Sorted Issue 58
Hollywood legend Liam Neeson, Chris Pratt
and dealing with miscarriage from a bloke's perspective.
And Gadgets, Entertainment, Motoring, Movies, Technology
Plus, the greatest team of Christian writers ever assembled.
Miscarriage: A bloke’s perspective
I arrived at the BBC studios in Essex early one Sunday morning ready to do 14 regional interviews that would be broadcast across the UK. I was as prepared as I could be, presuming the questions would be around my upcoming When Faith Gets Shaken tour, which explores what happens when life falls apart and you feel as though God has left you.
Most of the interviews went as expected until one interviewer stopped me in my tracks. “What was it like to lose a baby?” he asked. “Do you struggle to believe In a God of love after that?” He had obviously done a bit of research into my story and discovered that a few years earlier, my wife and I had suffered a miscarriage at 13 weeks.
I will never forget the day it happened. We really wanted another child, especially my wife, Diane; the new baby would complete our family. But then Diane started to spot. She wasn’t too concerned at first as this had happened in her previous pregnancy and everything had turned out fine; however, when it continued she knew she ought to get checked. I was at work when I received a text that simply said “Sorry babe”. My heart sank. I knew immediately what had happened and I phoned Diane straightaway but she couldn’t speak through her tears. I felt useless and guilty for the times I had been worried about how we would have coped with another child. But most of all I felt awful for Diane; she had carried our child and now it was gone.
As a bloke in this situation I felt a real mix of emotions. My main concern was for Diane. I kept saying to myself, “I must be the strong one” but, of course, I was grieving as well. Since I hadn’t physically carried the child, I felt my pain must be nothing compared to Diane’s, so I tried to bury it as much as possible. I’ve since realised this isn’t an unusual response and many of us play Top Trumps with pain. We say to ourselves “Your pain is much worse than mine, so I will bury it” but this doesn’t actually help anyone.
Our other three children knew Diane was pregnant and I had no idea how they would react to this sad news. To make matters worse, my dad was in hospital with cancer and had undergone four operations in nine weeks, leaving him extremely weak. I didn’t want to tell him, or the rest of the family, about the miscarriage, as I knew how upset they would be. The baby had been a light on the horizon during a dark time for us. All of my concerns were focused on how everyone else was feeling as I continued to push down my own grief.
Diane had to have an operation to remove what the doctors described as “products of conception”. She didn’t want me to go to hospital with her; she just wanted to be on her own. When I picked her up afterwards all she was able to say was that it had gone smoothly. I desperately wanted to talk but at the same time wanted to support and respect her wishes. I later learned she had been put on the same ward as those having a planned termination and had frequently been referred to as someone who was terminating her pregnancy. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. We later talked and decided to give the baby a name. We both had a strong feeling the baby was a boy and so we called him Joel.
I didn’t know what to do with the feelings I had around the miscarriage. It didn’t help when I tried to talk about it. One friend said to me, “It’s just one of those things; it’s a lot worse for the women.” My overwhelming emotion was anger, largely directed at God, wondering how he could allow this to happen. Anger is a natural response to pain, but we’re rarely taught how to manage that anger and express it in a healthy way. I thought the good Christian thing to do was to push those feelings aside as soon as they reared their head, but unfortunately they refused to go away. I would imagine picking up objects and hurling them at the wall but then I would immediately feel guilty. Suppressing my emotions didn’t seem to be working.
Everyone remembers the TV series Only Fools and Horses which is one of the most beloved British comedies of all time. A very moving scene occurred in the 1996 Christmas Special1 after Rodney and Cassandra had suffered a miscarriage. Rodney was unable to talk about it; like a lot of us, he felt the best solution was to bury his emotions deep down. Del deliberately trapped himself and Rodney in a lift to try to force Rodney to open up, saying, “I feel sort of frightened. You don’t know what that’s like.” Rodney looked at him in shock and eventually responded, “Don’t know? Me and Cass were so happy, Del. We were looking forward and all we could see in front of us was a big wide highway and we were just cruising like we were in a Rolls-Royce. And suddenly it came to a shattering halt – just like the poxy lift. Suddenly ‘Happy Families’ became ‘Dungeons and Dragons’. And I’ve never felt ******* pain like that in all my life.” He goes on to say, “It’s almost like if I don’t talk about it, it might not be true.”
One thing I have learned over the last couple of years is that I need to face the pain that I carry inside. Suppressing it does me no good; I need to open up to others even when it feels excruciatingly vulnerable. I’ve come to realise that courage and vulnerability are the same thing, and that when we are vulnerable that often gives other people permission to do the same. Brené Brown, a vulnerability researcher, says: “Today we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion this definition fails to recognise the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences – good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage’.”
Being honest and letting others in is vital if we’re to deal with the anger and emotions that heart-breaking circumstances like miscarriage leave us with.
I recently received an email from a couple who had to cope with something similar, who had written to say thank you for the things I shared in the When Faith Gets Shaken DVD.
It's ok to be angry
My husband, Wayne, and I were trying for a baby for a long time. My sister had a clear prophetic word that we would fall pregnant on the 22nd of February 2016. Two weeks after that date we did a pregnancy test. We were so used to them reading negative that when this one was positive I used every spare stick I could find just to be sure! We were so excited and thankful. God was great.
However, one day at work I started bleeding. We went in for a scan and they told us the hardest words to hear: there was no heartbeat. I would not let them operate, hoping they had made a mistake or that God was going to breathe life back into our baby. However, it was not to be. We were angry at God. We still believed in God but thought he was cruel. I thought he must have been punishing me, my husband thought God was a God of hate not love and said he might as well go back to living like he used to. (Before he was a Christian he was violent and a thief; he didn’t understand why God had turned his back on him when he had turned his life around.) We didn’t know why God had promised us a baby then taken it away. Not very helpfully we were told we should have prayed more, we had prayed every day for that baby. We hated God but couldn’t tell anyone how we really felt.
