THIS time a year ago Greg McHugh was at his lowest ebb. The actor had just finished a successful run with Gary: Tank Commander at the SSE Hydro and suddenly felt like he had "hit a huge wall". Rather than being elated by the achievement, McHugh was gripped by debilitating anxiety.

"I felt emotionally very low, completely burnt out," he says, adding that it gave him an important reminder that "career isn't everything" in life.

Edinburgh-born McHugh, whose past roles include Channel 4's Fresh Meat, football film Marvellous and BBC drama The A Word, chose to speak out about his experiences during a panel discussion on mental health issues at the Scottish Parliament's Festival of Politics last month.

"I had gone through something I had no history of before," he says. "The invitation to speak came out of the blue a couple of months after I had felt like that.

"I don't rate myself as a big public figure that is going to change lives but I thought: 'If you watch my shows and like what I've done and think my life is absolutely straightforward and one big showbiz whatever, it is not.'

"I just wanted to go and say to people: 'If you're feeling a bit rubbish, I have felt a bit rubbish too, I'm feeling great now.' I know what the warning signals are."

There was a fleeting moment, says McHugh, when he wondered if it had been the right thing to speak publicly about his private struggles. Yet, the 37-year-old remains sanguine that it was the correct choice.

"It just felt genuinely it was the right thing to do," he says. "I could have said no and kept it private and not talked about it. It was difficult. You do feel quite vulnerable admitting these things because at the heart of acting, you want to keep this perception you are a bit invincible.

"So, when you open up about these things and then see it written down, it can feel like: 'Oh no, that is out there now'. But on reflection it is the right thing to do. That is healthier than not speaking or shying away from it."

The trigger, says McHugh, was a perfect storm last year where he badly fractured his ankle after falling down stairs at a friend's party, needed to undergo surgery and was preparing for the biggest production of his life performing to 30,000 people over three nights at the SSE Hydro.

"Because I broke my ankle I didn't have an income until we had completed the Gary: Tank Commander live shows," he says. "I have obviously got a mortgage. I don't know what people's perception is, but I have not retired to Florida. I still need to pay bills and all the rest of it."

Surgeons had repaired the ankle using a plate and screws, but a month before he was due to perform in Glasgow, one of the internal pins snapped leaving McHugh in fresh agony.

"If the show hadn't have happened, the producer Mick Perrin would have lost a huge amount of money and I wouldn't have got paid," he says. "That would have had a huge impact. I was under a lot of pressure."

Testament to his tenacity, McHugh didn't falter. Yet, once the dust settled on the live shows, something niggled. "When all of a sudden that pressure stops, I thought I would feel relief and I didn't," he says. "I couldn't work out why."

McHugh spoke with a therapist to help combat his spiralling anxiety. "She was very good at explaining how when all of a sudden your brain stops that fight or flight mode, it can struggle to adjust because of the adrenalin and all that pressure.

"It was like my brain was looking for the next fire to fight and there wasn't one. It had just become used to this behaviour of thinking: 'Next! Next! Next!'"

He is now, says McHugh, feeling back to his old self, but keen to impart to others, especially young people dealing with exam stress, relationships, sexuality and social pressures, the importance of not overlooking their mental health and wellbeing.

He views it as crucial that we normalise these conversations and speak openly. "I think in the current climate of people speaking out against abuses of power, that society generally will be healthier the more we can talk about these things that have traditionally been hidden away."

The actor is currently starring in BBC drama The A Word which returned for a second series earlier this month. Its storyline centres on a young boy called Joe who has been diagnosed with autism. The cast includes fellow Scot Morven Christie and former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston.

McHugh plays Eddie Scott, uncle to Joe (Max Vento) and cuckolded husband of Nicola (Vinette Robinson) who has newly moved back to the Lake District to work on his crumbling marriage. "Eddie fits into the family as the underdog and the put upon one. He has a good heart."

Viewers will see Eddie change and evolve as a character. "He has already taken control and made some quite strong decisions about his own career, life and work. You can see it from the start of series two and it builds along that road. He has a number of wobbles and tests."

McHugh has forged close friendships with co-star Lee Ingleby ("a very cheeky chappy and maybe the biggest corpser I have worked with") and Eccleston with whom he has developed a fierce table tennis rivalry.

The pair play regularly matches during breaks in filming. Who has bragging rights for most wins? "We decided not play games because we got a bit too competitive last year. We just hit back and forth now. Chris probably edges it, though. I hate to say it but he does."

McHugh's role in The A Word has special personal meaning too. After moving to London in the mid-2000s to pursue a stand-up comedy career, he worked in behavioural units and special needs schools to make ends meet between gigs.

"I worked in one place for a year that was specifically students on the [autism] spectrum and absolutely loved it," he says. "Although I didn't mention it in the audition [for The A Word] because I was coming in to play someone who doesn't have a knowledge about it."

