Premium Bond - by Jake Taylor
While Daniel Craig’s recent turn as James Bond has ditched some of the more exuberant gadgetry in favour of stone-cold realism, the modern era of 007 arguably owes its success to Pierce Brosnan. Coming six years after Timothy Dalton’s regularly dismissed outings as the super-spy, Brosnan’s quadruplet of Bond films – starting with 1995’s GoldenEye and ending in 2004 with Die Another Day – kick-started the ‘new’ series of movies that continued throughout the turn of the millennium, as well the Drogheda-born actor’s career.
But while Bond fans can be thankful to Brosnan for handling the pressures of the role with aplomb, the star himself was even more grateful for the chance to establish himself at the forefront of the most famous franchise in film history. Four years prior to GoldenEye, he had lost his first wife, Cassandra, to ovarian cancer aged 43, and in the ensuing time Brosnan had been forced to juggle a career on-screen with his duty as a father to three: two stepchildren from his late wife’s previous relationship and their own son, Sean.
“I faced the prospect of having to sell our house or finding another regular series role,” Brosnan, now 65, explains. “Even though that would have been a disaster because my children needed me very badly after their mother died and working on a weekly series would have meant spending very little time with them.
“It was the most trying time of my life. You try to do your best and my greatest concern was trying to find enough film roles and not have to work on another TV series because that means you’re gone from morning to night five days a week, eight or nine months a year. I desperately wanted to avoid that for the sake of my children. Fortunately, Bond came along at a time when I really needed that kind of a gift in my life. I had no choice, that’s your duty as a father, so don’t give me too much credit – and when Bond came calling a second time, it turned my life around.”
Cassandra’s death, and Brosnan’s subsequent years spent as a single father, brought to mind his own childhood in County Louth, Ireland. His father had left the family when Brosnan was a young boy, and they would not meet properly until the star was 33 years old. Having been raised mostly by his grandparents, Brosnan saw first-hand the struggles that lone parents faced, especially in the strict community he was raised in.
“I was born in ’53, and I lived through that Catholic experience of growing up in a small town, chafing under [a] narrow-minded, gossipy, shaming atmosphere,” he nods. “And my mother refused to be shamed [at] the hands of the church, of the priest, because she was a single mother. You learn not to buckle under it.”
Such statements are indicative of Brosnan’s in many ways typically Irish relationship with his Catholic faith. On the one hand, his upbringing brought him into close contact with members of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, who Brosnan says “instilled a climate of shame and fear” among his peers. “I was beaten all the time as were most of the children,” he grimaces. “It’s terrible that so many of us had to endure that for no real point.”
Yet on the other hand, Brosnan remains a staunch believer of the positives Catholicism can bring – and the ways in which “religion and faith has helped” him through the many struggles he has faced. These include losing first Cassy, and his daughter Charlotte in 2013, to ovarian cancer, and nearly losing his son Sean to a terrible car accident in 2000 – when he was just 16 years old – when a driver under the influence ended up barrelling over a Malibu cliffside.
“Even if my whole world would fall apart tomorrow, I would still remain devoutly Catholic,” he says. “I’ve always tried to enjoy life and make the most of things, even during the lowest and most gut-wrenching moments where you feel very lost. But you need to find a way to pull yourself through, and your faith and your will are what’s going to drag you up out of the darkness. We all want to be happy, but it doesn’t come easily.”
Fortunately for Brosnan, his unerring faith repaid dividends. Alongside the “gift” of the Bond films, which established him as a household name, Brosnan’s personal life – once battered and bruised – has, in time, healed as well. In 1994, the star met soon-to-be second wife Keely Shaye Smith, with whom he has fathered two more sons, Dylan and Paris.
“She’s a very strong woman who has been a truly loving and caring partner in life,” he says of Smith. “She’s made me a better father and man, and we’re so blessed to have been able to share our lives together. She allows me to be myself and we’ve been able to build our relationship over the years, and together with my children, that’s my greatest accomplishment in life.
“I think I’ve been blessed twice in my life by meeting very intelligent and resilient women. I never expected to fall in love again the way I did with Cassie, but then I met Keely and I knew I had found someone with whom I could share my life. With Keely, we’ve been able to solve our problems in a very comfortable way without ever letting things get out of hand. Every couple needs to find an accommodation that allows them to live happily and harmoniously together. But you have to work at it and be very attentive to keeping the spirit and passion alive.”
And unlike his martini-drinking womanising alter ego, Brosnan has held on to his principles in spite of the various temptations that life in the spotlight can invariably bring.
“I was never interested in one-night stands or having a lot of superficial relationships,” he muses. “I’ve also been married twice and have enjoyed raising two sets of children and all that takes up a lot of time. I’m a man who’s very comfortable with the idea of marriage. I lived for 17 years with my first wife, Cassie, and now I’ve spent 21 years with Keely. That speaks for itself. Keely and I live a very beautiful and calm life together, and she has never objected to the fact that I spend a lot of time away at work, and not even if I’m working with beautiful co-stars.”
Indeed, in a world seemingly full of fractious celebrity break-ups and make-ups, Brosnan’s overwhelming gratitude for having experienced the joy of marriage twice in his life is a refreshing departure. But that’s not to say he’s become complacent in his relationships – and he certainly knows better than most that the work you put in is worth it to enjoy what time you have together.
“It’s very difficult, but I believe the trick is to sustain the romance and passion, and that happens only through imagination, perseverance and respect for your partner,” he smiles. “You have to believe that the love which binds you is more important and more powerful than the stupid and petty arguments which can pop up. You’ve got to learn how to sweep those things aside and remember why you’re together and keep that thought in mind every waking day.”
It helps, too, that Brosnan’s personal life has finally settled down. His first foray to America was founded on blind faith: “It was my late wife, Cassandra, God bless her,” he says, “who said we should go to America, and somehow we took out a second mortgage, and we went to Los Angeles on a wing and a prayer.” These days, however, Brosnan is a naturalised American citizen, and he has carved out his own little slice of Eden on the island of Hawaii.
“It’s a form of paradise on earth,” he says of the Aloha State. “We have a very beautiful cottage by the sea, fairly isolated and very peaceful. I like to describe it as Ireland except the heating is turned on. I get up a six o’clock, I make myself a cup of coffee, sit on the terrace and watch the waves roll onto the beach. Then I’ll have breakfast with Keely and the boys and spend the rest of the morning painting. Then it’s lunchtime, maybe a few hours of surfing, reading, relaxing in the sun, and then before you know it, you go, ‘What’s for dinner?’
“It’s a very simple and peaceful life. There are very few things that can trouble you, not even my occasionally dour Irish soul.”
Few would begrudge Brosnan this lifestyle, considering the turbulence he has been through off-camera. Having freed himself from the constraints of a Bond contract – the negatives of which have been bluntly espoused of late by Brosnan’s successor, Daniel Craig – the star finds himself enjoying his current silver fox status. Between action romps and thrillers, there was even the intriguing sight (and sound) of the former 007 gallivanting alongside Meryl Streep and co in Scandi-singalong-sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again earlier this year. Despite him encroaching ever nearer to the supposed twilight of his career, Brosnan continues to be shaped by his upbringing, even if he has been forced to mature and adapt to the hardships of his personal life.
“I’m the same person I was when I started out,” he declares. “I’d like to think I’m much wiser and even more open as an individual than when I was younger, but still scarred in many ways by my upbringing as well. You learn to close off certain sides of yourself as a form of self-protection until you begin to realise that you don’t have to protect yourself anymore and that those defences you’ve put up have become the real problem. Perhaps you never entirely unburden yourself of your past, but you do manage to find peace of mind.
“I’m more attentive to certain things which you notice about your children as they grow older, especially during their teenage years, which are the most complicated. I’ve also had Keely by my side who holds our home together and is a very smart and caring mother. She’s a strong woman who has helped make my life so much richer, and … we’ve been able to enjoy a wonderful life together with our children.”
Brosnan remains one of Hollywood’s last classic leading men.. His cinematic journey may have taken him from his native Emerald Isle to the States, but he carries his idiosyncratic “Celtic heritage” and devout Catholicism with him everywhere “in his back pocket”: a welcome reminder of the power of positive faith in a life threatened by multiple tragedies played out under the spotlight of fame.
“There have been tragedies, yes, but I’ve also had great fortune in life,” he concludes. “I aspired to be in the movies, I wanted to become a movie star, I wanted to be Bond, I wanted all the grand things that came with that life. I got it all.
“It can happen like that. You just have to pull in the sails and ride the tiller and hopefully you’ve got faith and some good friends. You know I have the luck of the Irish.”
Pablo: From Armed Robber to Christian - by Paul Warwick
Gimme the money,” Pablo said to the building society cashier while he pointed the gun at her, wearing a balaclava.
Pablo was surprised when she answered him sarcastically, and he felt she was being deliberately slow while she put the money in the bag, so Pablo then pointed the gun at another cashier and told the sarcastic one that if she didn’t hurry up he would shoot her colleague.
Pablo didn’t enjoy doing armed robberies and says that they made him feel fearful. But he was driven to do them by his addiction to heroin, and he also sometimes took cannabis, methadone, speed, Valium, ecstasy and LSD.
