Sorted Issue 55
James Corden - American TV’s new sensation
Tom Hanks - Hollywood’s humble star
Krish Kandia - healing invisble scars
From End to End - Driving the UK in a Caterham Seven
Christian Legacy - how will you be remembered?
And Gadgets, Entertainment, Motoring, Movies, Technology
Plus, the greatest team of Christian writers ever assembled.
What really matters is what you believe
Tom Hanks is a titan of modern cinema, master of dramatically moving portrayals, icon of acting hopefuls everywhere, humble philanthropist, producer, director, writer, all-round thoroughly nice guy and, what many people didn’t realise, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.
With almost 80 acting and over 50 producer credits to his name, Tom Hanks has been nominated for in excess of 100 industry awards. He has scooped two Oscars, eight Emmys, one BAFTA, four Golden Globes, and was the youngest ever person to win a lifetime achievement from the American Film Institute. Boasting a career that spans 36 years, Hanks’ films have grossed over $8.5bn at the box office, making him the fourth highest grossing actor of all time. He enchanted audiences with early performances in Splash and Big; charmed in Sleepless in Seattle and Forrest Gump; riveted in Philadelphia and Cast Away, and became an icon of our time thanks to vocal duties in the beloved-by-all Toy Story franchise. Universally heralded as an incredible actor dedicated to his craft, Tom Hanks’ characters and iconic movies will surely live on to entertain many generations to come, and he shows no signs of throwing in the towel, with dozens of projects lined up for the next few years. Speaking with ITV’s Loraine Kelly, he said: “So I’m going to be 60, I feel like I’m 44, and when I was 44 I felt like I was 36, and when I was 36, I felt like I was 24. At 24 I felt like I was 18. So I feel like I’m 18. Can you tell by this high-pitched voice of mine? I even sound like I’m 18.”
Great spiritual shape
As well as keeping fit, Hanks is in great spiritual shape after converting to the Greek Orthodox faith in 1988 before marrying Greek-American Rita Wilson. Hanks and his family are said to regularly attend the Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the Byzantine Quarter of Los Angeles, where in previous years Tom has been given the honour of carrying the Epitaphios during the Good Friday service. In a conversation about his faith with the Philippine Star he said, “I’ve been raised in one path after another that took me to some kind of church all the time that I was growing up. I was married in the same church where my wife was baptized in and my kids as well”, later adding, “when I pray, it’s for acceptance and grace. I think that’s the most that I can hope for.”
The actor’s route to becoming an orthodox Christian was slightly more unorthodox than most, but as he explained in an interview with George magazine, religion has always played an important part in his life. “The major religion I was exposed to in the first 10 years of my life was Catholicism. My stepmother became a Mormon. My aunt, whom I lived with for a long time, was a Nazarene, which is kind of ultra-super Methodist, and in high school, all my friends were Jews. For years I went to Wednesday night Bible studies with my church group. So I had this peripatetic overview of various faiths, and the one thing I got from that was the intellectual pursuit involved. There was a lot of great stuff to think about.”
A child of divorce and separated from his mother and younger brother, Hanks lived a nomad-like existence with his older sister and brother, chef father and two consecutive stepmothers, and by the age of ten had lived in ten houses in five different cities. Attending the First Covenant Church in his teens gave a young Hanks friends, structure and the sense of belonging that he desperately craved. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times he reflected, “because of all the people I lived with, I had a chequered religious upbringing. Then, when I was in high school, I had a serious born-again experience”, adding, “a great group of people ran a church near where I lived, and they provided a safe, nurturing atmosphere at a time there wasn’t much else I could count on.”
In David Gardner’s Tom Hanks: The Inside Story, his sister Sandra is quoted as saying her brother was “self-righteous” in his youth, “as if he had seen the light and the rest of us were in the dark”. Whereas his father commented dismissively that his son had “an adolescent faith attack”.
In a recent emotion-fuelled appearance on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, Tom was reduced to tears when he opened up about his past, admitting that his first marriage, to his college sweetheart Samantha Lewes and mother of his children Colin (38) and Elizabeth (34), was to “quell the loneliness”. Tom elaborated on this tricky time in his life, stating, “Having a kid at 21 was the greatest thing that ever happened to me because I didn’t smoke pot. I didn’t go into drugs. I was not a party boy. I went to bed at ten minutes after ten. I mean I did some idiotic stuff but the sensibility, the rules were in place and I’m not a cheater you know, I like to play by the rules. But later on you’re 27, 28 and you’ve actually learnt what to say yes to with some more judiciousness and you end up meeting that other person that’s a ‘oh she gets it’. Oh I don’t think I’m ever going to be lonely anymore, that’s what I felt when I met my wife (Rita).”
Tom first met Rita when she appeared in an episode of Bosom Buddies, the ABC sitcom that gave Hanks his big break as a cross-dressing advertising man. It was on the back of this show that he landed the lead role in Ron Howard’s Splash, and it was this cult-classic movie that made him a star. But it wasn’t until four years later when the couple got to know each other properly, co-starring in the 1985 film Volunteers. Speaking to GQ about their romance he said, “Rita and I just looked at each other and that was that. I asked Rita if it was the real thing for her, and it just couldn’t be denied.”
In a love story that quietly resembles that of indie favourite My Big Fat Greek Wedding (which was, incidentally, produced by the couple), where a young Greek woman falls in love with a non-Greek, Tom had no problems embracing his wife’s religion and culture. “I feel 110% Greek being married to a Greek,” he told Greek Reporter. “I’m more Greek than a Greek is, because I had the good sense to marry a Greek. It’s joyful being married to a Greek. It’s fantastic.”
Hollywood’s happiest couple
Today the pair, who have two sons, Chester ‘Chet’ (25) and Truman (20), are seemingly Hollywood’s happiest couple, recently celebrating 28 years of marriage. It seems the secret to a happy marriage could be religion, as in an interview that appears on YouTube’s ThinkAbouRit channel, Hanks’ wife revealed how a family that prays together, really does stay together. “I pray every day, my children pray, I pray with them, I pray by myself, we go to church, we try to live a good clean healthy life and it helps.
“God is a part of my life. Every single day I prayed to God, every day for I don’t know how many years that he would bring me somebody that I loved that loved me in the same way and he brought me Tom, so I believe in that.” Adding to the discussion on the red carpet Tom chipped in, “God is mysterious, but God works every day.”
The couple’s faith is said to be stronger than ever, having both suffered health issues. Tom announced in 2013 he’s fighting type 2 diabetes, a condition he blames on his bad diet during his 30s and 40s, “I’m part of the lazy American generation that has blindly kept dancing through the party and now finds ourselves with a malady”, he revealed to the Radio Times this May. “I was heavy. You’ve seen me in movies; you know what I looked like. I was a total idiot. I thought I could avoid it by removing the buns from my cheeseburgers. Well, it takes a little bit more than that. But my doctor says if I can hit a target weight, I will not have type 2 diabetes anymore.” More recently and slightly more dramatically perhaps, Rita was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, undergoing a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery to leave her cancer-free.