Then by ‘chance’ we came across an advert for your DVD. Wayne ordered it and said it was worth a go but it was the only chance God was getting. It arrived and we watched it in silence, in tears. It was OK to be angry at God, we weren’t the only ones. He wasn’t cruel and he wasn’t angry at us for being angry with him. Then God spoke to Wayne, he said our baby was a girl, that he gave us the date not to be cruel but so that we knew she counted as a life, that it makes no difference to him whether the baby was just conceived or died at 100, a life is a life. He said if he gave us the date of the baby we would hold then we would not have known if our little girl counted. He also said she was in heaven and we would see her when we got there. He also said that by 2017 we would have another baby. I doubted him as our first one took so long but as I am writing this I am due next month. The whole experience has changed our view of God and dying. I used to be scared of me or my husband dying but now we joke that the first one to heaven gets to hold our little girl first.
Thank you again for such an honest and real DVD.
Rachel and Wayne didn’t feel they could express their anger and though anger isn’t talked about much in church the Bible doesn’t shy away from the topic. The apostle Paul says, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27). In other words he’s saying the anger isn’t a sin but hanging on to it is. Solomon said, “Anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9) with the word ‘resides’ indicating he means letting it become a resident rather than a visitor.
We have to grasp that getting angry with God and letting loose on the thoughts that are tearing us apart is OK. God is big enough to deal with it. Getting angry means we stay engaged with God and we find release; pretending we’re OK can drive a huge wedge into our relationship with him. If we let it, anger can drive us into God’s presence looking for answers and there we find there is no need for pretence; we are free to express everything we’re feeling before a God who knows and loves us.
Though it feels strange for me to be writing about this subject I realised after the radio interviews that although it is common to suffer the sad loss of miscarriage, unfortunately it is not spoken about much, particularly from the point of view of the father. Current estimates say that miscarriage happens in around 1 in 4 recognised pregnancies, with 85% of those happening in the first trimester (weeks 1 to 12) . That’s a lot of pain and sadness that’s not addressed. I wanted to share something of our experience to stand with those who have experienced this type of loss and pain. Everyone reacts differently but it can be a great strength and help to know you are not alone, and that it’s OK not to be OK. We need to keep reminding one another that it’s actually healthy to express our pain, anger and fear and that God is with us and loves us no matter what is going on. It’s also good to share in one another’s joys and the wonderful news for Wayne and Rachel was that they’ve just had a healthy little boy. They called him Noah Samuel which means rest and comfort in hearing God and being heard by God.
The Message Trust : Still reaching the last, least and the lost after 25 years - by Peter Wooding
Andy Hawthorne was faced with a major challenge in the mid-1980s, when many of the ex-offenders he was employing were vandalising and stealing from his fashion accessory warehouse in Longsight in Manchester. However, what happened next helped to birth a major global youth movement called The Message Trust, now celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
“The lads we hired had come straight out of young offenders’ institutions. They were a nightmare. There was absolute carnage with violence, vandalism and graffiti all over our factory and then the break-ins started about three times a week,” explains Andy. “Their lives were totally chaotic because nobody was telling them about the Christ in a language they could understand.
“That led myself and my brother to come up with this naïve, arrogant idea to book what was then Manchester’s premier rock venue in Manchester, the Apollo Theatre, and organise the biggest youth mission the city had ever seen called Message ’88. Despite the fact that we didn’t know what we were doing, God just blessed it so much. A few years later I left the business to set up the charity The Message Trust.”
Twenty-five years on and Andy is just as passionate about reaching broken young men, like those he used to employ.
“There’s two reasons we continue to reach out in the toughest communities, prisons and schools. Firstly, it’s God’s compassion. He’s got a massive heart for the most broken. The second reason is it’s in his revival strategy. Throughout the history of the Church, revival was always bottom-up. It starts on the margins – the unschooled, ordinary – and then spills up and everyone gets blessed.”
Freedom from addictions
As well as regularly going into prisons to share the Christian message, the charity now runs an enterprise centre next to their headquarters in south Manchester. Operating a number of businesses including a café, beauty and hair salon and bike shop, the MEC employs ex-offenders whose lives have been turned around.
One such person is Danny McEwan. Before joining the MEC’s building services team, Danny had reached the lowest point in his life as a homeless, nine-stone heroin addict with no hope of ever breaking free from his destructive lifestyle. However, after encountering Jesus he not only found freedom from his addictions, but he also discovered a new purpose in his life.
“I was sleeping rough, feeling completely alone, just trying to make money to feed my addiction. My life completely spiralled out of control, serving time in prison, staying in mental hospitals and hanging out with prostitutes. My heart was destroyed. I was ruined. I didn’t know what peace or rest was.
“Then I decided to get help to get off drugs so I went to a Christian rehabilitation centre run by Betel. After about six months, God impacted my life and I felt great because I wasn’t using drugs anymore. My heart was restored. I felt renewed.
“I then felt a tug in my heart to come to The Message Trust. This was after I heard a brilliant message on evangelism from Andy Hawthorne. I’d already been to The Message before at a Christmas event. I thought this was the future of Christianity, with young people working in a move of God, which is going to help reach lost and broken people. I just knew I needed to be part of this.”
At the lowest point
Another team member at The Message whose life has been completely transformed is their facilities assistant, Cyril Wilding.
After years of drug and sexual abuse, Cyril Wilding’s life was in crisis when he ended up on suicide watch while in prison. During this time his life was turned around when a brave old lady visited him and told him about Jesus.
“She told me that Jesus died for me. All the pain I was carrying about, he put on the cross for me. I thought she was a nut job at first! But when she left I opened up the Bible and discovered it was true. I read Psalm 23 with new eyes. I heard him say to me that he was all I needed. I knew this was the love I was looking for. So that day, I asked Jesus to come into my life. Straightaway I could feel a change in my heart. I lost the desire to do drugs and the self-harm stopped too.
“At the lowest point in my life I got support from Victory Outreach Manchester. They helped me put my life back together, depending on Jesus day by day. I met an amazing Christian woman, Laura, and we got married.
“I love working at The Message now. As well as the variety and challenges of the job, I also appreciate how you can get anybody to pray for you when you’re going through a difficult time.”