Pablo ended up getting arrested by the Flying Squad and was found guilty of six armed robberies, three attempted robberies and nine counts of possessing a firearm. The crimes were committed against building societies, post offices and shops. He was sentenced to a total of 67 years, though the sentences were to run concurrently, which meant he was serving a sentence of 12 years. It was 1990 and he was 24. A year later at the court of appeal, his sentence was reduced to ten years.
Pablo served two-thirds of his sentence, as a third came off as remission for good behaviour. Towards the end of his sentence, a woman started writing to him and they started a relationship. When he was released on a short home-leave, he failed to return to the prison and went on the run with his girlfriend. He was captured 11 months later and returned to jail, where he completed the rest of his ten-year sentence. During this time, he married his girlfriend while he was still in prison. He was released in the late 90s.
Pablo says about his marriage: “The pressures were very great … and I ruined the marriage. It was completely my fault and we divorced three years later.”
He hadn’t had a good start in life and had a very unhappy childhood. He says, “At the age of five I was put into a Salvation Army children’s home [along with his sister] which I stayed at for three years the first time. I was returned to my home, but roughly a year later we were both put back in the children’s home in Whitstable … I stayed there till I was 12 and returned home and stayed [there] until I was 15 and I was put in a children’s home yet again, in Croydon. When I turned 16 I was put in [a] hostel, which I left on my own accord and started a long road of bed and breakfasts and little bedsits, which was a nice time until I reached 18. Things started going wrong then. A succession of [relationships] that went wrong, and I got in with the wrong crowds, doing wrong things.“After some years of testing the police and system, I was arrested for armed robbery when I was 24. There were nickings before that. I was arrested quite a few times, but when I went to court I always managed to get out of it, but obviously on the charges I was brought up on [armed robbery] – there was no getting out of them.”
When Pablo got out of jail he took drugs again for many years. A couple of times he overdosed and ended up in hospital, during which times the nurses weren’t that sympathetic, as overdoses by drug addicts are seen as self-inflicted. He did later go into a drugs detox, and he says that it was a completely different and therapeutic place, where the nurses and other staff were supportive, kind and helpful.
Drugs, though, eventually led Pablo to have a mental breakdown about six years ago, and since then he’s had a schizotypal illness. Pablo explained how the illness started.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing on a lot of occasions. I thought that people were spraying me with chemicals. And I wouldn’t talk to anyone … I used to tie my windows up and put extra locks on the door. I didn’t trust anyone. I had a mental health nurse, but she couldn’t get close to me, and I was put in the Bethlem [a psychiatric hospital] for three months. I was particularly ill, but after a couple of months of taking the medication I got better.”
Pablo was then discharged from hospital and agreed to continue taking antipsychotic medication, which he has by depot injection every four weeks. He’s stopped taking medication a few times since then, but became ill, and he’s taken about six different antipsychotic drugs, to see what works best for him. Soon after he was released from hospital, he moved to Canterbury House, a large hostel in Upper Norwood, south-east London that houses mainly people with mental illnesses. The residents have their own independent living facilities within the hostel, such as large self-contained living rooms with their own kitchen area and toilet and bathroom.
Pablo started going to church about a year ago, after being invited by Daz to the Freedom Forum, an award-winning Bible study and social group at Christ Church, Anerley, south-east London. The group is run by Daz, who’d spent time in prison and hospital, before committing his life to Jesus. Daz now has a small team who help him run the group.
The social group starts at midday and runs for two hours on a Thursday. This is followed by the Bible study group at 2 p.m., which usually lasts between 60 to 90 minutes. There are sometimes up to 20 people who attend the group, many of whom have been in prison, hospitals, and have mental illnesses. Pablo says he started attending the group at first, because he was curious.
After a year of attending the Freedom Forum, Daz was bringing Pablo to the group in his car, and he asked Pablo if he’d like to become a Christian. Pablo said, “Yes.” When they got to the church, Pablo said the ‘salvation prayer’ with Daz and gave his life to the Lord.
Pablo feels that he’s changed a lot since he’s been to church and become a Christian. He says, “I used to argue and fight with people, but now I’m much less likely to. In fact, since I’ve been coming to church I’ve walked away a couple of times [from arguments], which is something I’d never have done years ago.”
Pablo adds that it’s not easy living with 70 people who have mental illnesses, and says there’s bound to be problems sometimes, but he handles it better now. He says that since he’s been attending church, he’s more humble, calm and at peace.
Paul, one of the people who help lead the Freedom Forum, says about Pablo: “Like all new Christians, Pablo is in a transitionary period. I’ve seen a real change in him since he started coming to the group. When he first used to come he would often fall asleep during the Bible study, because he regularly gets insomnia. Gradually, though, he’s [starting to have] more energy and now sometimes helps in the kitchen, making teas and coffees for the group, and putting away chairs after. He was also very quiet when he first started attending, but has gradually started to open up more in conversations with people.”
Paul adds, “Tara, my wife, who also helps lead the group, usually buys snacks … each week, like sandwich stuff, sausage rolls, crisps and cakes etc., and now Pablo sometimes insists of paying for the snacks for the group. [He] has also given Tara money for petrol, as she’s the main person who picks people up from Canterbury House to bring [them] to the group and she drops them home after.”
Paul says, “When I found out that Pablo was an ex-armed robber I was stunned and so surprised, as though Pablo is quite a cool character, he is also very softly spoken and comes across as very gentle in spirit. He is … very likeable and I’m sure God has got good plans for his future.”
Pablo is hoping to do some voluntary work soon and has recently had a couple of interviews with an organisation about doing some volunteering to help people with mental illness.
I asked Pablo if there was anything he’d like to say to anyone reading this article and he replied, “I would tell them not to get into a situation where they turn into someone they’re not, because it’s so easy. It only takes one or two problems, and that will happen. Especially people that are really young. I’d tell them not to take drugs. It’s true what everyone says to you that it only ends one way. … So other than that, just take life as it comes, don’t strive for what you can’t get, just be happy with what you’ve got, and try to do it legally, and maybe with the Lord’s help as well!”
Just Like Magic - by Alex Willmott, Chief Features Writer
Professional magician Max Somerset is doing what he loves, but his journey hasn’t been conventional. Sorted magazine caught up with him to hear his journey of adoption, loss and faith.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in the village of Bampton in Devon with my adopted parents, Mervyn Priddle, who was a milkman, and Shirley, who looked after the house of Edward and Molly Somerset, my biological grandparents. I had been brought to the West Country from Italy by my biological father, Ed Somerset junior, who found it difficult to deal with my Italian mother’s mental health issues and so they parted ways when I was two years old. Father left mother in Italy and took me to be with his ageing parents while he and two others set up a tiling design company in London called Fired Earth. Shirley had undergone a hysterectomy and therefore could have no children.
A twist of fate occurred a year later when my biological father contracted a brain tumour and it was mutually agreed that the best thing to do was to give me to Shirley and Mervyn Priddle.
I had a very happy childhood in Bampton and the loss of my biological father in 1981. He was 36 and I was seven. It didn’t affect me greatly because I never really saw much of him. But I was to suffer the loss of Uncle John (my adopted mother’s uncle) in 1983, which was my first bitter encounter with death. I was very fond of him and we would spend many hours doing woodwork in his garage and going on walks. Prior to John’s death he had responded to an ad in the local supermarket selling a Hammond organ because he thought I was musical.
A few years later at Bampton Middle School, I got chatting to Paul Bucknell, who was to become one of my dearest friends and still is to this day. It transpired that he had this thing called a Yamaha Electone at home. His mum and dad invited me to come over at the weekend. After lunch, Paul jumped onto the organ stool and began to play. I was riveted. I had never heard such sounds come out of an instrument.
My adopted mum and dad were incredibly supportive and took me to Exeter for organ lessons. Taking their cue from Mr and Mrs Bucknell, they went to the music shop and purchased one of these Electones, which were digital and gave you the possibility of choosing all manner of different instrumental sounds. That, in turn, gave you the potential to have a whole orchestra at your fingertips, depending on your skill level.
My childhood was not really typified by a lot of social engagement with peers. I was, due to the adoption, an only child and spent hours either working on the organ or creating magic tricks inspired by watching Paul Daniels on TV on Saturday nights. Bampton Primary School and Middle School had strict teachers and a headmaster called Michael Truman who really supported my organ playing, creating opportunities for me to play in school. As a lover of magic, I always wanted first and foremost to be a magician, but my parents told me “magicians don’t make any money” – well, many years on, that’s how I now earn my main income.
Tell us about your teens and what life looked like for you.
My teenage years saw me perform on the organ at many private and charity events. Mervyn had a Nissan Prairie and would lug this organ from venue to venue, pubs, clubs, charity days – you name it, we did it. At that time I was going to Kingsmead Wiveliscombe community school where I was to meet my English teacher, David Clark who introduced me to the idea of a personal connection with God through Jesus. I had gone may times to the Anglican church in Bampton with Shirley, who was I would describe as a ‘God-fearing’ mother with a good spattering of superstition. However, Jesus had never been presented as real and alive. There was an old organist there who nodded like a turtle every time he played some dreary and meandering thing like the Nunc Dimittis; there were more people in the choir than the congregation on the cold, hard pews and a vicar who glided about the place speaking monosyllabic prose. I think I could have gone in and out of there for years and sadly not really known what was going on. Ironically, after I gave my life to Christ at the age of 14 the words in the Anglican services all made sense and came alive. Prior to that experience, reading a Bible was like attempting to chew a brick.