Tom’s work schedule showing no signs of waning, either. His latest film, A Hologram for the King, reunites him with Cloud Atlas collaborator, Tommy Tykwer, and gave them the opportunity to adapt a Dave Eggers novel, which he’ll be doing again in upcoming, The Circle. Hanks plays a desperate American salesman, ravaged by the effects of the economic downturn, who travels to Saudi Arabia to sell a holographic teleconferencing system to the Saudi government. “This story is so timely,” he tells us, in a navy sweater and jeans. “It’s about breaking down barriers, perceptions, stereotypes, it’s a love story. It’s a buddy comedy. It’s strange, it’s warm. It deals with issues from another angle. And that’s unusual for a movie nowadays because usually for business reasons, it has to be one thing.”
The most iconic roles in history
Tom, who has potentially played the most iconic leading roles in cinematic history, is candid with us when it comes to discussing which roles he will and won’t do. “There was a time in my career where I felt I had made the same consecutive movie, five times. ‘We want you to make this film, this time you’re working with … and this time it’s in Miami. And you’ll make this amount of money for it.’ It was robbing my opportunity to be an artist. I couldn’t harness the craft, I was just rolling it out and there came a point, in my 30s where I said, “I’m not going to do that.”
“Every time I make a movie. Every time, it’s a risk, and I fully appreciate and fear that. It’s this enjoyable, nauseous balance. Every time you make a movie, you have to convince everyone that’s it’s a great idea. In order to create work as an artist, I look for something with danger, risk. That can take time to find. And when you do find it, you ask yourself, ‘Will anyone go see it if we make it?’ It’s like with this film, Tom (Tykwer) saying to me, ‘Will anyone understand this and what we’re trying to do here?’ I said the same to Bob Zemeckis while we were shooting Forrest Gump, I said, ‘Bob, will anyone see this?’ And he says, ‘It’s a minefield Tom, it’s a minefield.’ You gotta have faith in your instincts. That’s all you can rely on.”
Tom is one of Hollywood’s most philanthropic stars. The wide selection of causes appear to have links with many of his movies, highlighting his unsung altruistic approach to acting; for example, he is said to serve on the Board of Governors for the National Space Society (Apollo 13), supports four AIDS charities (Philadelphia) and even two dogs’ charities (Turner & Hooch), as well as many humanitarian, environmental, health, children and veteran dedicated causes. In 2012 Tom was honoured with an Arts for Humanity Award at the New York Public Library. Speaking to reporters at the awards he said, “You got to wake up in the morning and make the world a better place. That’s the way I was raised, that’s what my mum and dad and all the caregivers I ever had kept pounding into me, that we’re Americans and Americans take into account the common good so in that regard, I feel very lucky and very blessed that I could do that when I was able to.”
One man’s journey of survival, redemption and a shoebox gift
Kigali prison, he faced the moment of truth. Could he offer forgiveness to the man who had killed close members of his family during the 1994 Rwandan genocide? As Alex Nsengimana prepared to meet the man who had taken the life of those so precious to him, his thoughts returned to the nightmare he had faced 19 years before.
Even though he was just five years old on 6 April 1994, Alex will never forget the morning when the plane carrying Rwanda president Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down. The president’s death sparked a wave of violence that continued countrywide for three terrible months and claimed nearly a million lives.
Alex never knew his father, and his mother died of AIDS when he was four. He was left with his older sister and younger brother in the care of their grandmother and two uncles. When the genocide struck, Alex’s family were among the first Tutsi victims to be targeted. Hutu militia stormed the house one afternoon. Alex, Lillian, and their brother, Fils, watched through the window in horror while their grandmother was tortured and killed.
“Images from that terrible time continued to crash through my consciousness. Angry men ordering my grandmother outside, raising a nail-studded club as they began beating her to death,” explained Alex.
Several days later a group of men with guns came looking for his uncle, Karara. Alex remembers neighbours and friends among the group that demanded to see Karara’s identity card. After checking the card with its Tutsi ethnic listing, they shot him twice. Because the gunshots did not kill him, the men took a large stick and beat Karara until he died. Alex recalls seeing his uncle’s pleading eyes looking into the faces of his killers.
“What they did haunted me for many, many years,” Alex said.
Alex and his remaining family were forced to flee. They managed to make it to his aunt’s house, but could not escape the unrest. One day, a bomb exploded nearby while he was playing marbles with his brother. They quickly huddled together, and a chunk of burning debris flew through the small space between their heads.
“We always wondered how it made it through because the thing was big and hot, but it barely missed our heads,” he said.
Forced to flee again they ran for nearly two months, crossing the hills around Kigali. Explosions from bombs and grenades followed them everywhere. At one point, Alex was separated from the rest of his family. Someone opened fire as he frantically searched for them, and bullets whizzed just above his head.
“I always like to say that God has a sense of humour,” he said, laughing. “As I was running, I slipped in something and fell. I had slipped in a cow pat; that’s what God used to save my life. If he can use that cow pat, imagine what else he can use.”
Finally, after what seemed like years of living in terror, the Rwandan Patriotic Front forces drove the Hutu militia out of Kigali. The family returned home, but Alex wasn’t able to enjoy the security for long. His aunt and uncle fell ill, and in the spring of 1995 Alex and Fils were sent to a nearby orphanage.
It was here that Alex’s journey to forgive the man who killed his uncle began. It was sparked by a simple shoebox he had received as a boy through Operation Christmas Child (OCC), a campaign run by the charity Samaritan’s Purse.
The day the gifts arrived
One day, in 1995, all of the kids at Alex’s orphanage were asked to line up outside. Excitement buzzed like electricity in the air, as they were each handed a colourfully wrapped shoebox. Alex recalls the moment well. “We ripped open the boxes to find toys, school supplies, hygiene items – things we could hardly dream of owning were ours! These gift-filled shoeboxes reminded us that someone cared for us. With that tangible reminder, a small flame of hope was ignited in my heart.”
Alex can still picture his shoebox, along with many of its contents. Small, multicoloured sweets – he thought they were medicine – a comb, and his favourite: a red and white striped stick shaped like a ‘j’. He couldn’t figure out what that was, so he stuck it in his mouth. As he bit through the plastic wrapping, a sweet cooling sensation filled his mouth and Alex experienced his first candy cane.
While she was alive, Alex’s grandmother had shared her faith with him. At one point, he wanted to serve in the Church – possibly even become a priest. But after living through the genocide, Alex seriously doubted that God existed.
“Nights at the orphanage were filled with the cries of children – hundreds of them, all lost and alone. Children like me, who had witnessed terrible things happening to their family and friends. After the genocide, I almost began to believe that God did not exist. I wondered, ‘If there’s a God who cares for his people, why would he let this happen?’”