McHugh is perhaps best known – on this side of the Border at least – for his alter ego as camp, perma-tanned and cheesy pasta-obsessed squaddie Gary McLintoch, a corporal in the fictional 104th Royal Tank Regiment of the British Army.

He first performed the character as a stand-up routine to 50 people at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2005. McHugh's satirical take on front-line life was developed into Gary's War, a one-off pilot for More4 that won a Scottish Bafta in 2008.

A full BBC Two Scotland series the following year garnered cult status, not least among those in the military. It ran for three years.

The bold Gary brought much-needed light relief when he grilled the main political party leaders for a BBC Scotland election special programme in 2016 covering thorny issues such as tax, climate change, nuclear weapons and how to make daytime TV show Homes Under The Hammer less addictive.

McHugh will reprise the colourful character for the pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk at the SEC Armadillo next month, alongside comedy duo The Dolls (aka Louise McCarthy and Gayle Telfer Stevens).

He finds it easy to slip back into Gary mode. "I don't know in which deepest, darkest recesses he lives in my brain, but he is just there and can pop out," says McHugh. "I think I have written him for so long that he is permanently there."

The youngest of three brothers, McHugh grew up in leafy Morningside in Edinburgh. His first taste of showbiz famously came in primary one when he was selected to audition for Michael Aspel's game show, Child's Play. Unfortunately, when his big moment came, the youngster clammed up.

"I was too shy," he says. "I remember the gentleman who came from the production walking me across St Peter's Primary School playground to the headmistress's office, which is where they were doing the filming, and being terrified because I didn't know who he was.

"When we got there I wouldn't speak to him even though I was a very outgoing child. It was that thing of being wary of strangers, but unfortunately that doesn't work for auditions."

These days McHugh lives in the seaside town of Hove in East Sussex with wife Katie and their two young children. "I was down at the beach doing some notes earlier today," he says, before going on to a recount a recent funny moment in a co-working space.

A woman asked him the password for the shared Wi-Fi before doing a double take. "She turned round to me and said: 'You look exactly like that guy Howard from Fresh Meat' and I said: 'Yeah, I am'. That kind of blew her mind a bit. It was lovely and odd."

Currently in the pipeline is a part in Sky's supernatural historical-fantasy A Discovery of Witches – adapted from the 2011 Deborah Harkness novel – with Downton Abbey star Matthew Goode.

"I'm playing a Scottish demon called Hamish who is Matthew Goode's character's mentor and long-term friend," says McHugh. "I go back to complete on that after the panto in January and it will be out on Sky at some stage next year. That has been phenomenal."

He will find out in December if The A Word has been commissioned for a third series. There are other irons in the fire too, including an unnamed writing project in development. "That will take me into the spring of next year," he says. "Things are very healthy."

The A Word is on BBC One, Tuesdays, 9pm. Jack and the Beanstalk is at the SEC Armadillo in Glasgow from December 16 until January 7. For tickets, visit


Greg McHugh's Life and Loves

Career high

Attending the Baftas when Fresh Meat was nominated. The evening was made even more special when I met Peter Capaldi and he told me he was a fan of Gary: Tank Commander.

In fact, it almost made up for us losing out to Mrs Brown's Boys'. Scrap that, nothing will ever make up for it.

Career low

After the Gary: Tank Commander live shows at the SSE Hydro last year I felt emotionally very low, completely burnt out. I certainly hit a wall after it.

Favourite film

Jaws. Hands down. It's as close to perfection as a film can be. I watch it on any train journey of a suitable duration.

Last book read

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.

Best trait

Hmmm. Sense of humour?

Worst trait

Impatience. Very low threshold of dealing with numpties. I'm also told I have an unrealistically high level of customer service expectation.

Best advice received

"Don't go to drama school at 17". Oscar-winning cinematographer Jack Cardiff told me that when I was 16 and working with him on a short film. I went to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama at 23 when I wanted to work and knew what I wanted to achieve.

Biggest influence

Getting to participate in the Class Act scheme run by the Traverse Theatre in 1997.

Favourite meal

1x Kingfisher lager, 1x South Indian garlic chilli chicken, 1x boiled rice, 1x mushroom pakora, 1x cucumber raita and 2x Rennie tablet.

Favourite holiday destination

Dominican Republic.

Favourite music

Ben Howard, David Bowie, Kasabian, Venga Boys and Armin Van Buuren.

Ideal dinner guests

My wife, Ant and Dec, Miriam Margolyes, Sir Elton John, Graham Norton, Denzel Washington, Zawe Ashton, Jack Whitehall, Kim Nixon, Charlotte Ritchie, Jo Thomas, Bill Murray and Richard Pryor.