I was predicted very low grades in all my GCSEs but there was something about the encounter with Christ that grounded what I think was a very troubled soul whose talents and energy were not reined in. To their surprise I surpassed school expectations and got to go to Richard Huish College, Taunton for my A levels. During that time I suffered the loss of my adopted mother. She was 56 and I was 17. Though painful, I had now reframed the way I understood death and so the grieving process was enfolded within a greater hope. From there I went on to gain a scholarship to Trinity College of music, London, an achievement which, sadly, mother was never to see realised.
After five years at TCM and the first person to achieve a Master’s Degree in performance and related studies on an Electone, I wrote syllabi for the TCM external board, gave concerts and taught privately as well as heading up a worship band at Willesden Green Baptist Church, a lively multicultural congregation in north London. Shortly after this, my adopted father passed away in the same year as my biological grandmother, followed by Uncle John’s wife – Auntie Dulcie. I was left with no family and far too many funerals to arrange and attend, and I began to understand how older people feel when their shared memories die with their loved ones. I was told by my grandmother that my biological mother was a sick woman and had died years previously, so as an unmarried man with no children I was forced to ask the question: “Who will bury me?” It saddens me today that I can’t ask, “Mum, Dad, what was I really like as a kid growing up, how did you handle all my mad energy?”
When did the idea of ‘faith’ become part of your thinking and how did this begin to affect your life?
If it wasn’t for my faith in Christ, which has been the glue and the strength to deal with a very fragmented past fraught with so much loss, I don’t think I would be as centred as I am, or even have coped at all. People say, “Christianity is a crutch for the weak.” To me that’s as dumb as saying, “Food is a crutch for the hungry.” We are all broken in one way or another; some are less or more aware of it and only Jesus is the one who is completely whole, so I think it’s a no-brainer to be as close to him as we can. In John’s Gospel, chapter 15, he said he is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him we will never know what it is to be connected to an unconditional, wholehearted and continual love. That has been my experience of him. Loving me in spite of who I am at times and for who I am at other times (probably in that order).
Faith in Christ helps me to frame my entire life. When my adopted dad passed away, I got the call from the nurse to say he had gone while I was furiously trying to driving down to the hospital in time. I immediately stopped the car in a lay-by, took a moment, got out of the car, went down on my knees and said, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, thank you, God, for every blessing.” I don’t take anything for granted. Everything is a bonus, including the very ontology of my own existence. I didn’t have to be here; I have some pretty harsh letters from my grandfather telling my mother what to do with her pregnancy. But by the grace of God, I am here.
Paul the apostle said in Romans 14:8: “if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord” (ESV). God had a few surprises up his sleeve for me as well.
In 2007 I visited my grandfather’s 103-year-old sister, Merva, in New Zealand. I was able to share my faith and hear stories about my grandfather’s childhood growing up in NZ. She also provided me with family history on Grandfather’s side and, despite her bad eyesight, was totally compos mentis. In 2008, I decided to do some research into my biological mother. I discovered my biological mother alive and well in Switzerland and we were reunited after 32 years! I’ll never forget the reunion; she walked in wearing a puffer jacket, pink leggings, smoking a cigar and wearing fluorescent bangles – such a 70s hipster. She asked me if I had met my half-brother and sister to which I replied that I wasn’t aware I had a half-brother and sister! Amazingly within three months they also found me and my mother; we were all searching at the same time and are now reunited. I have wonderful cousins, aunts, uncles across the globe. An aunty in LA, family in Switzerland, Maui, New York. “God sets the lonely in families…” (Psalm 68:6, NIV).
Why and when did you come to a point where you wanted to begin your own Christian faith?
“Wanted to begin” is a curious kind of question. Did I find out that Jesus was the Son of God and then say to myself, “Right, I had better do something about this”? No. I like what psychologist Jordan Peterson says when they ask him, “Do you believe in God?” He answers simply with: “I live as if God exists.” I think people say a lot of things about what they believe but their actions don’t match up. I mean, we are a mystery to ourselves, that’s why we have psychiatrists and psychologists … To know if we believe something, it will affect our lives. People get all angry and upset with Jesus’ brother, James (who, incidentally, I think is closest to Jesus in his thinking of all the New Testament writers) when he says faith without works is a dead faith. It’s not complicated to understand. It doesn’t mean that we need to be checking ourselves to see if we are doing a good job of being Christians in order to convince ourselves we have faith. It means exactly what Paul says when he expresses the truth that we are saved through faith, by grace, for good works which God prepared in advance for us (see Ephesians 2:8-10). When we come to Christ, we don’t ‘decide’ to live a Christian life any more than a freshly born baby now ‘decides’ to live and breathe. As night follows day, one follows the other. All James is saying is, if the switch won’t turn it on then it’s probably just not plugged in. I didn’t kind of ‘want to begin’ being a Christian any more than I wanted to fall in love with Jesus.
I believe that when anyone truly sees Jesus – who he is – he is irresistible, he is everything anyone could wish for. Yes, love is also a decision, but primarily you do that because you value the other person. It’s easy for Christians to look at other Christians and have this deep-down feeling of inferiority and feel that perhaps they aren’t making enough decisions for Christ, or the right decisions for Christ. We need to remember that each relationship is individual, Paul the apostle said in 2 Corinthians 10:12 that when we compare ourselves to others we are unwise. We would all do well to breathe a sigh of relief, stop doing that, and tell Jesus how we are really feeling about everything and anything – he’s got your back.
Why should UK men look at the teachings of Jesus?
UK men can confidently look to Jesus in his attitudes, actions and teachings. Paul says that the same Spirit that raised him from the dead is at work in us to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and so on (see Romans 8:11; Galatians 5:22-23). It’s not to think of men as a picture of strength and women as a picture of emotional awareness. Those attributes of the fruit of the Holy Spirit equally apply to both. Again, being a man or being a woman is not something you try to do; if you do try to do that, you will become a caricature of yourself. That’s why it’s important to remember that in Christ the delineations are broken down. The external (race, gender, class) doesn’t need to define or compromise your internal identity.
I think that the crisis we see in masculinity in our society and general confusion about gender come from thinking that what we are on the inside is unrealised unless it has the correct label or is externally affirmed and identified.
I think any roles that the New Testament sets out for men and women, especially married couples, have to do with models for ways that love can function. The important thing is that love functions, not so much how it functions. In Ephesians 5 Paul draws on a picture of Christ and the Church. This doesn’t mean that men represent Christ and that women represent the Church, that is a trite understanding of the analogy. Christ is a picture of a lover who gives himself up for his bride – the Church – and similarly the Church is the picture of the beloved who will give all she has for her husband. It simply shows that a functioning relationship is not defined by drawing lines in the sand and clinging on to rights. Both parties enter to serve one another. If in a relationship you are worried as a man about who ‘wears the trousers’, then I would jovially suggest you remember that Jesus wore a tunic. As men, our strength is our willingness to set aside any need to use our strength to control, but rather to undergird and, like any good tennis player, improve our serve.
What advice would you give UK men today?
As a man who has taken a slightly unusual path in life – now a professional magician and a performer – I am very comfortable with the feelings of vulnerability every time I get up in front of an audience. Is it going to work? Will they like me? Will it bomb? Sometimes after a show I just wanted to hide under a rock, it all went wrong, and other times shows were so good that I won awards from the Magic Circle. My advice here would be that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. Look at the cross. Worse than putting yourself out there to be vulnerable to experience rejection or success is not putting yourself out there at all.
As a man who has suffered a lot of loss and a lot of blessing from God, I am very comfortable with what may or may not happen in my life. I am 44 and as yet unmarried with no children. However, I have many wonderful friends and family members and two rabbits. I am prepared not to make decisions just for the sake of feeling that I need to fit into moulds. You are unique, don’t take your tack from peer pressure, go to Jesus and talk it out with him and those who you trust that genuinely care about what’s best for you – not what’s best for what they think you should be doing. And remember, people know you better than you think they know you, but not as much as they think they know you. Jesus knows you better than you know yourself.
John Sutcliffe Cape to Cape - by Ali Hull
Facing his fast-approaching 70th birthday and retirement, John Sutcliffe wanted to do “something rather special” – and in his case, that meant planning a walk of more than 1,000 miles, to take him from the foot of the UK, at Cape Cornwall, to the top, at Cape Wrath. John comments: “As a lover of the outdoors, a long walk through Britain would fit the bill and help me reconnect with Britain and the British hills after a lifetime of working abroad.”
The idea, he says, came from a friend of his, who had read a book by someone who had done the same thing. But John was keen to avoid the usual route – Land’s End to John O’Groats, or vice versa. “I am a Far From the Madding Crowd sort of bloke which sort of rules out both Lands’ End and John O’Groats.” He believes that Cape Cornwall has far more to offer than Lands’ End: “It is a lovely unspoilt spot conserved initially by H. J. Heinz, who then bequeathed the land to the National Trust. The rugged Cape of gnarled and twisted rocks is underlain by ancient tin workings that extend far out under the seabed – an extra plus for a minerals exploration geologist like myself.”