Despite the roller coaster journey Andy has faced over the past 25 years, he says it’s stories like these that make it all worthwhile.
“It’s the best thing in the world. In fact it’s the only thing you’re going to take with you, people you’ve invested in. In the book of Galatians Paul refers to people being rescued from this present age, and we’re a rescue mission.
“I saw an article about the massive rise in suicide and self-harm in prisons. So when our guys go into prisons they’re not just rescuing people, but they’re enabling them to go from being the problem to the answer. What a prize that is. I feel like we’re seeing more of that than ever before now.
“There are also so many people whose schools we went into with The Tribe, some who became Christians during those very early days who are now some of my best friends.
“That’s the nice thing about sowing seed, you’re constantly meeting people who have come right through to Christ who are now in all sorts of spheres of influence including church and business leaders and missionaries.”
Accelerating nationally and internationally
As well as their prisons work and enterprise centre, the charity also has several creative mission teams, an academy, Eden buses as well as Eden teams living and working in some of the toughest communities, and massive city-wide missions called the Higher Tour.
The work is accelerating rapidly beyond Manchester both nationally and internationally. Alongside Message hubs in South Africa and Canada there are plans to expand the work in a number of other countries.
Just over a year ago, well-known Sorted contributor and former CVM CEO, Carl Beech joined The Message team as their UK director to help expand the work across the UK.
“Andy and I had been cheering each other on for some time and I’d sometimes come and speak at staff prayer days or would come in for some advice,” explains Carl. “Every time I came here it felt like I was coming home. I was seeing radical mission to the poor, broken lives healed up, creativity, unashamed proclamation and lots of entrepreneurial stuff happening. It was just so much of what I’d been about for so many years. Within a month of coming here it felt like I was part of the furniture.
“There have been some big adjustments from leading another work to being part of something bigger. From being a CEO to coming under someone was an interesting transition. As Andy often says, it takes humility on both sides. Your life is not about you. It’s about a greater mission and a greater goal and purpose.
“If you are truly about the gospel, people being rescued and lives being changed, then it actually doesn’t matter who the boss is. If you’ve got gifts and abilities and skills and energy that you want to use in the best way and reach more people, you need to come under something else. You’re a mug if you don’t do that.
“If I could reach millions more people through joining myself to something else and going under something else, why would you not do that?
“My role is to replicate The Message across the country in strategic hubs. They may not all look like the Manchester hub but they will have the same thrust of Eden, creative mission, Higher, enterprise and prisons work in all sorts of shapes and forms but very identifiable as The Message Trust. So my job is to build teams, raise funds, deploy people, make it happen and keep the culture with the DNA and values absolutely on point.”
A significant gathering
As the work continues to grow, the charity is planning to celebrate 25 years of ministry by hosting their first-ever Message Conference, 17th to 18th November at Victoria Warehouse in Manchester, with key speakers Luis Palau and Danielle Strickland.
Andy says it’s going to be a significant gathering: “People can expect The Message raw passion. If we can have two speakers in the world, number one and number two would be Luis Palau and Danielle Strickland. Not just because they carry our DNA as rampant evangelists. Luis Palau is in his 80s but there’s no stopping him. He’s won millions for Christ. When he shares with the Church it’s with such authority and so amazing.
“Danielle Strickland is literally the best speaker I’ve ever heard. For me she is the world’s number one communicator. She’s with the Salvation Army and when you look at how they were when they started, it’s so like The Message Trust today. The creative ministry and passion for the poor and the prayer and the sacrifice.
“There will also be lots of surprises, with many special guests coming from the last 25 years, but there’s also going to be a track around urban mission and a track around gospel proclamation, which Luis and Danielle as well as myself and Carl and others will cover.
“We’re so excited to also have Tim Hughes leading worship as well as Rivers & Robots.”
Andy concluded: “If people have been involved in any part of our journey in the last 25 years, you don’t want to miss this. It’s an absolute landmark event.”
Liam Neeson Breaks the Silence - by Jake Taylor
Liam Neeson isn’t a man for bull. He always calls it like it is. Like when actors who work with Martin Scorsese suddenly call him “Marty”. The 64-year-old legend has no time for that. “I just think it’s wrong,” he says, his arms folded across a barrel chest. “I don’t know him well enough to call him Marty, so I always address him by his name. When I hear this ‘Marty this, Marty that’ nonsense, what gives you the right to call him that?” Neeson is a busy man today. In a dated hotel suite, he holds court promoting two new movies, A Monster Calls and Scorsese’s Silence, both released on New Year’s Day. And they couldn’t be different. The former is a heartrending children’s fantasy based on a boy’s experiences with his mother’s terminal cancer and the imaginary friend, a mythical tree monster (Neeson) he conjures to help him survive the tragedy, while the latter is a historical epic focused on the brutal persecution of Jesuit priests in Japan in the 1600s. Alongside Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield, Liam is a shadow of himself as the enigmatic Father Ferreira, a priest who commits apostasy under torture. And while the films are hugely different, both prompted Neeson to ask questions about life, death and faith, themes he must surely be familiar with after the tragic death of his wife, Natasha Richardson, eight years ago. Charming and warm, he delivers a typically engaging conversation that ranges from ping-pong balls covering his ‘extremities’ to the existence of God, weight loss and mortality. He also chats about his future career goals, fame and relationships with Natasha’s family. Typically handsome yet casual in a beige shirt and black suit jacket, the actor lives in upstate New York. He has two sons, Michael, 21 and Daniel, 20.
A Monster Calls, what drew you to this material?
It’s a charming, powerful film about learning to navigate life, and facing the fragility of life and death. And it was told in a fantastic, imaginative way, a very rare find with very distinct layers of fantasy and reality. It’s a very honest, truthful portrayal. You know, I think children can be shielded too much from the serious issues when they are a lot more capable than we give credit. They desire the truth but they’re dismissed, always hearing, “You wouldn’t understand.” Of course they understand. They may not process it the same way but they get it. I thought Patrick Ness’ writings was an intricate, detailed understanding of childhood and Juan Antonio Bayona, as we’ve seen from his work on The Orphanage and The Impossible, both exceptional films … [also] has a deep comprehension of what it’s like to be a child. All the elements felt right, it clicked.
