Sam Smith has spoken of the life-changing impact a visit to Iraq has had on him and admitted he was “living in a bubble” before he embarked on the trip.
The singer, 25, visited charity programmes in northern Iraq and on the Jordanian border with Syria as part of his new role as a global ambassador for War Child UK.
He told the Press Association in an exclusive interview: “When I was in Iraq I had just about finished my (second) album and I hate to say it and I’m embarrassed to say it, but I had been living in a bubble until I landed in Iraq.
“As a kid, I really didn’t pay attention to the news, I saw adverts on TV all the time and I was aware, but I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on in these countries, especially the Middle East.”
Smith is supporting the newest report and campaign from War Child, which aims to raise awareness and funds to support the mental health and well-being of children affected by war.
He continued: “When I got to Iraq I just felt guilty and ashamed really that I hadn’t been paying attention and all these horrific things had been happening as I was living my life as a kid worrying about the silliest things.”
His song Pray, from his second album The Thrill Of It All , was inspired by his experiences in Iraq.
He said: “I got home and I was listening to my album which was an album about love and boys. After you come back from these places you sit down and just feel huge amounts of guilt, for where you live and your life, because you feel it’s not fair that you’re living your life the way you are and these beautiful kids and families that you’ve met are living the way they are.
“So I sat down and wrote Pray and that song is about me and my relationship with the world and the news and how much it opened my eyes.”
Smith said his focus is to “direct attention to the mental health aspect of what’s going on in the camps”.
War Child’s report, titled Reclaiming Dreams, prioritising the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of children in conflict, shows the scale of mental health psychosocial support (MHPSS) needed to help children affected by conflict recover from the mental impact of their experiences.
Smith said: “Giving these children and these families food, shelter and water is step one and it’s incredible but after that what these kids have seen and what they’ve been through… You know I look at my life as a singer and how three years ago my mental health was really struggling.
“I had my mum, my dad, I had my team, I went to a therapist, I had access to people and facilities that were supporting my mental health and I hadn’t been through half of what these people had been through.”
The singer recalled his experience watching a group of children singing songs about their homes and countries, adding: “They were singing songs and drawing pictures of the war and it was so frighteningly sad, but it was also (a kind of) therapy.
“These War Child spaces are therapeutic in absolutely every way, they’re not only just talking about their lives and the horrifying things they’ve seen, but they get to have fun, they get to make friends.”
Smith said he would be revisiting the places he has been to, and will also visit new locations with War Child.
He said: “This is a relationship I’m building with War Child, this isn’t me being part of this charity for the time being, just for this year, just for this moment. I’ve been on two trips with them and I plan to revisit the places I’ve been and I plan to go to new places.
“I’m committed to War Child and I want to be a part of what they’re doing for the rest of my life.”
The report was made possible by funding provided by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.
Actress Carey Mulligan and her husband, singer Marcus Mumford, are also ambassadors for War Child UK.