Geological concerns were high on John’s agenda, and feature a lot in the book, Cape to Cape, that he wrote about his journey. John O’Groats, he says, is also not as wild and interesting as the alternative he chose. “John O’Groats is underlain by Caithness sandstones that give rise to a flat and rather dreary waterlogged landscape. Cape Wrath is an isolated spot and to get there I would cross the remote and stunningly beautiful North West Highlands. It’s not the most northerly point of mainland Britain, but then, for that matter, neither is John O’Groats.”
While he met with reasonable weather, he couldn’t hope to traverse these islands without meeting some of what they have to offer: “I had a good dousing in gale-force storms crossing Dartmoor which I almost enjoyed, shouting back at the howling wind at the top of my voice until I came across another half-drowned soldier. The real weather challenge, and one I will never forget, started with the onset of Storm Bertha on afternoon of 10th August at Kinloch Hourn. It quickly rose to hurricane status with, I later learned, 100mph winds on the higher ground. I took shelter in a tiny stalkers hut next to a stream. By next morning, it was a raging torrent, impossible to cross. This weather system would plague me for the next 10 days.”
While John did stop overnight in the odd bed and breakfast, he chose to wild camp a lot of the time, picking up supplies and water as he went. How hard was this, particularly towards the end of the walk? “Wild camping was easier than I had anticipated, and except for two occasions, I had no problem in finding a good wild campsite. Wild camping is the only practicable way to cross large tracts of wilderness area, and the tent on your back gives you the freedom to halt the day where your fancy takes you, free of any timetable. Getting supplies was never a problem in England and southern Scotland. For the Highlands, I posted off three food parcels to hotels and a garage, collecting them as I passed by.”
It wasn’t always easy, he says. “Water was occasionally a problem in the southern counties with many streams draining agricultural land and therefore possibly containing pesticide and animal contamination that a water filter will not remove. In these areas I obtained water from pubs, farms and private dwellings. To avoid carrying the extra weight, I tried to leave the task of securing the night’s water as late as possible, which was always a subjective judgement call. The Highlands are well endowed with clear uncontaminated streams.”
He clearly enjoyed the experience, and lists the highlights as: “Discovering and savouring some of Britain’s remaining wild places, making new friends along the way, and the kindness some showed, including permission to camp in a pub garden, being invited into a family’s home, having cups of tea in people’s gardens, receiving offers of lifts – when I didn’t need them.”
Apart from the weather, the biggest problems were equipment, and the scourge of any walker in Scotland in the summer – the midges. “I had aching shoulders and painful feet to contend with, especially on the first part of the walk. When I reached Bath, I changed both rucksack and boots, and that helped a lot.”
John is a keen rambler, and goes out for long walks up and down the glories of the Yorkshire Dales, on a regular basis. So he didn’t spring up from a sedentary lifestyle to tackle the walk. But having said that, to do 1,253 miles, as he did, over 106 days (he had a break to celebrate his mother’s 100th birthday) is still a huge undertaking. What training did he need, and what would he advise anyone else, wanting to literally follow in his footsteps?
“It might sound obvious but walking with a heavy pack is very different to walking with a day pack, especially in mountainous terrain. I would recommend, especially for an older person, a shorter trial walk of, say, 100 miles, carrying the intended equipment over similar terrain. In 2013 I walked from the Yorkshire Dales, through the Lake District to Carlisle, before finally committing to this walk. Being reasonably fit is a big help, but ‘mountain fitness’ will develop along the way. I had allowed several weeks to reach my target of 20km (13.5 miles) per day, so my training was essentially ‘on the job’.”
Did he mind sleeping in the woods on his own? “No. Woods are far safer than our towns. I would have appreciated company from time to time, as this helps reduce the load by sharing common bits of equipment like cooking gear and tent. You just have to remain friends for 99 days!”
What about the dreaded midges? “These are the scourge of the Highlands from July to early September, and they can be truly horrendous. Fortunately there was a good sprinkling of bothies in the Highlands – these are wonderful midge-free basic shelters, free for anyone to use. I think the midges kept people away from the North West Highlands in August, so I had the whole vast area and the bothies almost entirely to myself.”
A Run in the Pennines: The Spine Race - by Pete Woodward
The Spine Race is billed as one of the World’s toughest endurance events. It’s easy to see why, with a spectacular route up the Pennine Way, starting in Edale in the Peak District and finishing after 268 miles of boggy moorland and rocky mountaintops in Kirk Yetholm, just north of the Scottish border. The race is run non-stop with a time limit of seven days. Runners can sleep when and for as long as they want, but in the full knowledge that while they are doing this, the competition is hot-footing it towards Scotland and gaining crucial ground. This spectacular cocktail of extreme race distance and inevitable sleep deprivation pushes runners to their limit on some of the most challenging terrain the UK has to offer. The winter race, held in mid-January and often taking place through deep snow and sub-zero temperatures, has been running since 2012 and has achieved legendary status. In June 2018, I ran the newer summer event over the same course. In comparison with the fierce winter conditions, we gained firmer footing and daylight hours in a trade for running in a week-long summer heatwave with temperatures over 30 degrees C.
Running 268 miles wasn’t something I was taking lightly, and I had trained hard for months in the lead-up to the race. I had struggled along the top of the Seven Sisters in the pitch dark in a winter storm, given myself hyperthermia running 16 miles in a foot of snow and fought hard to take third place in the East Sussex Cross Country League. Standing in the hills on the night before the race, watching the long shadows of a beautiful sunset melt into a still night, I knew I was as ready as I could be, but I still wasn’t sure if it would be enough.
The first two days, covering 110 miles to Hawes, passed fairly smoothly. The sun baked the ground hard and felt like a physical pressure. A cool night running under a bright moon refreshed me and gave me the confidence that I could cover the ground well around the clock. The stunning Malham Cove inspired me. I arrived in fourth position feeling reasonably fresh. I jogged into the checkpoint at the hostel, had something to eat and had four hours’ broken sleep. When I woke, I was concerned to see that a couple of hot spots under the front pads of my feet had developed into huge blisters.
As I shuffled out of the hostel and onto the rough ground of Great Shunner Fell, I entered a very difficult period of the race. My broken feet and swollen shins sent searing pain up my legs. I was exhausted and very daunted by the fact that I wasn’t even half way through the race. I staggered over the top as the first light broke the horizon and shuffled through Thwaite towards green fields. Tired and broken, I lay down and slept on the path as soon as the sun broke the horizon. I woke with the sun on my back and the sound of a crashing waterfall below in the valley, and felt fresher. Pushing on through a huge empty valley, the route passes England’s highest pub, the Tan Hill Inn, before heading into the vast Sleightholme Moor. The path meanders through a seemingly endless expanse of dry heather which shimmered in the heat in all directions. Parched, with the heat building and my exhaustion stifling, I wobbled through an incredibly tough afternoon, eventually staggering into the third checkpoint in Middleton in the late afternoon, determined on ending this torture. How could I possibly cover another 124 miles like this? I could barely stand.
I sat in the shade and stared into space for a while before being plied with chicken curry and slowly becoming more optimistic. Inspired by the steely determination of the first woman, Brigitte, as she screamed while the medics attended her feet and shrugged off the hole in her foot caused by standing on a nail a week earlier, I resolved to rest and head out in the cooler temperatures of the night. Overtired and irritable, I abandoned my attempt to sleep and headed out of the checkpoint as the last of the sunset faded.
The path follows the River Tees for six miles past the spectacular Low Force and High Force waterfall. While initially my progress was good, my attempt at sleep had done little to ease the draining lethargy that smothered me. My temper was short. Two fields warned of bulls and I crept through the sleepy herds, trying to sound soothing to the startled cows while frustration grew inside me. Past one farm a dog came racing out to meet me and aggressively snapped in the dark, eventually forcing me to wearily pick my way across a lumpy field to join the path at a stile.
My feet throbbed with pain and a cold sweat covered me from dealing with this and the tension that every stuttering footstep caused. I sat on the stile and felt close to tears. Feeling alone and vulnerable in this vast space on a dark night, I turned my phone on and was instantly greeted by a flood of positive messages from friends and family. I felt my strength rise, knowing that everybody was willing me through this. I resolved to keep pushing, but the gnawing doubts about my pathetic progress and the vast distance still to be covered nagged at me. Cliffs closed in around the river, their looming presences felt rather than seen in the moonlight. The next two miles to the Cauldron Snout were pitiful. Almost completely covered in a jumble of waist-high boulders, the path was very slow going. I picked my way across the mess on sore feet, every footstep at a different angle, scraping broken legs, tearing blistered skin. I screwed up a lump of my coat, stuffed it in my mouth and bit hard to help deal with the pain. It also stopped the pathetic whimpering sounds that were starting to annoy me.
After what seemed like an eternity, I got to the foot of the rocky scramble up the cliff alongside a surging waterfall. I was sure that these were the last steps of my race. The crashing white water roared down the rocky steps and the thundering echoed around the valley. Tired, broken and intimidated, I scrambled to the top where I could see Pete from the race crew frying bacon and brewing coffee. “How is it going?” he cheerfully asked, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a man who had stood out all night waiting for us to arrive. “I’m broken,” I mumbled and crawled into a tent in a ditch by the side of the road and instantly fell asleep.