Was this your first experience with motion capture and how was that for you?
I was … stuffed in a leotard with ping-pong balls attached to every bit and extremity on my body; I lived it. And each extremity was filmed by its own individual [camera] and each camera was connected to its own computer and all the movements and expressions was collated as data. And I found it terribly unsettling.
… When you did these kinds of films, [it used to be] all green screen and CGI. Standing in front of the green screen and letting them paint the magic around you. Stand in front of a crew for two weeks in a body sock … when you’re 64 and you’ll feel a little vulnerable and exposed. It’s a stripped back experience. But I learned to accept the challenge and I tapped into something entirely fresh and new in my mind and that was exhilarating. I’m glad I did that instead of just throwing my voice in a sound booth. It allowed me to properly engage, even if I wasn’t there for the traditional process.
When I interviewed Sigourney Weaver for the movie…
One of the greats. Isn’t she one of the greats? Just a marvellous actor… Completely agree – and she commented on cancer being a universal connector of us all.
What have your experiences been with the disease?
She’s right, it does. It’s a horrible, insidious, devious disease that touches every one of us. Just recently, I lost someone close to me to breast cancer, she was barely in her 40s. Her 40s! It’s just horrible and my dear hope for the future is a cure is formulated. Probably not in my lifetime but I truly hope in my sons’. Wouldn’t that be a gift? A gift after man’s disgusting inhumanity to man in Aleppo.
Does a story like this make you think about your own relationship with life and death?
It didn’t while I was making it, because of the technical aspects involved. But I certainly ponder those thoughts. I try not to allow myself to dwell too much. It is what it is. There’s nothing you can do about it. You do think about your mortality a lot more as you get older, not to get heavy about it but you do a lot more because you’re a dad; I want to be around for them and that’s a concern. Those thoughts start creeping into your head. This movie asks questions about life and death. And then Silence asks questions about faith.
Did you question your faith after working on this?
I’ve always doubted my faith, in times more than others. At various times in my life. But I don’t believe you can have deep faith without serious misgivings and I think my misgivings, my doubt will stay with me until the day I die. But I’m proud of always asking questions, and know full well I’ll never learn the answers. That won’t stop me asking.
You did The Mission, where you were playing a Jesuit priest examining his faith. Did you carry that with you into Silence?
Yes but that was in the 1700s, ours was in the 1600s. But we were in the middle of the Colombian jungle, with Bob De Niro and Jeremy Irons, and I did a lot of spiritual exercises and discussions with Father Dan Berrigan, and I asked a lot of questions both or him and myself, but nothing was solved or resolved. The same happened after working on this with Martin [Scorsese], I read [Richard] Dawkins’ The God Delusion, many books like that. Science journals, learning about the workings of the human brain, and what it can do, how the brain can rewire itself, through opioids and neurotransmitters, the brain can trick itself into believing what another large group are believing. That’s one scientific explanation behind that. And then I look to my mother, a beautiful woman with a beautiful heart and soul, chastising herself because at 96 years old, she’s not able to walk to mass. And that precise faith inspires me, it always has.
It’s certainly a stretch from your recent winning stretch of action movies.
A slight stretch yes, mildly. Taken goes spiritual [laughs]. No, it’s definitely gripping, there’s a level of action adventure to keep the audience on their toes. But also many layers to peel back; the question of faith breathing at the centre – is there a God? Is there such a thing as unquestioning faith? Can you still believe while enduring a gamut of doubt? Can you believe in the silence? How many times can you ask, are you there? It’s a question we all ask, whether you’re of secular existence or a believer. What is the meaning of it all? Why are we here?
What is Scorsese like to work with?
Well it wasn’t my first time, we did Gangs [of New York] together. I’d a small part. Martin is a very understanding, considerate man and director. He understands actors, he’s an actors’ director, he makes the space where you exist safe and comfortable because he understands that is necessary to deliver your best because that’s what he requires. He gives you all the tools but ultimately, it’s up to us to construct the creation. And that’s appreciated but also incredibly daunting because he’s laid it out for you, and all you want to do is get it right for him.
He asked you all to lose a lot of weight.
He wanted all of us gaunt and boy, that’s what he got. Adam, he took it seriously, and I’m not surprised, as an ex-Navy guy, when you give him an order, he does it. The guy looked like something out of a concentration camp. Andrew lost a lot of weight too, and I lost about 20lbs altogether but you know, Martin, he doesn’t demand, but he expects a certain level of commitment and when you sign up, you agree to commit. That’s not to say he’s some unreasonable tyrant. Far from it.
There was a lot of concern about you during the weight loss, people thought you were sick.
I heard I was dying at one stage. That was news to me [laughs]. Those I love knew it was for the movie, it didn’t matter about any speculation. I’ve rarely entertained any speculation.
How did you lose the weight?
There’s nothing to it. Just stop eating anything that tastes nice. There’s no science. Exercise more. It wasn’t easy but it was fascinating to see how far we could push our bodies.
You’re back to your youthful, normal self today, looking much younger than your 64 years.
Should’ve seen me this morning [laughs]. I don’t think I look youthful at all, especially after this one. It … aged me. But I like to keep pretty fit. I used to do the whole [thing], the washboard stomach, I couldn’t keep it up. I gave it all up years ago, the smoking and drinking. You get to stage where you need to cradle your health more.
Do you still enjoy the job?
Absolutely. It’s the greatest job in the world. You pinch yourself on a daily basis. How famous are you, in relation to your daily life?
Are you stopped on the street much?
I rarely get anything. But strangely enough, the other day, I can’t remember where I was, in America, a child, who could not have been more than four years old, and I was wearing a baseball cap, goes to his father, “Dad, that’s Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars.” I had long hair and a beard [in the film], how could he possibly know that? That is a quick kid. I swear. Totally surprised. What was the giveaway? When I passed him a photograph [laughs].
Do you have any career goals?