However, Alex held onto the hope that his shoebox gift provided for the next several years, until in 1997 he was chosen to tour the United States and Canada with the African Children’s Choir.
Along with his brother, Fils, and ten other children from his orphanage, he went to Uganda to learn English before the tour began. They also learned Bible stories, and Alex read Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’” (ESV)
“I started to see that God had to have a plan for my life too, that he had been there all the time,” Alex said. “I started to see all the things that he used to save my life not as a coincidence, but as part of his bigger plan.”
While touring with the choir, he made the decision to follow Jesus.
The tour ended and Alex returned to the orphanage in Kigali. One afternoon three years later, he was flipping through photos from his time in America. One had an address written on the back. It was for a family in Winona, Minnesota. He sent the family an email. A woman named Ellen replied: “We’ve been wondering how you are doing?” The pair kept in touch until Ellen offered to help sponsor Alex, Fils, and two other boys to go to high school in Minnesota. In September 2003, Alex joined the Hongerholt family, gaining a new mother, another brother, and two more sisters.
Alex’s healing process came full circle when he returned to Rwanda to deliver shoebox gifts through Operation Christmas Child at the orphanage where he used to live. As he prepared to hand out the gifts Alex said, “I was standing right there on that low wall … Receiving that shoebox was just the beginning of my faith … standing here and getting ready to hand out other boxes, [it was] just amazing.”
As he explored the shoeboxes with his new young friends, oohing and aahing over each item, he reflected over what his own shoebox had meant to him.
Love in a shoebox
“When I received my shoebox, I was reminded of God’s love for me and the hope that I had in him,” Alex said. “So I hoped and I prayed that will be the case for these kids, that whatever they’re going through in their lives, they can be reminded that someone out there loves them. But the most important thing of all is that Jesus Christ loves them and cares about them.”
Years before, Alex realised that to be truly free he had to forgive the men who killed his family. After several days spent distributing shoeboxes at schools, he received permission to enter Kigali’s largest prison and visit the man who had killed his uncle and caused such pain to him and his family.
“For years, I had prayed and dreamt that God would allow me to offer forgiveness, in person, to the men who killed my uncle and grandmother,” said Alex.
As the prisoner sat before him he said, “I am Alex Nsengimana. My uncle was Karara. Would you please tell me why my uncle was killed?”
The prisoner replied, “It was around 9.00am. A group of militia came. I was nearby. The group was looking for Karara. I went with them. We went to his house, and found him. We killed him and looted the house. After, we didn’t bother to bury him; we left him outside his house. We went to look for two others, who we also killed.”
Alex took a deep breath and began again.
“I’m not here to accuse you, though you wronged me, but I’m here to do something else,” Alex said, the next words catching in his throat as he began to cry. “I am here because I saw how God’s power works in forgiveness. I received that power. I really want to forgive you so you have peace and you also repent of everything. I want you to know that even after all the things you did, all the people you killed and hurt, God wants you to come back to him.”
Alex placed a hand on his back and stuttered out a prayer, overcome by a storm of emotion.
“Father, I pray you’ll bless him. I pray your Spirit will be with him and protect him, and he’ll have the peace that comes through you.”
Full of remorse the prisoner said, “I don’t know what came over us. We killed everybody. Please forgive us. When I think of what I did, I always get sick.”
Alex spoke again: “What brought me here was to tell you I have forgiven you because of the grace of God. I don’t have any hate in my heart towards you. You should also ask God’s forgiveness.”
A burden lifted
After more prayers, Alex left the prison with a spring in his step.
“I felt like a great burden has been lifted off of my chest,” he said. “The moment I gave my life to Christ, it became my dream to meet him face-to-face and forgive him.”
“I have come to believe that if God is able to forgive me of my sins, I can forgive someone who has wronged me. As painful as it was, I am now left with the peace that only Christ can provide, and I will spend my life sharing with others how they can receive his peace and forgiveness.”
Alex graduated from college and hopes to return to Rwanda one day to plant a church on the land where his grandmother’s house stood. In the meantime he travels with Operation Christmas Child, sharing his testimony and how God used a simple shoebox gift to restore his hope and start his remarkable journey to forgiveness.
Over the past 25 years, through the global efforts of Operation Christmas Child, 130 million gift-filled shoeboxes have been delivered to needy children like Alex in over 150 countries around the world. In 2015, 900,008 of these were lovingly packed by groups and individuals all over the UK. This year Samaritan’s Purse is calling on churches, schools, businesses and individuals across the UK to help bring joy to another 1 million children by demonstrating God’s love through Operation Christmas Child and the power of a simple gift.
To see a video of Alex’s powerful story, and to find out how you can be part of this year’s Operation Christmas Child campaign, go to www.samaritans-purse.org.uk/sorted
Home for good
Scars are like tattoos, but with better stories. So I’ve been told, anyway. It’s true I quite like it when I catch someone glancing at my right upper arm or my left eyebrow. I can see that they are wondering how they got there; imagining my courageous stand-off with a knifed attacker in a busy shopping centre; picturing my defensive moves to dislodge the jaws of the hungry shark; admiring my skills of survival against all odds. Unfortunately, my life has not been that adventurous. However, it doesn’t stop me from enjoying relating my quarrel with barbed wire in the middle of the night, or the desk-throwing incident of my schooldays.
Although men can be quite proud, boastful even of our external wounds, we find it much harder to talk about our internal scars. One of my friends tragically lost his father when he was 14. Another was witness to the motorcycle accident that killed his brother and cannot forgive a God who would allow that. Another was brought up by his mother after his dad walked out the house and never came back. I only know these things because their wives told my wife. Just as she probably told them of the horrific racial abuse I experienced as a child. Perhaps women seem to understand the powerful storytelling that can also come from the scars that nobody sees.
Invisible scars and tough starts
Filmmakers, authors and directors love stories founded on invisible scars. Most of our most favourite heroes of film and literature had the toughest starts in life. James Bond was adopted. Spiderman and Superman were both fostered. Batman was an orphan. Frodo and Harry Potter were fostered in kinship care. Luke Skywalker was adopted. James and the Giant Peach James was a looked after child. All of these characters are not depicted simply as victims of their past, but as strong, resilient survivors with a vision for the future and a life of purpose.
If only things were the same in real life. If only Ian Fleming, J.K. Rowling and George Lucas were in charge of the universe and vulnerable children could become invulnerable heroes, rescuing their friends, defeating the bad guys, championing justice, and even saving the world.