I slept deeply, with the sound of the crashing water seemingly distant. Two of the messages that had really helped me to push on earlier in the night were from my wife, Talie, and my brother, Andy. As I came around, surfacing from a deep sleep, I thought I could hear them talking about me outside the tent. My heart raced. Were they here? How? On stiff legs I stumbled out of the tent and blinked into the darkness as Pete grinned at me over the flames of the camping stove. He was on his own. I had imagined it. I was confused and still only semiconscious as Pete took the opportunity to load me with coffee, bacon and paracetamol.
“I nearly went for a swim while you were asleep,” he joked. He had gone to the edge of the swirling waters to rinse the mugs and had fallen in, only just scrambling out. We chuckled about the daft situation, in a remote part of the Pennines, where I could barely stand, and he had almost been swept over the edge of a waterfall.
I was off before I really had time to think about it and, walking up the bridleway to the crest of the next hill, I had a chat with myself. The way I saw it, I had three options: stop, stagger to the end like the living dead, or take the fight to the race. In the end, there was no real decision to make. There was fighting or there were various forms of giving up. I had come here to race, not to mince around on broken feet.
By now, I had reached the crest of the hill and the sun broke the horizon, flooding the vast empty plateau with golden light. I stuffed my coat into my mouth, bit hard and started running. Cold sweat caused by dealing with the pain ran down my face. Tears prickled in my eyes. I have previously developed a strategy in road racing, inspired by the great Ron Hill, that when it starts to hurt, I push harder. These are the moments that can decide whether races are won or lost. Here I was fighting for survival in the race, but the principle was the same. I ran harder, it hurt more, I ran harder still. Eventually, my feet went numb and the elation of covering ground quickly rose within me. I am going to survive this race. I am going to beat this race. The more the elation rose inside, the harder and more aggressively I ran.
Through a vast open plateau and to the lip of High Cup Nick, a huge U-shaped valley gouged by a glacier on the edge of the Northern Pennines. Around the rim I soared and raced down the grassy slope to Dufton. Coursing with adrenaline and feeling fiercely defiant, I snarled and grimaced up the longest climb of the route to the highest point of Cross Fell. The scale of the landscape inspired me and fed my almost animal-like aggression. Soaring on my momentum and looking to land the killer blow on the race, I hatched a plan to run straight through the next checkpoint and collect my sleeping bag. I planned to run as far as I could before dark and put myself within striking distance of the finish on the following day. Suddenly thinking about the race finish had me surging like a track runner who has just heard the bell and I pushed hard until, by sunset, I was staggering across Featherstone Moor on shaky legs.
I eventually lay down my sleeping bag and crashed into a deep sleep, 72 miles from the finishing line in Scotland. In my exhaustion, I forgot to text race control and had a very entertaining midnight rendezvous with the race safety team; me surfacing from a deep sleep in complete panic and thrashing around unable to escape from my sleeping bag.
I overslept, or more accurately, semiconsciously told my alarm what I thought about being woken at 1 a.m. to go running. Waking an hour later ,I squeezed stiff shoes onto swollen feet and hobbled through a thick mist. A spectacular final day started with a run along the ridge of Hadrian’s Wall, a sea of silky white clouds below extending to the distant hills. Magical memories. Into the Northumberland National Park, I pushed hard through pine forests and fiddly stretches of farmland, my fuddled brain struggling with the navigation and making simple mistakes.
Just after the final checkpoint, I caught Heinz in fifth place on a high heathery moorland that was shimmering in the stagnant afternoon heat. By now it was clear that I was enjoying a spectacular day of running form, the sort that I have only experienced a couple of times before. Keen to secure fifth place, I pushed hard on wide forest tracks and up the steep climb from Byrness onto the Cheviot range, our final obstacle. A dark, springy ribbon of peat wound through the Cheviots over the final 27 miles to Kirk Yetholm. A spectacular sunset lit the sky on one side of the ridge and a bright moon rose over the other. I ran with abandon, in pure joy at pushing hard at the end of a race that had brought me to my knees only a day earlier. A sense of calm settled within me and as I skipped across the paving slabs and scree slopes, trails and summit cairns, I felt completely at one with the mountains in a way I have never experienced before. I thundered down a steep slope, nine miles from the finish, past Jonathan to take fourth place. With a still night settling over the mountains, I eased back and soaked up the moment. Over the cattle grid, up the final hill on the road and I floated around the village green to touch the wall of the Border Hotel and finish the race.
“How do you feel?” Scott, the race director asked.
“Incredible,” I replied. “That is the best run I have ever done.”
A Marathon with a Difference - by Luke Gratton
It had been nine years since I had been on mission,” explains 38-year-old Luke Gratton from Prestatyn in North Wales, “and I felt my world view had become limited; I believe you need to make sure every now and then that this is blown apart and that you are living in a bigger way.”
This is why Luke embraced training for a marathon across the Kenyan desert when his wife, Karen, who leads Alive Church in their home town, signed him up for an ‘adventure’. Karen had completed the Muskathlon Challenge in Rwanda in aid of Christian child development charity Compassion UK herself in 2017 and the family had since sponsored Nphibia.
The Muskathlon is an overseas adventure challenge hosted by 4M UK for Compassion UK, with participants choosing from a half, full or ultra-marathon, 120km cycle or 42km or 63km walk through the communities for which they are fundraising. The event encourages participants to find sponsors for children or raise funds to support local initiatives such as building classrooms and toilets.
“I’ve always played sport but I wasn’t a runner so it was a challenge to get up to marathon distance. However, I’ve developed a love for running.” explains Luke. “I started by running 5ks in my lunch breaks and then gradually moved up to 10k where I plateaued for quite a while. I eventually managed to push myself to do a half-marathon – and went on to do four or five of these but didn’t manage a full 26 miles until I was out in Kenya.”
Luke, who at the time worked as a visual producer for Npower, left behind Karen and his two sons Noah (ten) and Eli (seven) for the week-long trip to Kenya. Travelling with 55 other race-goers from the UK, the team visited Compassion-supported projects in the slums of Nairobi and then out in the region of Marigat in western Kenya to meet some of those being impacted by the charity’s support, before taking on their challenges at the end of the week.
“I love the Muskathlon mantra – to live for a cause bigger than your own,” comments Luke. “I really felt my heart had become hardened to the actual plight of people. You can see adverts and news reports about poverty taking place in the world, but unless you activate all of your senses you don’t really know what that’s really like. You need to get out into the world to see in all rawness the conditions people are living in. I liken mission to taking a defibrillator to your heart to shock it back into sync with God’s.
“The disparity between those who have a degree of wealth and those who have nothing was troubling to see in Kenya. In this country (UK) there is real poverty but a lot of the time it is hidden poverty or at least the majority of people have a brick-built home or a degree of help from the government. The poverty I saw in the slums in Nairobi was a real shock, kids under three years old playing in the dirt next to broken glass, walking through sludge to get to what the family I visited called their home, which was nothing more than a broken shed door leading to a damp, dark, dingy room divided into two parts, one for sitting (living.) in and the other for sleeping, and this space was for eight people. And yet there was still hope found there, in the midst of darkness still a light. The mum asked us to pray not so that all of this existence would magically evaporate away, but that her daughter who was sponsored through Compassion would complete her education, and that her small business selling samosas would succeed so she could continue to provide for her family and gradually bit by bit improve the quality of their lives.“The love, acceptance and community I experienced from those who have very, very little was humbling. I came to realise that I was not there to try to be a superhero or a ‘saviour’ to them, and they were not looking for that, I was there to show dignity, love, acceptance and to champion them and let hope rise.”
To date Luke has raised almost £2,000 to support children living in poverty in Kenya. In addition, his supporters have sponsored two children in Kenya, and Luke and his family have also sponsored six-year-old Boaz. This sponsorship of £25 a month is giving Boaz the chance to have a different future – he’s already been able to start school. Their support will also enable him to be part of his local Compassion project where he will receive nutritious meals, emotional support, medical attention, the chance to get a good quality education and the opportunity to hear about the love of Jesus.
While in Kenya, Luke visited Boaz and his family at home, taking a pack of gifts from his own family and also the Alive Church in Prestatyn – including colouring books, pencils, a teddy bear and even a Welsh flag.
“It was humbling to see that £25 – equivalent to a meal out here in Wales – can make such a huge difference to a child and their entire family each month. Eight of them live in a corrugated iron shack and the dad struggles to bring in money as they don’t have any land. We tried to put a smile on Boaz’s face and give his family hope for the future.”
Compassion has been working in Kenya since 1980, and it currently partners with 392 local churches in the country to provide more than 114,000 children the opportunity to attend school, eat nutritious meals, receive medical check-ups and learn vocational skills. Luke and the other participants have raised over £150,000 through the Muskathlon challenge in 2018, more than doubling the amount raised in 2017. These vital funds raised will provide 1,500 solar lights to Kenyan households, giving a safe, reliable and environmentally sustainable way to light their homes. In addition, they will enable 49 Kenyan students to access further education, by providing scholarships for secondary and post-secondary education.
