Denmark has had its fair share of famous expats over the years.
There was Constanze Mozart, for example, who following the composer’s untimely death remarried a Danish diplomat and lived in Copenhagen during the 1810s.
Even though they eventually moved back to Austria, she presumably liked it more than the famous French artist Paul Gauguin, who lived in the capital with his wife during the 1870s. “I deeply loathe Denmark, and the Danish people, and the Danish climate,” he remarked.
In recent times, the British pop star Rick Astley, US documentary maker Joshua Oppenheimer (‘The Act of Killing’), Oscar-winning British cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’) and American-Italian actor Giancarlo Esposito, Gus Fring from ‘Breaking Bad’, have all made Denmark their home, as well as many stars of jazz.
And in most cases, the jazzmen are the only ones who can claim they weren’t refugees of love!
Ashes to ashes
The same is true of Copenhagen resident Michael Legge, 40, a well-known Northern Irish actor whose show reel is pretty much a recap of the best the British Isles has had to offer over the first two decades of the 21st century.
As a star of the popular Sky series ‘Dream Team’, he quickly got used to being recognised in the street, and his career then mushroomed when he was cast as the adult self of the lead character Frank McCourt in the Alan Parker film ‘Angela’s Ashes’.
Not only did he star alongside the likes of Robert Carlyle and Emily Watson, but the role earned him a nomination in the British Newcomer of the Year category at the London Critics Circle Film Awards.
A major part in Channel 4 series ‘Shameless’ duly followed. Aged just 30, he had already achieved more than what most actors can dream of in a whole career.
So it surprised many when he decided to take a step back from acting and embark on a journey that formed the roots of his choice of career today – and eventually brought him to Copenhagen.
Today, a contented Legge runs the life coaching and communication training company Boethius. The experience he brings to the table does not only come from his successful career in acting, but also in his struggle to overcome severe anxiety attacks.
“From mid-childhood I dreamed of being an actor, and fast-forward 15 years and I’m supposedly living my dream,” recalls Legge. “But the dream is not exactly how I imagined. Something is missing. I cannot find happiness.”
In retrospect, Legge understands that he was suffering from anxiety, going about his acting work with a “stomach-churning, gut-wrenching feeling of nervousness” that left him “claustrophobic in a state of fear”.
And then one day, it got all too serious.
Wild in the wind
“I have a full blown panic attack on a flight and it’s just horrible. I can’t breathe; I’m crying and the flight attendants are amazing. As I’m travelling alone, one of them sits next to me and talks soothingly trying to calm me for the duration of the three-hour flight,” he remembers.
And it does not end with flights as travelling on trains and the underground becomes a problem – particularly as working on ‘Shameless’ requires him to often travel from London to Manchester.
“Trains have become a problem – especially fast trains with jolting movements and no windows to open,” he continues.
“I feel ridiculous. I often look at my reflection and scream at myself to stop feeling like this. It’s illogical and damaging me. I have an incredibly close knit family around me, wonderful friends and the makings of a great career, and I’m going to lose everything I’ve worked for.”
To understand the recesses of his mind, Legge starts devouring all the information he can get his hands on, from positive psychology and philosophy to neuro-linguistic programming.
Meanwhile, his acting career is suffering as he’s not getting the lead roles he has become accustomed to. “I blame everything but my anxiety, and in every audition I attend I’m far too overwhelmed to perform well,” he said.
Some brief respite comes in a role in South Africa, but the relief is only a stop-gap and Legge starts having panic attacks, only this time “miles from home”.
Upon his return to the UK, stress became increasingly overwhelming, and when Legge’s agent retired, he took the chance to take a break – “to discover who I am and what I really want in my life; to hopefully rediscover the enthusiasm of my 15-year-old self”.
It was the change of direction he needed. Now trained as a therapist, Legge helps others to overcome the same issues he once faced – and he is sensible enough to realise they could easily return.
“Anxious feelings are fewer and further apart. Things that bothered me before and created stress now hold much less power over me,” he said.
“I still don’t know all the answers, though I’m committed to daily study and continuous personal development. I begin to realise that truly taking the time to know ourselves is life changing.”
At Boethius, both online and in person, he helps speakers, entrepreneurs, executives, artists and students to master their minds and communicate more effectively.
His system, ‘Mind Over Matter’ is a life-enhancing mix of NLP, CBT and ACT techniques to improve public speaking, professional communication and social interaction.
“I am grateful to be able to help others through my coaching practice which has one objective – to remove stress, anxiety and anything else that holds my clients back, so they can perform highly in every area of their life and increase their subjective well-being and happiness.”
Personally, Legge has never been happier and he partly credits his new home with this transformation.
“Today, I’m based in the happiest city in the world: wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen. The vibrancy of ever-changing seasonal colours, beauty of the architecture and genuine friendliness of the Danes make this a wonderful place to live and work, and fills me with gratitude,” he said.
“As I look out of my office window in Christianshavn onto the tree-lined canal with several moments to reflect before my next appointment on this gorgeously sunny day, I know I’m on the right path to fulfilling my purpose – which is, as it turns out, all I ever wanted.”
If Michael’s story resonates with your difficulties, get in touch with Boethius for a free 60-minute strategy session to learn how to manage your mind whilst improving your presentation skills, work performance and quality of life.
His new book, ‘21 Simple Steps to make your dreams a reality’, is available for sale online.