Very occasionally I meet a real-life hero who is willing to talk about the invisible scars of their past. I once had the privilege of meeting Kriss Akabusi, a man who may well have the biggest smile in the world. The gold medal-winning British athlete who went on to become a television host and celebrity wasn’t wearing his smile when we sat together in an empty football stadium in Milton Keynes. He told me his story – how he and his brother had been taken into care as primary school children. He told me about the children’s home that they both lived in together until they left as teenagers. He explained the hope that went through their minds every time that potential adopters came to the home and how he and his brother tried to look as adoptable as possible. But they both aged out of care and had nowhere really to go. Kriss, like so many care leavers, joined the army and it was in the army that one of his officers took him under his wing and spotted his athletic ability. An army officer, Sergeant Ian Mackenzie, was an irreplaceable father-figure in his life and it made a huge impact on the young British-born Nigerian. When I met Kriss he had had a successful life in so many respects but he still confided in me: “I think I would have made someone a good son.”
Today I met a man whose foster parents threw in the towel after he had been with them for 12 years. He was taken to a children’s home and told he would have no more contact with them either in person or in writing. He lived there for six years, struggling with a deep sense of betrayal and abandonment. Never having even dreamed of going to university as a teenager, Lemn Sissay has since been awarded two honorary doctorates and an MBE and is now the vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester, elected to that position over the wealthy and powerful figure of Peter Mandelson, Labour’s chief spin doctor. He champions the cause of disillusioned young people, encouraging them to express their internal scars and hidden stories through poetry and writing as he did. Meeting him in person today was thoroughly inspirational.
Neglect, abuse and homelessness
But too often in real life, the stories turn out very differently. Those young people who are taken into foster care because of neglect and abuse often remain in care until they age out of the system when they are 18. They may only account for 1% of the population’s young people but comprise 11% of our homeless population, 24% of the prison population, and depending on geography, anywhere between 30% and 70% of sex workers. There are many amazing organisations that strive to make a difference in the lives of prison inmates, the homeless and those trapped in the sex industry, but I wonder if their jobs would be a lot easier if only somebody had helped these same people when they were children. Perhaps their lives would have turned out very differently if only they had had a loving and secure fostering or adoptive family who enabled them to understand and accept their scars and see them as stories of resilience and survival.
Right now in the UK there are about 93,000 children in the care system, children that for a variety of different reasons have been removed from their birth families. 95% of those children are living with foster families, of which our family is one. There are around 5,000 children today in the situation Kriss and Lemn once were in, waiting for adoption and being overlooked by potential adopters. They are usually older children, many of them boys from black and ethnic minority families, many of them are in sibling groups, some of them with extra needs, each of them with their own unique, incredible potential. There are thousands of brilliant foster carers in the UK, but sadly children leaving care in their teens often struggle to do well on their own and many end up not in education, employment or training. A large number of these young people become homeless, in prison, in sex work or struggling with addiction. They are also far more likely to have their own children removed into care than the average member of the population. We need to help break this cycle – to step up and offer the help that children in care need right now.
What is it that can make the difference to a vulnerable child so they become not a perpetual victim, but a potential hero? I am on a mission to find more carers who can open up their homes and cheer a child on to be as courageous as James Bond, as resourceful as Superman, as loyal as Harry Potter – and as real-life as Lemn Sissay. The UK urgently needs foster carers and adopters who can be the unshockable, unshakable and unbreakable parents these children need. Perhaps you think you are are not qualified for this role – you have too many scars of your own. But heroes of this sort rarely come from textbook-perfect family backgrounds; the vast majority are tattooed with a story or two of their own. Not that they will share these readily, though. You may have to ask a woman in their lives. What is your story? If you can relate in any way to children growing up in difficult circumstances, then why not consider putting yourself forward to be a foster or adoptive parent today and making a difference for the next generation?
Make a difference
I know the difference that foster carers and adoptive parents can make in a child’s life. I have seen it with my own eyes. My family became a fostering and adopting family ten years ago and it has been the most difficult and the most rewarding thing we have ever done. We currently have six children living with us, but we realised there are so many more children that need help that we ended up not just starting a charity but witnessing the birth of a movement of people who are willing to do whatever is necessary to make sure children who have had a tough start in life get the families they need. Filmmakers have gifted their services at “mate’s rates”, business professionals have given their services, engineers, artists, designers, social workers, and refugee workers have all brought their skills together to help. So what can you do?
Firstly, are you in a position to foster or adopt children that could really benefit from having a man like you in their lives? Someone who will champion their needs, defend them from abuse, provide for them, love them and stand by them through all the rubbish that has come their way and may still come their way? Why not give us a call on 0300 001 9995 to tell us your story and find out more about the stories of children that you could help.
Secondly, do you have a skill you can make available to us that we could change the culture on the issue of vulnerable children so that our society doesn’t see these children as a problem, but instead sees their potential? We’d love to hear from you; just drop me a line at email@example.com and let me know how you can help us spread the vision and we’ll be in touch.
Thirdly, we are small start-up charity with a huge vision. We would ask you to consider getting behind our work financially. For small charities, regular donors make a big difference to our planning; even £10 a month would go a long way. But perhaps you would like to support us through fundraising – running a marathon, a long-distance cycle race or a skydive, why not make us your designated charity?
I asked Kriss Akabusi what he would say to someone who was considering being a foster carer or adoptive dad, and he said to me that people should consider it very carefully but to remember “you may be the love that this person has never experienced in their life”. There’s a challenge for all of us.
From hero to zero… and back again
He was the ever-affable rising star of UK comedy who tried to run before he could walk – and was duly taken down a peg or two by the waiting British media. Now, James Corden is the heir-apparent of the prestigious Stateside tradition of late-night talk show hosting and is firmly back on track both on and off the screen. His salvation? The enduring faith of his parents – and a surprise visit during his darkest hour that turned his life around…
In 2014, when the time came for Scotsman Craig Ferguson to step aside as the figurehead of
The Late Late Show after over a decade of hosting duties, James Corden was probably not the first name to spring to mind for the network chiefs at CBS.
Fast forward two years and Corden’s initial hosting stint has been an astounding success. Since Ferguson handed over the reins to his High Wycombe-born successor, The Late Late Show ratings have climbed steadily with a vast swathe of Corden’s celebrity friends appearing on the show, to great effect. In essence, the young pretender has, in the course of a year, gone on to challenge the master of talk-show tomfoolery, Jimmy Fallon, on his own turf.
Corden has conquered America in a way very few Brits can or have. His natural warmth and energy – as well as the continuous merry-go-round of A-listers at his beck and call – has won him huge audiences and critical approval. Corden’s fresh take on the traditional talk show format has also been boosted by the fact that those who can’t tune in at one o’clock in the morning when the show originally airs can now find the highlights on YouTube in handy bite-size clips – creating unbeatable viral promotion for the show.
Corden’s Late Late Show channel has amassed over 1 billion views since its inception, which means that despite the insomnia-inducing airtime, the show’s best bits are circulated around the world long after they hit American screens.