An additional 300 children in Kenya are also now being sponsored thanks to the support secured by the Muskathlon Challenge participants.
“The whole week had been very emotional, and you knew this painful challenge was coming, but that didn’t stop us all bonding and having some fun. One memorable evening, after a long tough day, we got out a guitar and sang some crazy old school songs,” explains Luke.
On ‘challenge day’, Luke, alongside his teammates, made the 26-mile run in 40 degrees C over “knee-crippling” terrain with rocks, stones, potholes and even a river crossing in an impressive time of five hours and 20 minutes. “I deliberately made sure I didn’t start at too fast a pace. It got up to 44C during the challenge and you could feel the heat radiating off the mud,” said Luke.
“When you run a marathon you need to run your own race because you have trained to a pace that you know you can run at, and therefore to run with others is not always helpful because they are not running at the pace you are used to running at. But as the run went on, I came to realise that with the terrain, heat and other adverse conditions I was facing, that camaraderie and support was essential because you are not only running a physical challenge but also a mental challenge. When I was losing the mental challenge, having someone by the side of me where we could encourage each other was essential.
“I met Ranjit during the first half of the marathon and actually we were running at a similar pace, so that also helped. Early on we decided that we were going to cherish every moment of this incredible adventure we were participating in. So we stopped for the occasional selfie and chatted to kids as they ran out of their schools when they saw ‘mzungus’ (white man in Swahili) running past in heat that not even they would be out in. Ranjit and I then picked up Findlay during the second half of the marathon. We decided that in the words of the three musketeers that it was about ‘all for one and one for all’ and that we would make sure that each one of crossed the finishing line safely, because when the heat got up to 44C that was dangerous heat, and at one point we ended up running between spots of shade to try to keep our body temperatures down. The Bible says: ‘If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble’ (Ecclesiastes 4:10, NLT). We crossed the line together and then shared a big manly hug.”
Now back in the UK, Luke reflects on the challenge and the impact it has had on both himself and his family. “It’s been important for my kids to see Daddy going on an adventure and helping change the lives of others. Noah and Eli have loved seeing the pictures of Boaz and they are proud to be a part of his life. Karen and I want them to live adventurous and outside their comfort zone.”
As for recommending the challenge to others: “Definitely step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to live for a cause bigger than yourself. Be prepared for your whole world to be rocked, but that’s not a bad thing. I wanted to go somewhere and feel like I had left my sweat in the mud – I didn’t want to go and be passive. Doing a challenge like the Muskathlon, you do just that. This was a statement of my commitment to future generations being released from poverty in Kenya.“Karen and I are also both inspired to get out there more and are looking to go on a joint mission somewhere in 2020.”
The 2019 Muskathlon for Compassion UK is taking place in Rwanda in East Africa in June, with money being raised to help children living in poverty there. You can sign up here to take part:
Sorted Issue 66
In the our latest Issue 66, read about Alanzo Paul's return to Faith and how Denzel is spreading the word through his movie career. We also have many more brilliant articles from our great team of columnists. Don’t miss this limited edition magazine.
And Gadgets, Entertainment, Motoring, Movies, Technology
Plus, the greatest team of Christian writers ever assembled.
Inner City Life, The Story of Alanzo Julian Paul - By Alex Willmott, Chief Features Writer
With the statistics of church decline grabbing column inches and headlines on a regular basis, Sorted magazine caught up with Alanzo Paul to hear his drug-fuelled story of transformation and new faith.
What was your upbringing like?
I had quite a normal Canadian upbringing with loving and present parents, as well as an extremely athletic sister who lovingly toughened me up with wedgies and banter. We were a really happy family who played board games, built snowmen, went sledging, and did other such activities that one can enjoy when it’s a brisk -40C winter day in Canada. I grew up in a nominally Catholic home and when we did go to church, I didn’t really understand its meaning, significance, or relevance. Nostalgically, I reminisce on how religious holidays such as Christmas, from my perspective, had the primary function and focus of amassing presents. While Easter, for me, equalled delightfully gorging one’s self on copious amounts of chocolate bunnies.
Unbeknown to me at that time, for years, storms had been forming and thundering between my parents. When I was 12 years old, it reached its climax and my parents’ marriage ended, unfortunately, in a nasty divorce. My father moved 30 minutes away to another city and remarried. My mother was shattered and began what she calls “her dark years”. My sister also took it exceptionally hard and sought refuge with her friends. I was left by myself. Abandonment, anxiety and guilt began to wrap their icy tentacles around my heart and were choking the life out of my blissful upbringing.
Tell us about your teens and what life looked like for you.
At 12 years of age, I did not know how to handle the implosion of my family. Thus, in order to medicate the … pain that I was experiencing, I smoked my first marijuana cigarette, my first tobacco cigarette, and had my first experience of drinking alcohol. This was much of how I spent my teenage years. I was not focused on goals such as university, my future career and so forth, but rather, I struggled desperately [to] find a sense of belonging, identity, self-worth and ultimately, love. My reasoning was “what was the point?” of pursuing such endeavours if I’m literally crumbling on the inside. I felt utterly broken.
Fast forward to 18 years old, I had barely graduated high school and had been kicked out of my mother’s house. Subsequently, I moved in with my father who also kicked me out a short while later, then I moved to a ‘dodgy’ part of town. My substance abuse, which was already a part of my regular daily routine, increased exponentially. In addition to my use of marijuana, tobacco and alcohol, I became addicted to opiates like percosets, morphine and OxyContin. From the moment I awoke until I fell asleep, I would be snorting. My ‘friends’ at that time were gangsters and drug dealers and my upbringing was but a memory.
When did the idea of ‘faith’ become part of your thinking, and how did this begin to affect your life?
When I was 20 or so, I had opened up a clothing store with a drug-dealing acquaintance of mine, and around that time my sister escaped an abusive relationship. While recovering from the experience, she came across a group of Christians and became a follower of Jesus. The change was remarkable, there was a peace and a joy in her. As astonishing as this transformation was, when she invited me to church I was hesitant to say the least. I ranted and raved about not wanting to be judged by these Christians. Eventually, I told her the truth, “‘I already feel bad about myself… why would I go there to feel worse?”
My sister loves me and is persistent. She told me that if I came I would, at least, leave feeling positive. After some time, I conceded. One Sunday morning, around the age of 20, I snorted a fresh rail of OxyContin, grabbed a coffee and went to church. This was the beginning.
Why and when did you come to a point where you wanted to begin your own Christian faith?
When the pastor spoke about Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be God in the flesh, I felt as if I had been lied to my entire life. I felt as if no one actually told me the truth about who Jesus was. Generally, society labels Jesus as a “good man” or a “good moral teacher”. Or perhaps, as some world views claim, an enlightened guru or prophet. However, that was not what I was observing as I read his own words and studied the eyewitness accounts of his life (the Gospels). As C.S. Lewis pointed out, there are only so many options when viewing who Jesus is. He is either lying, crazy, or the Lord.
His teachings were extraordinary, for instance: “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”; “I am the … truth” (John 8:32; 14:6, NIV). Not only is his teaching extraordinary, his life was as well. The way he radically included the marginalised of society; women (at the time), the untouchables, the unpopular, the unreligious, the uncivilised and the unloved. He helped those with broken relationships. He was a friend to the friendless. He healed those with shattered lives. Lastly, from my perspective, his self-sacrificial love was extraordinary.
Voluntarily laying down his life on the cross, replacing our brokenness with his wholeness, our darkness with his light, our sin for his righteousness, and our death with his life. His … teaching, life and love were all compelling arguments that Jesus was [not lying or crazy], but rather, is Lord. Furthermore, I never knew that Christianity invited you to challenge and examine it. It’s a faith that invites you to engage your mind, to think, to reason and to process the data about this person, Jesus. To examine the eye-witness accounts of his life, his claims and to ultimately examine his death and resurrection. This is a lifelong pursuit of truth which I love. After several Sundays of hearing about Jesus, I figured maybe he could love me too. I prayed a simple prayer of inviting Jesus into my life and it transformed me.
Why do you think that the Christian Church in the UK is engaging with such low numbers and facing further decline?
This is a complex question and difficult to narrow down to one specific reason or another. Many have drifted from being a practising Christian to a non-practising Christian, or something else, because of one of the following reasons: they have stopped believing the teachings of Christianity; abandoned the Church because of scandal; or they disagree with the Church’s position on certain political or social issues. These factors, I think, lead to lower numbers of people engaging with the Christian Church in the UK and, unless something changes, may lead to further decline in the UK’s Christian population.
Christianity is still the largest religion in the world. According to Pew Research in 2015, 31 per cent (2.3 billion) of the world’s total population is Christian. Globally, Christianity is steadily growing due to conversions and birth rate. However, it does seem to be declining in Europe specifically. Why is that? One factor to consider is that between 2010-2015, the European Christian population experienced a lower birth rate than death rate. Conversely, all other religious groups experienced the opposite. Clearly, this led to a steady decline, and if it continues we’ll see more of that.
