "What was it for you, was it a massive gaping hole - was it a form of depression?"

Thomas replied "I think yes, depression definitely. I didn't have one injury that was suddenly like 'you have to retire tomorrow' that almost might have been easier - being dealt a really bad blow."

In 1998 the sprinter had his best year, winning the 400 metre titles at the Commonwealth Games, European Championships and the IAAF World Cup, and he was later tipped by Michael Johnson, who at the time was dominating the event, to take over his reign.

He told Harry: "I'd loads of little niggling injuries whereby I looked like I was going to get back, I could train three or four days a week, I had a couple of seasons where it looked like I was going to run fast again, then another injury would come in.

"I kept trying and trying, thinking 'one more season, I can get back', that's all I wanted to do was get back to where I wanted to be, then quit, and I never got back."

The mood lightened at one point when a guest asked for some food and both men joked that the vegetarian burgers were the better option as their cooking could not be trusted.

Thomas told Harry he had tried riding motorbikes to replicate the buzz of winning races as "putting on the British vest and running for your country is amazing" - but Harry joked that "riding motorbikes will get you killed, that's why I don't do it any more".

Heads Together was founded by the Prince and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and has brought together eight mental health charities and organisations to tackle the stigma around depression and other psychological problems.

The stars were joined at the pavilion by people from across the country, invited by some of the Heads Together charities, who had suffered mental health problems but had used sport to deal with their issues.

Harry said to the ex-sportsman: "You've said you've never talked about it before - apart from standing around a barbecue with me - has it made it easier, the fact that people like Kelly, other people in similar situations to yourself, have come forward and started talking about it?"

Thomas, who said earlier he had been helped by a former girlfriend and was now in a "happy place" and enjoying television work, replied "definitely".

Dame Kelly spoke about the mental issues she fought after suffering injuries before the 2004 Olympics, where she won gold in the 800 metres and 1,500 metres.

She told Harry: "I had depression going through my athletics career, no-one knew at all what I was going through. I was having treatment and they thought I was crying because the treatment was so hard."

Dame Kelly added: "It's really been the last three or four years that I've been more open."

During the afternoon barbecue everyone played a game of French cricket where the batsman stood surrounded by a circle of fielders who tried to replace the batsman by catching him out.

Harry and Ferdinand both proved to be good fielders but they let some of the younger guests wield the bat when they had caught the ball.

The Prince and Thomas broke away to help with the barbecue and have their chat and Harry told the former sprinter the ethos behind Heads Together was to "get people to realise whether you're a white van driver or an Olympian it actually makes no difference".

He added: "What you've had to go through in your day, week, year, (the) experience you've had - whether it's losing a parent, whether it's depression, whether it's anxiety, whatever it is - you are actually unbelievably similar to each other in the way you have to deal with it."