One segment of Corden’s show, however, has stood head and shoulders above the rest and become a global phenomenon. ‘Carpool Karaoke’ has featured everyone from Stevie Wonder to George Clooney and Adele, with the latter’s appearance in Corden’s car grabbing 42 million views in just five days – making it the most viral video originating from a late-night show since 2013.
“[Producer] Ben Winston and I always thought there was something very joyful about someone very, very famous singing their songs in an ordinary situation,” Corden explained. “We just had this idea: Los Angeles, traffic, the carpool lane — maybe this is something we could pull off.”
The idea was first conceived in 2011, when Corden appeared as Smithy – the character which really put him on the map in BBC sitcom Gavin & Stacey – on Comic Relief, singing in a car with George Michael. The sitcom, which Corden co-wrote with fellow star and friend Ruth Jones, went on to win multiple comedy awards and made its stars household names in the UK, as well as giving the world the first chance to see Corden alongside Mathew Horne in the creative partnership that would continue immediately after the final episode.
While Corden’s character proved immensely popular, his work after Gavin & Stacey was significantly less well received. The sketch show with his co-star, Horne and Corden, was almost universally panned – as was their controversially titled 2009 mock-horror film, Lesbian Vampire Killers Both projects were later dismissed by Corden as missteps, and signalled a downturn in fortunes for the rising star of UK comedy. After the success of Gavin & Stacey, the failure of his subsequent creative efforts threw Corden’s egotistical attitude into sharp relief.
Things came to a head when an arrogant comment about Gavin & Stacey not winning three awards at the 2008 BAFTAs backfired. While Corden later described the remark as “ungracious, ungrateful and brattish” in his autobiography May I Have Your Attention, Please? the damage was already done. The British media, perhaps buoyed by their recent mauling of Corden’s sketch show and film, began to cast aspersions that perhaps Corden’s success had gone to his head and the conceited comments and critical disappointment represented his flying too close to the sun before plunging like Icarus into comedic anonymity.
Poor decisions and bad behaviour
Nor were Corden’s poor decisions confined to the stage or screen. During the early days of finding fame, he was known as a lad-about-town, regularly snapped by the waiting paparazzi stumbling out of a club in the early hours of the morning with pal and former flatmate Dominic Cooper. His bleary-eyed antics seemed to strengthen the enduring idea that Corden had gone from hero to zero in a little less than a year.
The difference between the admittedly arrogant Corden of 2008 and the modern-day incarnation is akin to that of night and day. The churlish, childish and cocksure manner that stunned the BAFTA audience and set the rising star of British comedy up for a particularly nasty fall was followed by a period of being “the unhappiest I had ever been”.
“As 2008 wore on, it got so bad I was being rude to my agent, and I even started being rude to Ruth Jones,”
he wrote in his autobiography. “If I was in company and the conversation wasn’t revolving around me, I would just switch off. The person I had become wasn’t the person I had wanted to be. I had drifted so far from my close friends and family that I didn’t know how to pick up the phone and talk to them anymore.”
It would take an unannounced visit by his parents to shake the wayward funny-man out of his self-induced exile. Malcolm Corden, a former RAF serviceman turned Christian book salesman, and social worker Margaret told their son it was up to him to sort out his life. A teary group hug and a heartfelt prayer later and Corden had found the confidence to eschew brash braggadocio in favour of finding his feet once again.
Tears and prayers
“Every tear that left my eyes made me feel a little lighter,” wrote Corden of the moment he turned his life around with a little faith from his parents. “Dad said a prayer as he kissed my forehead, and Mum came over and joined the hug. I’ve no idea how long we stayed there, but it felt like a lifetime. When they left later on, Dad turned to me and said: ‘You’ve so much to be thankful for, James. I know it’s been a tricky year, but you can’t carry on like this.’”
That fortunate night where Corden’s Christian parents opened his eyes to the way he was wasting his life not only gave their son the impetus to turn his life around off-screen, but also inspired an astonishing career revival. 2011’s Comic Relief gave Corden the chance to revisit Smithy, and not only did the skits he was involved with prove the highlight of the show, but the self-effacing, affable Everyman character that Corden portrayed appears to have influenced his contemporary hosting persona.
Yet another indication of the lengths Corden has gone to shed the memory of his BAFTA mishap came in the way of his hosting the 70th Tony Awards this year. Corden opened the show with a touching tribute to the victims of the recent Orlando shooting, before going on to perform a musical medley of show tunes – including hits from Les Misérables and The Lion King –with Take That star Gary Barlow.
When compared to the time Corden and Horne were largely derided for their attempt to host the Brit Awards in 2009, or the excruciating exchange of awkward barbs with legendary thespian Patrick Stewart at the 2010 Glamour Awards, his recent overwhelming triumph at the Tony Awards is yet more proof that Corden’s as popular now as he was when he bounced onto our screens nearly a decade ago.
Corden’s first stage role after the meeting with his parents prompted a change of heart and lifestyle as part of Nicholas Hytner’s play One Man, Two Guv’nors at the National Theatre. In truth, it was a fitting place for Corden to rise from the ashes of his depression. Over a decade ago, the National was the stage on which he found himself as part of Hytner’s acclaimed adaptation of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys.
Alongside the established thespian forces of Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths, and the then-unknown qualities of Dominic Cooper and Russell Tovey, among others, The History Boys was gearing up for 75 shows on the South Bank. What ensued was a run of 500 nights, in Hong Kong, Sydney and beyond, before finishing with a cinematic adaptation and a spell on Broadway; in short, an unprecedented success.
Up from the ashes
Once again, Corden struck gold at the National. One Man, Two Guv’nors achieved five-star reviews, and Corden even scooped a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play in 2012. If The History Boys was Corden’s birth, then One Man was his re-birth – and he’s never looked back since.
Nowadays, Corden is practically teetotal, happily married to his wife of four years, Julia, and is a loving father to son Max, born in 2011, and daughter Carey, born in 2014. Shortly after Max’s birth, Corden told The Independent that he “couldn’t wish to be happier”.
“It’s the truth – both personally and professionally,” he explained. “That’s probably the first time I could say that. There have been times when professionally I’ve been incredibly happy but personally I’ve been more lost than ever. Likewise, before that personally I’d always been very happy but professionally I’d felt somewhat creatively unfulfilled.”
His complete reversal of fortunes aside, the weird and wonderful world of late-night transatlantic talk shows was a world away from anything Corden had attempted before. While now it appears a casting master stroke, the decision to give Corden the prestigious Late Late Show was, at the time, a gamble – as much for the host himself as network CBS.
“However shocked you are that I am doing this job, you will never be as shocked as I am,” Corden said in the very first opening monologue of his stint at the show’s helm. “It really isn’t lost on me what a privilege it is to be given a show like this, and I will really do my best not to let any of you down.”