However, I think there is hope for Christianity in the UK. Everyone has deep and meaningful questions about life. We want to know the truth about what to believe and not believe. Unfortunately, some churches have not always done a great job engaging with and responding to people’s questions and, consequently, they leave to seek answers elsewhere. I am a part of an organisation called Zacharias Trust that helps people with those very questions. To show seekers of truth that the gospel is meaningful, beautiful and credible. We do this around the globe in universities, corporations, parliaments, churches and so forth.
Based on my experience of speaking with people, my childhood represents the majority of people’s experience of church. Their understanding of church or Christianity is a misconception. Therefore, in order to reduce current declining trends, the mandate of every single Christian is clear and the apostle Peter says it best, “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Why should UK men look at the teachings of Jesus?
I think UK men should look at the teachings of Jesus for a number of reasons, including the answers to our origin, meaning, identity and significance. One reason in particular is Jesus’ teachings of hope in a dying world. All human beings long for hope. Hope for a better society, justice, restoration of broken relationships, forgiveness and for true love. Secularists during the 18th century Enlightenment period, shifted hopes from God to better psychology, politics, higher education, freedom of sexual identity and expression, in the hope that this would resolve the significant problems of humanity and finally create the utopia they’d longed for. However, in the 20th century, humanity achieved feats such as corruption, world war, sex slavery, and the list goes on.
In the 21st century, the secularist seems to have shifted hopes again – hoping that robotics and artificial intelligence will remedy our broken relationships; hoping that social media will sufficiently cultivate community and resolve our deep sense of loneliness; hoping that we’ll achieve immortality and rid humanity of the problem of death (i.e. the uploading our consciousness to the Cloud).
However, Jesus taught that there is a different hope that exists. Christians describe our hope as a “living hope” [see 1 Peter 1:3] and the bedrock of it is the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He was crucified for his claims of being God, he came to reveal God’s true identity, he came to identify with our humanity and suffering, and to give up his life for the sins of humanity.
It’s not just a hope but a living hope because Jesus did not stay dead after his crucifixion, but … he rose from the dead, demonstrating that death will not ultimately conquer us and the universe but rather, that he has conquered death. This is just one reason why UK men and women should take seriously the teachings, life, and death of Jesus.
What advice would you give youngsters in destructive patterns today?
My advice is this – if God is willing to reach out, help out, and love someone like me, he is willing do to it for anyone. I was not worth spitting on when God rescued me, but he did because of his great love for all of us. Don’t think that God is mad at you, but rather he is madly in love with you and he went to the cross to prove it. With that being said, if you have a background similar to mine, it’s a tough journey ahead. I have had many more failures and falls than successes. Fortunately, God’s grace is more than enough, every step of the way. More than that, it’s been worth the struggle, so please don’t give up.
A few tips that helped me along my journey of freedom from addiction to spiritual maturity:
1 Connect into a passionate Christian community (aka church): All of them are imperfect so just be forewarned, but you and I are not either, so we fit in perfectly.
2 The journey of discipleship: It was the love and support of people that really helped me get back on my feet. Find someone at church who loves you and loves Jesus and is willing to mentor you.
3 Practise spiritual disciplines: Discipline is a little tough at first, but with discipline comes freedom. It can give you structure to help you have a productive life as well as ensuring that you are connected to God, which is vital for growth. Remember: eat, pray, sing. Eat: the Bible is spiritual nourishment, eat heartily every day. Pray: prayer is when you speak to God and it also gives God a chance to talk back. Sing: worshipping God cultivates an attitude of gratitude in your heart and gets the focus off ourselves onto him.
Denzel Washington, Man on a Mission - By Jan Janssen
Denzel Washington is a man with a deep sense of mission in life. It extends to his family, his movie career, and most importantly, to his faith in God. The son of a Pentecostal preacher, Washington has long been driven by an abiding belief that we are summoned to bring greater good to the world.
“We all have a spiritual nature and I don’t think we should deny that – we should embrace it,” says Washington. “I am trying to suggest that there is a higher calling to life and you can interpret that any way you want. My belief is that we are all born with a purpose to bring something good to the world and not just think in terms of our narrow self-interest.
“I have faith that we have a greater purpose in life and that is what inspires us to be good men and women and it’s up to us to take responsibility for living up to a higher morality than simply whatever base instincts move us. ”That powerful spiritual message regularly finds expression in the characters the 63-year-old Washington has inhabited in the course of his storied Hollywood career. Last year’s Roman J. Israel, Esq. saw him take on the title role of a man suffering from Asperger’s syndrome who serves as a legal missionary waging a tireless fight in the corridors of a deeply flawed judicial system. In the course of the film, Israel is given to biblical-like sacrifices of money, personal relationships, and his reputation while staying true to his ideals. “He has an Old Testament-like faith in the law,” is how Washington describes the character.
Dan Gilroy, the film’s director and writer, invested Israel with Christ-like qualities and it’s hardly surprising that he wrote the part specifically for Washington. “Denzel brings dedication and truth to his work and in this case [his character] is working towards a better humanity – he’s an absolute hero.”
Not only did Washington earn his eighth Oscar nomination for his performance – he won for Training Day in 2002– but Roman J. Israel, Esq. was yet another powerful example of how he relishes the chance to embrace characters whose moral ardour and Christian values match his own unshakeable faith. In an age of trash culture and the voracious spell of social media, Denzel is steadfast in his determination to use his celebrity pulpit to preach higher virtues the masses.
Says Washington: “I speak now and I’m doing what God told me to do from the beginning. It was prophesied that I would travel the world and preach to millions of people. It was prophesied when I was 20. I thought it was through my work and it has been.”
He adds: “When I was 59 my mother said to me, ‘Denzel, you do a lot of good. You have to do good the right way and you know what I’m talking about.’ I don’t drink any more, I don’t do any of those things. I’m all about the message, to the degree that I know it, and I’m unashamed and unafraid to share it.” One of his messages to young people today, especially those finding themselves increasingly obsessed with their Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts, is a simple one: “Turn it off.”
“It’s hard for young people now. They’re hooked, they’re addicted. If you don’t think you’re addicted ... then see if you can turn it off for a week,“ says Washington.
“It’s a tool, so we should use it. God has blessed us with free will, now, it’s free will magnified, free will on steroids. You’re free to go in any direction you want. It’s not the enemy, it’s just a reflection of our own free will.”
Washington believes that the current social media feeding frenzy is the result of a desire for acceptance and wanting to be liked:
“We used to do anything to be liked, but it was [to be liked] by the person in front of you. Now it’s to be liked by 16 million people that you don’t know. We have to ask ourselves what is the long-term effect, if not the short-term effect, of too much information.”
This kind of reflection is consistent with Washington’s willingness to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a Christian messenger in his own right. Young Denzel often spent long hours listening to his father’s sermons to the point where “going to church felt like a job” and he “rejected” any notion of becoming a pastor himself.
“For a time, it sent me in another direction,” admits Washington. “That can be a pattern for a preacher’s son. I had to go to church, so it wasn’t fun. I didn’t know anything different. Being a minister’s son, having grown up in the church and learned the cadence, it was probably easier to play that part. I had some idea of different rhythms ... but I needed spend time working things out on my own.”
After his parents divorced when he was 14, his mother sent him to a private school where he became serious about his academic studies, and which also helped him avoid the fate of three of his closest friends who wound up serving decades in prison.
Denzel then attended Fordham University where he went through pre-med, pre-law and political science studies before being kicked out for low grades while spending most of his time partying rather than studying. Recalls Washington:
“Acting was my calling. The year I started acting there was a woman in my mother’s beauty shop, who kept looking at me in the mirror. Finally she got a piece of paper and wrote ‘prophecy’ at the top. She said: ‘You are going to travel the world and preach to millions of people.’ Now, bear in mind that I’d just been kicked out of school. I said: ‘You see anything there about me being let back into school?’ That was in March 1975 and in September 1975 I started acting. I still got that piece of paper, too.”
He started out as an aspiring theatre actor in New York and knew from the first time he set foot on stage that that was how he saw his professional life unfolding. He had no inkling that he was destined for major stardom, however.
“I started in the theatre and I was hoping that one day I’d make 650 bucks a week on Broadway. That’s not to say I didn’t want to do movies. I started acting in 1975, so the films I was seeing and liking starred [Robert] De Niro and [Al] Pacino and [Dustin] Hoffman. I didn’t know anything about Hollywood, I just knew that these were good actors telling these great stories. Meanwhile, I was doing [Eugene] O’Neill and Shakespeare, so I was looking at them and thinking, ‘I’d like to be in a movie like that.’ But I never said, ‘I want to have a movie career.’”
He earned his big break as actor in 1982 when he landed the role of Dr Phillip Chandler on the hit NBC TV series, St. Elsewhere. Audiences were drawn to his handsome and charismatic persona and it was his stepping stone to Hollywood.
“I didn’t consider it a big break – though I’m sure my agent did [laughs]. I remember [producer] Bruce Paltrow [late father of actress Gwyneth Paltrow] – God rest his soul – and at the end of every season, I’d ask him, ‘Should I rent or should I buy?’ And he’d say, ‘Keep renting.’”
"We were never a ratings hit, we were a critical hit. But oftentimes you don’t know what your big break is at the time.”