I need to get back to the stage. It’s been years now. I need to get back and exercise that muscle.
Do you miss it?
I don’t miss it. And that’s what worries me, I feel like I have to get back.
Do you get stage fright?
I don’t get nervous, no, it’s great. There’s something you tap into, it predates cinema from four and a half thousand years. I started out in the theatre and I feel it’s time to get my feet dirty again.
What do you get out of it?
Just doing it. The feeling. If you mess up on Tuesday night, you get to do it twice on Wednesdays. Thursday, Friday, twice on Saturdays. It’s the classics, like Ibsen, the more you do it, the more you feel it. And feel the character. It’s flexing that muscle that you don’t use when you are in front of a camera.
Will you ever direct?
No, not at all. It’s not my bag. I directed a video once for Van Morrison for his song, Coney Island. I was in a movie down in North Carolina and on one of my days off, we shot on a Sunday afternoon. But it was terrifying because it was obvious I was not a director, we had the DP from the film we were shooting, on our day off. He was suggesting what I shoot because I hadn’t a clue. It was scary.
Do you ever see yourself retiring?
Never. Thing about this job is that you can do it till the day you die. There isn’t a retirement cut-off. Look at Vanessa [Redgrave]. She’s 79, you should see her schedule for the next year. I don’t know where she gets the energy. It’s good to work, I like it and it keeps you young, keeps you from reality.
Do you have a good relationship with her?
Terrific. She’s great. She stays with me, in my house in New York when she’s working over there. It’s lovely having her around, I need that, it makes me happy. It’s good for all of us.
Will you ever work with Joely or Vanessa?
I would. Joely and I did a movie 20 years ago, called Shining Through, it wasn’t terribly good, although she was fantastic.
What’s the greatest advice you’ve ever received?
It’s not advice I got personally but it was something Jimmy Cagney said. “When you walk into a room, you plant your feet, speak the truth.” And that’s what I always do. I try and use that all the time.
There has surely never been a better time to watch sport on television!
On a typical weekend you can watch at least four offerings from the Premier League, plus a couple from the Championship and Scottish Premier League – not to mention Spanish, German, Italian, French and Dutch live games. And that is only football! With around 20 channels of live TV it is a far cry from my youth when the Cup Final and a couple of England games were the only live football on TV.
Sorted caught up with Sky Sports presenter, John-Paul Davies, to find out what it is like to be part of Sky’s presentation of sport, and what the future holds for us. Davies is currently a Sky presenter – on Good Morning Sports Fans or Sky Sports News at Ten – but he has had a variety of other roles including working on Sky News, presenting Welsh International Football, Rugby Union and the Rugby League World Cup.
His first career on graduating was with the police, but there was always a journalist inside trying to get out! He admits that “as a young boy I used a record myself pretending to present my own radio programme, or as a commentator. That was always in me and I don’t know why, as we don’t have a journalistic background in the family”.
After leaving the police he went back to college to do a National Diploma in Broadcast Journalism in Cardiff. On completing the course he applied for jobs, but in his own words at first “not a lot was happening”. Then he was offered a job with The Wave, a local radio station based in Swansea as a presenter Monday to Friday. This was soon accompanied by regular work preparing football reports on Saturdays and Sundays for ITV. At that stage, he felt he had to say “Yes” to everything to see if he could make the career change work.
ITV offered him full-time work which included working on the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France. In late 2007, after two years at ITV, he sent a speculative show reel off to Sky Sports and was invited in to do a screen test. This led to a job as a Sky Sports presenter, which he started on 1 January 2008.
Watching sport to a new level
As a Sky subscriber for 25 years (since the start of the Premier League), I feel that I have made a significant contribution to the development of Sky Sports – financially at least! But I wondered how an insider assessed Sky’s contribution. Davies said: “I think Sky has taken watching sport as an event in your own lounge to a new level. Sky has always embraced technology and I think been ahead of the game when it comes to HD, 3D or ultra HD etc. There is always something going on and very bright people looking at how to embrace new technology. The production values have always been very high. Sky is a company which refuses to stand still, but is always looking to do things in a better way, so when it comes to production values, the slogan ‘believe in better’ is a truism because Sky is always looking to move forward.”
For years Sky did not have a serious competitor in sports broadcasting. Setanta came and went. ESPN took Premier League games for a couple of seasons but then gave up. That all changed when BT launched BT Sport which has quickly added some Premier League football, all Champions’ League and Europa League football, Aviva Rugby Union and some European Rugby to its portfolio. In addition, they broke Sky’s ten-year stranglehold on live cricket coverage in the UK when they won the rights to screen the next Ashes series in 2017-18.
BT, which, as a large and powerful company – and a communications company at that – comes armed with the ability to produce sport and do it to a mass audience, is clearly a serious competitor to Sky. So far BT has used its sports channels not to make money directly but to develop their core business, recognising that sport sells.
As well as offering a high-quality product to customers, Sky has arguably been responsible for raising standards of TV sports broadcasting across the board. The Premier League was, of course, not created by Sky, but Sky’s contribution has been immense. Davies suggests: “Of course Sky did not literally create the Premier League, but it has been very influential in the Premier League becoming the brand that it now is and also in it having such wide global appeal. A lot of that is down to the production values and expertise, behind the scenes as well as on-screen. Sky has taken the game to a different level and the product, with its technical analysis and incisive punditry, has moved on beyond recognition in what is a relatively short space of time.
“Multiple games throughout the weekend have been a great success. The idea is that you are trying to reach the man at home who’s had a hard week at work. So you fill every possible slot where there may be an audience. Friday night, Saturday and Sunday are obvious go-tos when people may be at home relaxing”.
I had to ask him about football transfer deadline day, which Sky has transformed into cult viewing. He told me: “It’s a great thing to work on, it’s a lot of fun and there’s always a big buzz in the office. It’s a big operation. Before Sky got hold of transfer deadline day, it used to be something that would come and go and you generally had to read about it in the paper afterwards. I remember 2008 being compelling viewing with a couple of big deals that went to the wire – Berbatov to Manchester United and Robinho from Madrid to Manchester City – and in many ways that got the ball rolling in terms of realising there was an appetite among many fans for watching the drama of late deals unfolding. We are in an age where there is an immediacy of news and people expect, for better or worse, to get information here and now. Jim White has become synonymous with deadline day and his gold tie could really be described as iconic, so much so that the National Football Museum now displays one alongside John Motson’s coat, I believe!”