Lager lout to American hero
While few could have predicted that the man behind larger-than-life lager lout Smithy would go on to capture the hearts of our American cousins, Corden is fast becoming as ingrained in the world of US television as Fallon, Kimmel, Conan et al. We know the world of late-night talk show hosting can be notoriously difficult – Piers Morgan’s primetime post-Larry King attempt went from relative success to the worst ratings CNN had seen in over 20 years – but the huge wave created by Carpool Karaoke is an indication that Corden may well have found his creative calling in the early hours of the morning.
It appears too that the star has his loving family to thank for his reputation’s resurrection – and the impromptu supplication of his parents way back in 2008. Could it be that there is something far grander behind Corden’s return to the top of his game, or a divinity to the manner in which he brought himself through the wilderness years to the enviable position he finds himself in now?
“I have a hunch that there must be something else out there,” he told the New Statesman in 2011. “It’s inconceivable to me that this is all for nothing. I’m looking forward to finding out – but not just yet.”
If Carson, King and Letterman epitomise the lineage of late-night royalty, then Corden is the pauper-to-prince who may well provide the modern-day equivalent – or perhaps the court jester who found, by a special combination of luck, laughter and faith, that the crown was in fact a natural fit.
How to survive in polar bear country
Talk us through it.” Expedition leader Jamie Annetts is sitting in the cold air well of our tent, surrounded by soup flasks and a stove melting snow for the day. He is balancing a rifle across his legs.
“Far left is always safety off,” he gestures with his arm towards the left of the rifle. “Centre is a central mode where you can just cock it and release the bullets. Far right is safety on, so you can’t fire the weapon.”
He unloads four rounds of cartridges and puts them on my thermal airbed, turns the rifle around to look into the barrel and taps his finger in front of the opening on the other side to make sure it isn’t blocked. He swiftly reloads the gun, switches the safety to the far right, squeezes the trigger once. There we go.
Muscle memory has taken over, ingraining the movements into our hands. Every morning we test the gun to make sure it didn’t freeze up overnight with the moisture from our breath. It is a last resort, but essential protection in bear country.
Our safety is paramount. Apart from the rifle we carry flare guns, and every night we set up the trip wire system around our tent to give us early warning of an approaching polar bear.
But all of these precautions don’t bring a lot of reassurance in the nights spent out on desolate polar plains. Sleep is light and nervous and scenes of polar bears ripping through the side of our tent play in our heads.
Nothing like this happened. None of the 3,000 polar bears that live on the island crossed our path.
This is Svalbard, Norway, a 13-day, ski and snowshoe expedition, crossing the island from east to west.
It’s just one of the polar trips run by Exped Adventure; others head to Lapland and the Hardangervidda plateau. The team is currently gearing up for the bigger stuff in Iceland, Greenland and the Poles.
Jamie explains: “The Hardangervidda and Lapland are a good challenge for a stand-alone expedition, but they could also be the stepping stone for progressing to more extreme expeditions – either polar or higher altitude. For me, polar exploration is daydreaming material. Famous explorers and adventurers have done their bit to make us dream of pulling a pulk through icy wilderness and being self-sufficient in the world’s bleakest, but most beautiful environments.”
But committing to a polar journey is bold, and not many people are prepared to go for it.
So how do you get what’s needed to go to those far-out places?
Jamie has pulled together eight things you need to know before you sign up:
1. You won’t know whether you can do it until you commit to it
“Committing to an ambitious goal is the best way to make sure you achieve it. Booking the trips and your flights early is the perfect way to kick-start your training. It will help you push through painful moments in the gym when you’re ready to give up, or drag yourself out of bed on damp mornings for an early run. Achieving smaller challenges along the way, you’ll start asking yourself, ‘If I did that, what else can I do?’ Your goal of crossing Svalbard, Greenland or the Poles will start to sound more achievable.”
Gary Fletcher, Hardangervidda crossing 2016 with Exped Adventure, signed up for Svalbard 2017
2. It’s not all death and glory
“We respect the environment we’re in and prepare ourselves for it. The Cairngorm plateau is the perfect training ground for polar travel, and is where we run our pre-expedition training courses. If you can deal with wind gusts, snow and poor visibility up there, that’s a great start. Our expeditions show that the polar regions are not just the territory of gutsy adventurers. Months of planning, preparation and pushing your comfort zones will get you there, and the thrill of being and safely operating in the polar environment makes it all worth it.”
Jamie Annetts, expedition guide and director of Exped Adventure
3. Take food you like
“Hauling a pulk in low temperatures for long days means you burn up to 6,000kcal every day. The food we take is there to keep up your calorie count, but also your morale. Think about which snacks you genuinely like eating, as you will be eating them every day for the entirety of the trip. We found that chocolate bars and tubes of cheese freeze below -15, so think about different options for Svalbard.”
4. There’s a lot of looking at white stuff
“There’s a lot of snow, a lot of ice and a lot of looking at white stuff. There are some days with extremely low light merging all the features around you. You’ll wake up with ice on your sleeping bag, you’ll walk up and down steep slopes, through snow, over frozen lakes. The silence can become overwhelming. If you don’t like being alone with your thoughts, having music or an audio book to listen to is a good idea.”
5. You’ll truly connect with an extreme environment
“Your friends will probably think you’re mad for ‘camping in the snow’ but you’ll have gained an experience that they can only dream of. If you can find suitable adjectives to describe the place, that is. The photos do not do it justice. They don’t show the sheer scale of the place; they do not play back the hiss of the drift, the crunch of the snowshoes on untrodden snow as you leave camp in the morning. And they certainly don’t portray the close bond and secure teamwork that you’ll build up with persons who are, essentially, total strangers. I think that operating in this kind of environment does that to you.”
Tom Theobald, the King’s Trail 2015, Hardangervidda 2016 with Exped Adventure
6. Pulling a pulk is a much easier than carrying a backpack
“Honestly, it’s much easier than I imagined to tow and far easier than carrying an equivalent rucksack. For the most part, you don’t really know it’s there. Obviously, it’s the hills (up and down) when it really makes its presence felt. You are towing approximately 35kg, after all.”
7. Make use of your guides’ knowledge and skills
“Our guides were knowledgeable, qualified and professional. Jamie offered an abundance of help before and during the trip: from kit advice – where to shop, what brands are best value, what works best in the environment and temperatures expected – through to camping routine guidance – i.e. make sure you get the stove on first once the tent is up for a warm brew – he helped you at every stage of the trip. Your guides want you to be comfortable and safe, so make use of their knowledge and skills, they are brilliant.”
Emma Hazell, Hardangervidda crossing 2016 with Exped Adventure
8. Listen to the adventurer in you
“Right now there must be something telling you that you should do this. A gut feeling, a tiny voice in the back of your head, the flutter of your heart even at the thought of it. If that’s the case then sign up, because that’s the adventurer in you needing to do something exactly like this. I’m glad I listened to those feelings because the sense of adventure and achievement I was looking for was exactly what Exped Adventure delivered.”