His TV stardom coincided with his meeting the love of his life in actress Pauletta Pearson, whom he married in 1983. They’ve been together ever since – which surely must qualify Denzel for Hollywood sainthood – and have raised four children together, David, 34 Katia, 30, and 27-year-old twins Malcolm and Olivia.
Denzel credits his wife with having given him the requisite emotional and practical support so that he could take off for months at a time in pursuit of a burgeoning film career without ever worrying that “things would fall apart” at home.
“Pauletta is a magnificent woman,” says Washington. “She’s kept me grounded and working hard and kept me in life. She’s worked hard to look after our children all these years when I’ve often been away for three or four months at a time pursuing my career. She’s never complained once about that and given me the freedom to be able to work as often as I’ve worked – as long as I come home and do my chores. “It’s been my spiritual obligation to take out the garbage and do the dishes and spend time with the children [while they were growing up] or Pauletta [would] make me face hell. If I ever, for one moment, play the big move star, Pauletta doesn’t need God to put me back in my place. She can kick my butt very nicely without any divine assistance.” [laughs] Over the years, Washington has established himself as one of the most respected and most talented actors in the business. He’s appeared in one classic film after another including Cry Freedom (as South African political activist Steve Biko), Malcolm X, Philadelphia, The Pelican Brief, Training Day, Man on Fire, The Hurricane, The Equalizer, and The Magnificent Seven.
This summer he gets to return to his role as Robert McCall, the righteous vigilante who once again delivers the world from evil in The Equalizer 2. It’s fairly rare that Washington – despite his shattering portrayal of a violent, corrupt cop in Training Day – plays villains or violent men, but he feels an affinity towards McCall’s sense of justice and desire to atone for his violent past.
“I’m not necessarily drawn to violent characters but I understood this man’s dedication and resolve,” Washington explains. “He wants to live a quiet life but circumstances intervene and he can’t back down. He lives by a personal code of honour and he’s not someone you ever want to cross, to put it mildly. “He wants to do the right thing, basically. He’s promised his wife, who’s dead, that he wouldn’t go back to being the kind of violent man he was before but he feels compelled to use violence again in order to defend people ... Even though he suffers from insomnia and OCD and isn’t a very happy man, he finds a renewed purpose in life by defending people and that brings him out of his very isolated existence. But he’s a long way from healing himself.”
Atonement, healing, defending the oppressed, these could all be themes for one of his late father’s sermons. Denzel admits to still having vivid memories of those fire and brimstone oratories and has lately taken to openly embracing his faith and espousing Christian principles at various public occasions such as the college commencement address he gave at Dillard University in 2015 or at the Church of God in Christ’s annual ‘We Care’ Charities Banquet in St Louis, Missouri in 2016.
Up on stage, he vowed that he would become more actively involved “in getting up and speaking about what God has done” for him. “Give thanks for blessings every day. Every day. Embrace gratitude. Encourage others. It is impossible to be grateful and hateful at the same time.”
In the same address, he quoted a prayer that he is fond of reciting: “I pray that you put your slippers way under your bed at night, so that when you wake in the morning you have to start on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, say ‘thank you’.” The last time Washington had engaged in sermonising was when he played Malcolm X, the famous black civil rights leader. Getting up on stage might seem natural for a seasoned actor, but Denzel is quick to caution that preaching the Word of God requires a different set of skills.
“[Preaching] is not performance-based if you mean what you say. And you better mean what you say. My father did. He believed it with every fibre of his being. He was a man of God and we share that. For him, the pulpit was wherever he was. My father was a minister and my mother owned a beauty shop. So that seems like perfect breeding ground for an actor. That covers a lot.”
He adds: “I remember some years ago asking my pastor: ‘Do you think I’m supposed to be a preacher?’ And he said: ‘Well, you are. You have a pulpit of your own.’ That’s not to say that I’m preaching, necessarily. I don’t want to tell you what you need to do. I mean, I’m not turning it up to ten when it comes to being correct, I’m not that guy, I like my wine.”
Even though they were often estranged from each other, Washington still draws inspiration from his preacher father:
“My father was the greatest personal inspiration of my life. I draw strength from his memory and his unshakeable belief in the power of all us to achieve something positive and beneficial and wonderful in life. Whenever I’m down or feeling sorry for myself, I take great solace in my father’s faith and spiritual strength. He was a rock. Just like my wife, Pauletta. I could never have achieved what I’ve been able to accomplish as an actor without her love and support behind me.”
Had he not chosen acting as his life’s calling, could Denzel have seen himself looking after his own flock of churchgoers the way his dad did?
“I don’t know if I could have been as committed and dedicated to the Church like he was,” Washington muses. “But I do think I possess an inspirational streak in me like he had. I know I have the desire and impulse to want to encourage people. Make people become better. Lift them up when they’re down or gone down the wrong path in life. I believe we can all help each other if we want to. I wouldn’t want to go through life saying I didn’t help.”
Ed Stafford, First Man Out - By Martin Leggatt, Deputy Editor
Ed Stafford was bitten by the bug for adventure from an early age as a Cub and then Scout. Four years as an officer in the Devon and Dorset Regiment can only have sharpened his appetite for adventure, and after leaving the army he undertook an incredible two-year expedition to walk the entire length of the Amazon. Aired on television as Walking the Amazon, it was an adventure described by another legendary explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, as “truly extraordinary” and has been celebrated with an array of awards and Guinness World Records. He has been commissioned for several shows for Discovery Channel since 2012 and Sorted’s Martin Leggatt caught up with him between filming for his new show First Man Out.
You’re in the Guinness Book of Records for your epic Amazon expedition and received loads of accolades. When you set out, did you think it would be that big a deal to people?
I think I did realise that it would be a big deal to people, because so many people told me, “That’s impossible, you can’t do that, you’ll die.” That really annoyed me, and I felt that I wanted to prove people wrong in many respects. However, I also knew that in order to be noticed and build a name for myself, I had to do something that had never been done before.
I took along my own camera to document the experience because I wanted to show people how challenging it was, and I thought it would make for a good story. The challenge wasn’t all about having my name in the papers, although I managed to carve a TV career out of it – and that wasn’t by accident. That side of it did appeal to me. But, deep down, I wanted to prove that I could do something outside of the ordinary. As a result of Walking the Amazon, it’s given me a career that I love.
What kept you going? That you were doing it for charity?
The scale of the challenge and the satisfaction that would come from completing it was obviously a massive pull. And charity was always at the forefront of my mind, as I knew so many people had supported various causes, and there’s always that thought that you don’t want to disappoint others by throwing in the towel.
Does Cho [Gadiel Sánchez Rivera, a Peruvian adventurer and Ed’s companion on his Amazon adventure] still accompany you on your adventures?
Not any more, no. He came back with me to the UK for a while after Walking the Amazon, and he stayed with my mum. Now he lives in Pucallpa, Peru, and has a baby with an indigenous Shipibo woman.
You’re married with a son. Does that make you think twice about going off on adventure?
Obviously, you now think more about other people, and my family are the most important thing to me. When I used to set off on adventures, I would do so without any hesitation or properly thinking about particular dangers or repercussions. Now I know that I have to come back for my family, so it has changed my perspective on that front.
After becoming a father, the temptation is to stay at home more and be with the family, but it’s been great fun filming for the latest series. I think having a family now makes filming for Discovery Channel more meaningful as I’m providing for Laura and Ran by doing what I’m doing. I believe that a family is like a harbour – it’s where you are safest and where you can rest and recover. But a ship isn’t built to stay in its harbour.
Your wife, Laura, is an explorer in her own right, and now you have a son. What are the odds on him following in his parents’ footsteps?
It’s a clichéd answer, but he can honestly be anything he wants to be as long as he’s happy. I suspect that he’ll amount to quite a lot more, and I’m not so much of a hippy that I don’t want to see him succeed financially and in business.
Is that something you’d encourage?
I’ll definitely encourage him to embrace the outdoors and he can have his own adventures, make mistakes and become a fuller and more rounded person as a result. More importantly for me is that he’s at peace inside and if he’s confident, humble and retains his sense of humour when things go wrong, everything else will slot into place. The last thing he needs is pressure to perform – life is to be grinned at and enjoyed.
Do you think you’ll ever stop and lead a less exciting life?
Things do change naturally as part of having a family. Nowadays, whenever I’m in the country, I make the most of the downtime and love spending my time at home surrounded by Laura and Ran and catching up with my friends. I don’t think I’ll ever lose the urge to travel, see new places and learn new things. It’s more likely that I will just naturally slow down as I get older, the same as everyone. But that won’t stop be from doing what I love.
What can you tell us about your new show for Discovery, First Man Out?
First Man Out is a ‘survival-off’ between the best international survival experts in incredible and remote locations. I face a different expert each episode and they have all been humble characters so far, who genuinely want to push themselves and learn and grow, so it’s been a very positive experience for all involved.
Is there an unfulfilled adventure out there for you?
There’s still so much more of the world I would like to see. Ultimately, the adventures I can’t wait for the most are the ones I’d like to take my son, Ran, on, with his mother, of course. I’d love to show him the Amazon and tell him stories I have from my experiences there.
What’s next for you, Ed?
The next show with Discovery is the focus at the moment. In terms of the future – more kids, more adventures, more fun, but also more relaxing and enjoying what we have achieved so far.
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