A few years ago we used to have the six o’clock and the ten o’clock news and the newspaper. Now news is coming at us all the time. The Premier League is approaching its 25th anniversary. The generation that has grown up with it finds it hard to conceive of the dark ages with hardly any live TV sport – and all of that with a few fixed cameras! When Sky announced that it was launching a dedicated sports channel, people wondered how they could possibly fill a day’s schedule; no one asks that now!
What does the future of sports broadcasting look like through the eyes of those within the industry? I asked John-Paul: “The way that people are watching television is changing, and at breakneck speed. So I think the challenge that lies ahead for Sky is greater than anything there’s been before. At the moment generally customers are offered bundles of channels, some of which they rarely, if ever, watch. Looking ahead, the consumer is going to be in a stronger position than they’ve ever been in, where they will be able to decide which events and which sports they watch. On-demand viewing, with platforms like those provided by Amazon and Netflix, [is] becoming the norm. My generation may want to watch sport on a big-screen TV, but the younger generation will quite happily watch sport on devices. That generation is consuming their content in a very different way. So when you talk about exploiting new technology, it’s also tapping into the way the younger generation watches sport. Sky remains well-placed because it does big event sport very well. And sport is different from other TV programmes. A documentary or film, you’re happy to watch at your leisure, but people like to watch sport live; it’s never quite the same ‘as live’.”
John-Paul Davies is a follower of Jesus Christ. How does his faith play out in the cut and thrust of sports broadcasting? “I think the challenge that I face as a Christian is just being consistent, trying to show the love of Christ to people day in, day out, living a life where you are putting others before yourself sacrificially, where you’re being kind to people, where you always treat people the way you want to be treated, I think that is something which is always on my mind.
“In terms of what we do, you always want to report fairly and be balanced. You don’t want to create a sense of drama in the story when it doesn’t merit it, but also you want to do justice to the people in the story. Sometimes when you are presenting – and I am speaking from experience – it is easy to forget that there are real human beings involved in every life story. You are in the privileged position of being able to inform and influence people, and news can take on a slant by the way you tell the story, by the tone of your voice and intonation.
“I think within you there has to be a real sense of wanting to honour the person in the story, even if that person has done something deemed unprofessional or they’ve been criticised for their behaviour. It may be something of a cliché, but in my case it certainly rings true … ‘but for the grace of God go I’. I’m mindful that whatever they have done or whatever has happened, they are still people with feelings and families and that none of us is above making mistakes.”
Sports broadcasting is thriving at the moment and that will only increase. Having people with strong Christian principles like John-Paul Davies involved can only be a good thing.
Put the Spring Back in Your Step with Dr Hilary Jones’ 5 Ways To Stay Healthy
“Spring has finally sprung! For many, this creates the perfect opportunity to ‘spring clean’ our health,” explains TV medic Dr Hilary Jones. “Here are my healthy top tips for the new season ahead!”
1. Set yourself a challenge
Challenging yourself can reveal qualities you didn’t know you had, and spring is a great time to get outdoors and set yourself a new goal that you can work towards. It might be a 10k run, a parachute jump or the London to Paris bike ride, and why not get some friends on board too for added fun and motivation? Convincing yourself that you will conquer the challenge will make you believe it, while boosting your self-esteem and self-confidence in the process!
2. Banish unnecessary stress
Having too much on our plate can leave us feeling drained and anxious so it’s important to create a balance. Take ten minutes to reflect on the things you find stressful in life and think about ways to limit them or get rid of them altogether! Unclutter your mind before bed every night and give yourself time to think about the things in your daily routine that are really important to you.
3. Spring clean your senses
Staying connected with the world around us is key to our happiness, relationships and emotional well-being. While many of us visit our optician and dentist regularly, we wrongly neglect our hearing health – with research showing people can wait up to ten years before taking action on a hearing problem! Don’t waste time wondering whether your hearing is what it should be – get the facts by getting a free hearing test. This spring hearing specialists Hidden Hearing is offering a three-month supply of Healthspan Multivitamins and a copy of Dr Hilary Jones’ 50 Tips to a Healthier YOU with every free hearing test.
4. Get health wise
Do you know your cholesterol level and your ratio of good fats to bad fats in your blood? What’s your blood pressure reading? What is your height-weight ratio and what is your body fat percentage? Staying on top of your health and taking positive steps to look after yourself today will help to protect your health in the years to come while giving you a baseline to compare with in the future.
5. Perfect portioning
Most of us know what we should be eating in order to stay healthy but portion size is something that many of us don’t give much thought to. According to the British Heart Foundation, our portion sizes have increased by more than 50% in the last 20 years,1 so try using your hand to measure your portion sizes: A portion the size of the palm of your hand should be your protein, two fist-size portions for your vegetables/salad, one fist or less is your carbohydrates (potato, rice, pasta etc.). Chewing your food properly and putting your fork down between mouthfuls will also allow your brain time to register that your stomach is full.
Hidden Hearing is a high street hearing specialist with 50 years’ experience in hearing healthcare. Hidden Hearing is dedicated to providing the highest standard of care across their national network of 263 UK centres, providing free hearing tests, advice and information on the latest hearing technology.
More than 300,000 people in the UK are helped each year by Hidden Hearing. To find your nearest hearing centre or to book a free hearing screen call 0800 037 2060 or visit hiddenhearing.co.uk
Grid Hospitality - by Martin Leggatt
Grid Hospitality have more than 40 years’ experience in the hospitality and event business and have suites at both Brands Hatch and Donington Park race circuits.
The motorsport hospitality programme has come together as a result of managing director Philip Bunn’s son’s passion for competitive racing, which he has successfully competed in for over 15 years, and Philip’s own enthusiasm. Once involved in motor racing, there seems to be no way out.