Exped Adventure run mountaineering, trekking and polar adventures around the world. Contact us to start talking about your aspirations and options for your next adventure.
Christian Legacy by Daniel Jones
Benjamin Franklin, founding father of the United States, once famously said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Barely a few months into 2016 and it had already developed a reputation for being a ‘legend killer’, with the media announcing a seemingly unending list of celebrities, artists, sportspeople, entertainers and world changers who had died, many gone before their time.
- David Bowie, dying from cancer at 69.
- Alan Rickman, also cancer, also 69.
- Sir Terry Wogan, 77.
- Ronnie Corbett, 85.
- Jo Cox MP, 41.
- Victoria Wood, 62.
- Caroline Aherne, 52.
The list goes on…
With each tragic passing, social media was awash with the collective mourning of a nation, starting with increasingly familiar outbursts of despair and sadness at the news.
“Enough is enough”
“No more please”
“Can everyone please stop dying?”
Beyond the initial waves of grief and outpouring of loss followed increasing volumes of online tributes, memes and memories, shared together in open forums that crossed all boundaries of age, geography, language and class. Vigils were held; hundreds lit candles and sang Bowie hits through the night in Brixton; thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square and around the country to mark what would have been Jo Cox’s 42nd birthday, under the hashtag #moreincommon from her maiden speech to the House of Commons.
This relatively new phenomenon of public grief is the world in which we now live, which arguably began with the mountains of floral tributes left by the public in the days after Princess Diana’s death, transferring to online tributes in the last five years thanks to social media and an increasingly digital and connected world.
These online tributes, such as the huge outpouring of grief from ‘cyber-mourners’ following the suicide of Robin Williams in 2014, are hugely cathartic for those left behind, whether we knew the deceased personally or not. They create a rich digital tapestry that represents the legacy that each of these people have given us, challenge us to think about the impact they had on our own lives and, for many, leave us thinking of the legacy that we’ll each leave when our time comes.
A legacy personal to each of us
Yes, Victoria Wood was a trailblazer; the most remarkable female comedian who paved the way for many more to follow in her footsteps. She was a gifted musician, scriptwriter, actor and much more. Yes, she glamorised, satirised and poked fun at the regular mundane lives of normal, everyday people, and we loved her for it.
But she was also the first comedian I was allowed to stay up late to watch; she was naughty, irreverent and gave me lines to repeat in the playground, at Sunday school, or around the dinner table (“Can you see it? Is it on the trolley?”). There was a personal connection.
Alan Rickman was the same – my first villain. The Sheriff of Nottingham was the first cinematic bad guy of note that I can remember, threatening to cut people’s hearts out with a spoon, and yet in the most endearing and personable of ways. His talent was sublime, etched into our consciousness for portraying some of the most loathed and despised of characters in the most human of ways, teaching us a thing or two about ourselves in the process.
At the final wrap of Harry Potter, in which Rickman played the central role of Severus Snape, he wrote a short note of thanks to the cast and crew, concluding with a line of tribute to the creator of Harry Potter, Jo Rowling. It reads: “It is an ancient need to be told stories. But the story needs a great storyteller.”
No coincidence, then, that the legacy that most of those we’ve mourned together leave is their ability to tell a story in our lives, to be the soundtrack of our lives, or for their actions to change and write new chapters in our lives.
Legacies that endure
In the midst of this seemingly unending spate of deaths, I’ve sometimes found myself wondering whether we are sometimes too quick to assign legendary status to the deceased, simply because the nature of their passing was so unexpected or tragic.
Do we do it in our own families? Remembering the best, smoothing over the cracks? Does it even matter if the person is no longer with us?
Bowie left a back catalogue of 25 albums, including his poignant Black Star, a swansong released just two days before his death. Rickman, a legacy of some of the finest character acting ever to grace the screen or stage. Wood, classic sketches, one-liners, musicals, dramas; all form part of an enduring legacy for generations to enjoy.
Beyond the public eye, each left other legacies among family and friends that we are likely never to hear about. The same legacies that each of us will leave; our own small personal triumphs in life, the obstacles we overcame, the little differences we made, the lessons we taught others and what we leave behind.
The last taboo
As much as we’re good at mourning celebrities and other public figures that pass away, as a nation we’re still pretty hopeless at talking about death. According to a recent survey carried out by the Dying Matters Coalition, almost three-quarters (72%) of the public believe that people in Britain are uncomfortable discussing dying, death and bereavement. And that’s despite the same poll revealing that a third of British adults (32%) think about dying and death at least once a week.
If we’re to learn anything from the deaths of so many icons and heroes this year, it’s surely that we need to start getting over some of these self-constructed social and emotional barriers and start thinking about what type of legacy we can and should be leaving.
Leaving the best legacy
So how can we make sure we leave the best legacy we can? Here are a few pointers to help get you started.
1. Get your house in order
Seriously, get all that fiddly boring stuff dealt with right upfront. Have you made a will? Are your finances in good order? Have you written all those passwords and login details down in some place safe that loved ones can find?
The artist Prince died and reportedly left a bank vault crammed full of over 2,000 unreleased songs, hundreds of live recordings and countless music videos and films, with some fans speculating there was enough new material available to “put out an album a year for the next century”.
A nice thought if you’re a fan of the Purple One, if it wasn’t for the fact that Prince also left no will, leaving family members with years of long and difficult legal battles to secure his estate.
Also, spare a thought for Michael Jackson’s three children who, following his death in 2009, each stand to inherit a proportion of their father’s estate on their 30th birthdays, along with an estimated tax bill of over £555m.
The start of the old Jewish proverb goes: “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children …” (Proverbs 13:22, NIV). A good legacy starts with the basics, and it is perfectly acceptable to plan for future generations as you get your affairs in order.
And getting things shipshape needn’t be too challenging. There is plenty of good advice online to help and there’s nothing a quick trip to a financial adviser or solicitor can’t put straight. Do you really want others worrying about the fiddly stuff when you’re not here to take the blame?
2. Make a statement with your will
The shortest valid will in the world is attributed to Karl Tausch of Germany, who simply stated “All to wife” in January of 1967. While I’m sure his wife appreciated the sentiment, on that occasion she might have appreciated a few extra words.
Truth is, preparing a will gives us each the opportunity to make final and lasting statements to those we care about, while also reflecting the values that we wish to be remembered by, including for many, generosity.
As well as leaving gifts of money or other property to family and friends, leaving charitable gifts to organisations that mean something to us is another great way to demonstrate our priorities in life and death.
According to research from Christian Legacy, a group of Christian charities working together to encourage Christians to leave lasting legacies, more and more of us are leaving gifts to charities in our wills each year.
