“My battery’s running down,” says Duncan Bell, glancing down at his phone. “There are 300 messages. I can’t believe the response.”
It’s about five hours since the Bath Rugby prop announced that he'd been silently battling depression for half of his 18-year career. Since that announcement, fellow players, fans and strangers have all been in touch, leaving Bell taken aback.
Mental health experts say that it is young men who are most likely to keep quiet about their depression and let the illness fester. Few speak up. But imagine how hard it must have been to open up for a 19st tighthead prop, whose job requires him to try and push eight blokes backwards for a living.
The news that Belly – the jovial fans’ favourite who always seems up for a jape – has been struggling with mental illness initially wrong-footed many.
Duncan Bell talks about his illness
“No-one really wants to talk about it in society generally, and especially in a bruising, man’s environment like rugby where we beat each other up on the pitch,” explains Bell. “You don’t talk about your feelings or what’s going on inside you.
“But the head is such an important part of the body. Without it you can’t play.
“It’s no different to pulling a hamstring. If you can’t get up in the morning and you can’t train because of your head, what’s the difference? Your head’s just as important as everything else and you need to look after it.”
Bell, 37, announced his retirement to his team-mates on Tuesday morning at the same time as revealing his struggle with depression.
Bath coach Brad Davis said: “I didn’t know about it at all. It came as a surprise to all of us at the club.
“Duncan’s suffered silently and credit to the man for coping so well and credit to the man for having the courage to share it with our squad and the greater rugby community. Him admitting it can only help other players in a similar position to speak out sooner.”
Bell, capped five times by England, is clearly relieved at having unburdened himself.
“I wish I’d done it years ago,” he says. “Why not tell fellow sportsmen there is this issue?
“If I can help anyone by doing this – by helping them to recognise if something is going on in their heads – then I will consider that an achievement.
“I’d have felt guilty if I’d got to the end of my career and not spoken about it and tried to help other players.”
Characteristically, despite the heavy topic, Bell lets a few wisecracks and anecdotes fly.
When we touch on Somerset cricketer Marcus Trescothick’s own revelations about his mental illness, Bell pipes up: “He’ll never remember this, but I played with Marcus at Avon under-19s. I batted at number three, but I never got to bat with him – he was always out!”
Bell touches down against Worcester Warriors
But away from the team environment, Bell is all too aware of how vulnerable he could be when he leaves Bath Rugby for good in May, going it alone as a mortgage adviser.
“Taking myself away from the group ethos and working for myself is going to be tough and very insular,” he says.
“When you come to a club environment where there are lots of players, you are not on your own and inside your own head. You’re stimulated by your mates and go to war with them every Saturday.
“When I’m involved with the club, I’m fine. It’s when I get away that the beast rears its ugly head occasionally.
“It’s not that I’m always unhappy in my own head, but sometimes it takes me to places I don’t want to go to.
“I’m concerned about how I’ll respond [after rugby]. I’m not on medication at the moment, but I’m aware of the warning signs.”
Bell leaves Bath with a European Challenge Cup winner’s medal and a nagging sense that the club has not quite hit the heights it should have done.
“It’s not the way I wanted to go out – I wanted to go out with silverware,” he admits.
“That is my biggest regret in the nine years I’ve been here. We’ve been so close so many times but the club’s never quite reached its potential.
“But anyone who starts playing top-flight rugby at 19 and retires at 37 with the amount of injuries I didn’t have can be pleased.”
As for his swansong on Saturday, Bell is unlikely to start put could have a seat on the bench – and he still has a touch of mischief about him.
“I don’t wish injury on anyone, but maybe someone could have an injury in the warm-up so I can get 80 minutes!”