Here at Sorted we’ve experienced some great days at Brands Hatch for the BSB Superbikes racing. Safely ensconced in the prime location of Grid’s A1 Suite, with its unrivalled view of the grid, pit lane and track, we took full advantage of the outside decking area that allows you to get right down to the track’s edge. Forget the smell of petrol and loud roar of the engines, standing down there you can feel the engines’ vibrations in your chest.
You can retreat at any time away from the noise and any inclement weather to the shelter and comfort of the suite itself. In there you can take advantage of the stylish and comfortable interior and, more importantly, the first-class hospitality of husband and wife team Philip and Mergaret. Inside the contemporary designed suites, you’ll find the open bar, superb menu options catering for all tastes, 2 x 51in plasma TVs for live viewing and up-to-the-minute results. Mergaret’s attention to detail and positive drive make their events the best 5* service you will find in the paddock.
Grid Hospitality offer the very best British motorsport packages in their contemporary hospitality suites at Brands Hatch and Donington. And all at sensible prices.
Call Philip Bunn on 01444 246446 or 07774 480004 or online at email@example.com
Chris Pratt: Passengers - by Jan Janssen
Chris Pratt is the type of good-natured, self-effacing gentleman that often seems to be apologising for his success. Not that he doesn’t remember the tough times when he was broke, out of work, homeless and sleeping in his car in Maui while dreaming of becoming an actor. In person, sitting down in front of you in a checked shirt and blue jeans in a posh hotel suite, he is unfailingly polite, enthusiastic, and smiling – he would probably get up and pour you a cup of tea if time allowed.
Today he’s sitting on top of the world as the star of three major film franchises – Jurassic Park, Guardians of the Galaxy and as Harrison Ford’s successor in the upcoming Indiana Jones reboot. His most recent film, The Magnificent Seven, was a box-office triumph, and now he’s about to be seen in the highly anticipated sci-fi drama, Passengers, co-starring Jennifer Lawrence.
“I was excited about this film from the first moment I read the script, and I can’t wait for audiences to see it,” Pratt says. “I had the best time working with Jennifer Lawrence and it was an extraordinary experience overall. I’m really proud of this movie.”
Directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), the film sees Pratt play a passenger aboard the starship Avalon on a 120-year journey across the galaxy in which everyone aboard is supposed to remain in suspended animation to prevent ageing until they arrive at their destination. But a malfunction occurs causing space mechanic Jim (Pratt) to awaken 90 years ahead of time. He subsequently rouses fellow space traveller (and upper-class intellectual) Aurora (Lawrence) out of her induced slumber so that he won’t face the journey alone. A second malfunction then forces them into taking emergency steps to save the spacecraft and everyone aboard. The film co-stars Michael Sheen, Andy Garcia, and Laurence Fishburne.
The 37-year-old Pratt lives in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Anna Faris (Scary Movie), 39, and their four-year-old son, Jack. They met and fell in love on the set of the comedy film, Take Me Home Tonight, and subsequently wed in 2009.
Passengers was one of the biggest movies of last year. What are your thoughts about it
It’s one of the most interesting stories I’ve ever been part of, and I thought the script was the best I had ever read. It’s also a very original story and I think audiences are going to find that it’s something they’ve never seen before, which is rare.
What was it like working with Jennifer Lawrence?
Jen is fantastic in it, and we had a lot of fun working together, even though it was a long, tough shoot.
Your life has changed dramatically over the years. How would you describe this personal evolution?
Our son, who’s four now, has been a major part of that process. My life has changed away from self-centred, spontaneous living because of that. Our life took a big change, and I don’t know how much of it is based on the success of the past few years, and how much is that my priorities have shifted onto caring for another human being more than myself ... It happened sort of at the same time.
We don’t really hear much about you when you’re not out promoting your films?
That’s the way I like to have it... I’ve always been a homebody, but I’m more of a homebody now. I carve out time. I keep my family time really private – so that’s something different. When I’m working on a set or doing press for my films, I often get very lonely being on the road. That’s the toughest part. I keep a journal and sometimes when I find myself writing and thinking about things I get emotional when I realise how much I miss my family.
You’ve been open about how your (Christian) religious faith has kept you going and prevented you from giving up on your acting career even when things weren’t heading in the right direction for you?
When you’re working in an industry where there’s a lot of uncertainty and you don’t know whether you’re going to be successful or not, you need to believe that things will work out... I just had to have faith that everything would be OK. And I think it’s like that – I just have to have faith that it’s going to be OK.
When you were struggling as an actor, did you ever imagine this kind of success?
[Laughs] As a kid, I had dreamed of doing something heroic or important with my life. But that could have been working as a police officer – I would have been happy doing that. As an actor, you have to balance your dreams with reality all too often and for a long time my main goal was never to have to work as a waiter again. That was one job I really hated.
Do you ever worry that success will go to your head?
I worry that sometimes I might behave in a way that people might think I’m rude or inconsiderate. It’s important to me to be a good man and to connect with people in a good way... I would be devastated if anyone ever thought I was a [jerk]. As a young actor I saw how fame changed people and how money and power can turn good people into bad people.
I’m not saying that that could never happen to me, but I can honestly say that I’ve never let [fame] affect me and turn me into someone different from who I am. I try to make sure that every day I am thankful for the kind of life that I have and that I never take anything for granted. I will always remember where I came from and how it’s more important to me to be a good person than almost anything else.
You’ve admitted to going through some tough times personally and professionally, dealing with losing weight, regaining your self-esteem – what did those experiences teach you?
I never want to get upset over small things that are unimportant. I want to enjoy every moment of this time in my life because this is a business where success can be very fragile and it can all go away very quickly.
I want to be the same kind of person and be a good husband and father whether I’m having a lot of success or when things aren’t going as well as you would like. That’s the kind of perspective I try to have on everything.
What keeps you grounded?
I cling tightly to my wife and my son, and [true friends] who would have me to dinner even if I was still a waiter or a coupon salesman. I do my best to try to nurture those relationships. And I am a man of faith. I rely heavily on my faith.