Charitable gifts left in wills are incredibly important to UK charities too. Remember a Charity explain that: “Two out of three guide dogs and six out of ten life boat launches are paid for by gifts in Wills, as is over a third of Cancer Research UK’s life-saving work. Gifts in Wills are the equivalent of 19 Comic Reliefs appeals each year.”
A great place to start, whether you’re writing a will for the first time, or updating one you’ve already had written, is the free ‘Guide to leaving a Legacy’ available to download from Christian Legacy’s website at www.christianlegacy.org.uk.
3 How do you want to be remembered?
In 1862, Henry Budd left £200,000 in trust for his two sons on the condition that neither grow a moustache. I’m fairly certain when Henry lay awake at night two centuries ago, his mind wasn’t preoccupied with the hope that in the future he would be immortalised online for his peculiar distaste for facial hair.
Start changing things now.
When it comes to legacies there really is no better time than the present. Take some time to do a bit of honest introspection – how will people actually remember you? What will they remember you for? What do you wish they’d rather forget?
If you have a faith, what lessons of belief or values do you want to leave behind to children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, godchildren and friends alike?
Take time to talk to family and friends about how you’d like to be remembered and what you’d hope to be remembered for.
Better still, just take time to spend with family and friends (it is no coincidence that almost all of the announcements and obituaries of those mentioned in these pages somewhere include the line ‘surrounded by family and friends’).
Also, remember to write things down. Record your memories, in words or in images, even in video. Dig out old photos and videos and annotate them with memories, or even just names of other older relatives. You could be the only surviving link from one generation to the next, so do what you can to pass on your family’s legacy.
Legacies are ours for the making
John Wesley was an 18th century Anglican minister and theologian who, after a personal experience of God during which he described his “heart strangely warmed”, went on to found a new style of church that came to be known as Methodism.
Wesley’s own legacy is quite remarkable; founding a church denomination which still endures to this day, which led the way in tackling many of the social issues of the day, including the abolition of slavery and extensive prison reforms.
By the time he died, Wesley had been described as “the best loved man in England”.
His words are just as provocative today, when thinking about how best to live, and die, in the surest and best way possible:
“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
What will your legacy be?
To find out more about how leaving a gift to a church or Christian charity in your will can benefit future generations, visit www.christianlegacy.org.uk.
End to end
Land’s End to John O’Groats in a Caterham 420R
“One of the lads down at the factory was so excited about test driving our new model that he forgot to check the wheel nuts were tightened. That test didn’t last very long, but one of the wheels ended up as a clock.” With one short story, the mechanic at the pristine dealership had summed up perfectly how it feels to drive one of Caterham’s creations – not that I needed to remind myself right now.
No longer finding myself joking and sharing stories with the guys in the Crawley-based dealership, I instead fought to keep our Caterham 420R on a Cornish A-road in the midst of a horrendous rainstorm. It’s at moments like this you begin to consider the wisdom of continuing such a drive, but in between handling a lively rear-end and numerous aquaplanes, I found myself thinking back to my conversation with the mechanic. The enthusiasm and the spirit of the people who work on cars like this is absolutely infectious; you can’t help but get emotionally invested in the product. Caterham, just like nearly all small volume British manufacturers, have experienced hard times, but the company and its staff never gave up; so, like them, we dug in and carried on. On that dismal first day, we found out the hard way that a blend of intense concentration and stubbornness is required to drive a 420R through violent weather conditions.
A great idea
It really did seem like a great idea initially; Land’s End to John O’Groats, the classic British road trip in the classic British sports car. The 420R – or ‘The Wasp’ as it affectionately became known as – is one of the most thrilling cars on the market. A baby racing car in every sense of the word, it needs just 3.8 seconds to reach 60mph and is more or less void of safety equipment. Nevertheless, we’d anticipated a straightforward journey, even adding some stipulations to make it more interesting. Motorways were banned, as was assistance from satellite navigation, but the trip was far from simple. Only halfway through day one, I and my co-driver (fellow Smooth Traffic podcast presenter Robert King) were seriously considering throwing in the towel, and we hadn’t even finished our lunch.
Storms and slippery roads
As it turned out, storms would plague us from the get-go, providing us with the worst possible conditions in which to drive a Caterham for three of the four days our trip was scheduled across. With over 210bhp on tap to shift just 560kgs of car, we had one of the fastest machines on the road – and one of the most lethal. On slippery Avon tyres, the 420R needed no invitation to slip on the sodden roads. To say it was lively is an understatement; the rear of the Caterham twitched and wriggled frequently, skimming across any standing water it happened to come across. As a car designed only with more favourable conditions in mind it, like us, was well out of its comfort zone. There was only one thing for it – learn quickly or quit.
A Caterham might not be happy running in foul weather, but it does at least do everything it can to help you stay in control, providing you with an immense amount of information through sensory feedback. Every tiny vibration, bump, crack in the road or slip of the tyres is transmitted to your brain via your hands, feet, and – less glamorously – through your backside. Traction control, ABS and power steering are all absent, and the car is all the better for it. The experience is intense, vivid. Going from driving an insulated, safety-first ‘modern’ car to driving a Caterham is to reacquaint oneself with the essence of motoring – driving for the love of driving, and nothing more. It is an incredibly refreshing experience for anyone who loves to drive for the sake of driving, even though post-drive, your hands shake from excessive vibrations and your ears ring like you’ve attended a rock concert. So, why choose the Caterham 420R? Why not an Aston Martin or a Bentley?
More than a sports car
Perhaps it is because the Caterham Seven in all of its guises represents something more than just a ‘British sports car’. Created by one of the greatest engineers Britain has ever produced – Colin Chapman – it has existed and evolved since those very first Sevens appeared. Over time, it has managed to retain its character, its spirit, and that unmistakable flavour that all small-volume British manufacturers have. Made by those who have – like Colin – passed on, the Caterham Seven is the inheritance of every young British person who has driving in their heart. We’ve taken them to our hearts and altered them for the modern era. Colin’s theories, and the graft and craft of his original colleagues still live on; the inheritance has been accepted, refined, and is being put to good use by those who share that passion.
I’m no Olympic athlete or great artist, so chances to represent my country are few and far between. This was my way to represent my country; this is how I’ve chosen to represent Britain. We’ve travelled the length of the nation, and at every fuel stop, lunch break, or photo stop, people have approached us. They’ve asked for pictures, they’ve asked to sit in the car; they’ve even told us stories about the Sevens that have been present in their lives. The affection for the car among the public is seemingly limitless, and in seeing the look on the faces of the children as we loudly ambled through towns and villages, I got a glimpse of the excitement that must have been etched onto my face when I saw a ‘Chatterham’ some 20 years ago.
There is, inside the Caterham Seven, something of us – a determination, an eccentricity. It is certainly a car from our past, but as a machine that embodies something of our national character, it’s also a car for our future.
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