What are your interests outside of acting?
Nature is very important to me. I love hunting or fishing or hiking through the woods. I love nature and I love my family.
Apart from your faith, what has guided you in life?
I owe almost everything to my parents who raised me properly and gave me discipline and a strong sense of respect for others. I think when you grow up with a solid foundation in life that will carry you forward and help you through the bad times and also make you appreciate the good times even more.
Arsenal: More that just a football club
There is a side to Premier League football clubs that few are aware of. Players are often seen as overpaid prima donnas, and clubs as exploiting the fans with excessive ticket prices, but that is far from the whole or the true story.
Since the 1980s, Arsenal FC has had a dedicated community team, set up in response to social unrest in London at the time. Today, Arsenal in the Community works with over 5,000 individuals each week across a range of education, social inclusion and sport programmes – 360 programmes a week in 150 locations. Arsenal’s tradition of giving has also expanded over the years, from making contributions to good causes local to the club to supporting major charitable projects in the UK and overseas.
In 2004, Arsenal launched a Charity of the Season initiative which saw ChildLine, the David Rocastle Trust, Willow Foundation, Treehouse, Teenage Cancer Trust, Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity and Centrepoint all benefit. Then in 2012 Arsenal Foundation was launched as a grant-giving organisation with the mission of helping young people fulfil their potential. Save the Children, the Willow Foundation and Islington Giving are all official partners of the Foundation, with a great number of other projects also benefiting from grants and support.
The cooperation with Save the Children is about building football projects for children around the world who need a safe place to play and to be children again. Two pitches have already been opened in Iraq, in camps for displaced children fleeing war. More work is underway in Indonesia, Somalia and Jordan. The aim is to use the Arsenal name and the power of football to offer inspiration and support to young people who need it most.
Manager Arsène Wenger, is fully behind these initiatives, saying: “Community has always been at the heart of Arsenal Football Club and I have been incredibly proud to have seen the Club’s initiatives grow and deliver consistent results in a number of important areas.
“What makes a Club survive in the long-term is not always the top of the tree but its roots – it is these roots that we need to extend and make sure that they grow and penetrate into the community, both here in the UK and increasingly, internationally. It may not be the most glamorous part but, in my opinion, it is the most important part. We know that the power of the Arsenal name can open doors to young people who may otherwise be lost to society.”
I first became aware of this aspect of the club when I heard Arsenal CEO, Ivan Gazidis, speak at the conference ‘Sport at the Service of Humanity’ at the Vatican, when he shared the Arsenal story in terms of “how we go from a group of elite athletes, kicking a piece of leather into a basket on a football field, to someone saying that our football club changed his life”.
The individual he referred to in the quote was a Gambian refugee called Borry Jarju, who came to London having been a victim of torture, arriving with no community, no friends, no family, no job and no money. He was put in touch with the Arsenal Freedom From Torture project. He came in and played football twice a week with people from different backgrounds who had been through similar hard times, which gave him a community and rebuilt his self-worth. Because he came to England loving football and knowing Arsenal, people at the club were able to gain his trust and refer him to their community department, where there are people who work on improving a person’s employability. Borry was given help to apply for jobs and prepare for interviews. That support helped him secure a job in Debenhams.
Borry now sees Arsenal in a different light. “I was born and raised in the Gambia, and I came to the UK four years ago. It was tough, of course, and it’s very difficult to adapt to living in a new country if you don’t have any help from either organisations or people in your new home. But I did.
“I was very lucky to find Arsenal in the Community through Freedom From Torture, and they have helped me with lots of things in my life. I started going – and still go – to football sessions in which we play matches against local teams and sides from other areas.
“The Arsenal Employability Programme has also been a massive help. The people there helped me learn about my responsibilities as an employee, and also the responsibilities that employers have to their staff – every aspect of being part of the workforce in this country.
“They helped me write my CV, apply for jobs and learn to cope with interviews. To tell you the truth – and you might think I am overemphasising but I’m not – the most important thing in life is to feel appreciated, and Arsenal in the Community have given me that. And so I cannot tell you how much I appreciate everyone who’s helped me. The wonderful people there have all been exceptional to me and given me so much support.
“I thought Arsenal was just a football club, but it goes beyond that. It’s not just about the team or even about the club helping kids to play football. It helps build people’s lives. Before, I was one out of ten. Now I am ten out of ten.”
Gazidis says that Borry is just one example, one of many. “These stories are important because they provide a foundation for our values and we bring people like Borry to speak to our players so that our players can understand that what they do contributes to a greater good. We are finding that broadening our players’ horizons and giving them a sense of social responsibility can take pressure off them. Their whole world is football day after day – things are written about them in the press and the fans are up and down according to their results. But when they realise they are in a wider context, it helps their performance. And that is another benefit not just for the players but across the whole staff – to be involved in this process.”
For the past 30 years Arsenal has been taking a leadership role in women’s football in England. Their women’s team is among the most successful and best known women’s teams in English football. But it is about more than just success on the pitch. Gazidis continues, “We continue to invest in making sure that we progress the elite level and all the youth levels underneath. We do that because we think for young girls to have an inspirational point where they can get self-esteem, self-worth, team values by taking part in the team sport with their peers and with role models that they can aspire to be like – and not from all the rubbish that is pushed down them every day – is an incredibly powerful force for good. But we still have a long way to go in that area but that is another inspirational piece of work that I’m proud we’re involved in.”
Because, Gazidis says, Arsenal is not only a local north London club, but a global brand, they see the potential to contribute internationally: “Now we are trying to take what we have learned about football as a gateway for great social outcomes and to use the Arsenal name around the world to do that. We don’t have the capacity to deliver projects around the world on our own but over the last five years we have developed The Arsenal Foundation and put in place a partnership with Save the Children in particular but other international partnerships as well. We have been involved not just in emergency relief projects around the world but with long-term projects in places as far away as Beijing and Indonesia and elsewhere.
“In the last five years our focus has really changed and we have made refugees central to what we’ve been looking at because of the issues there. It is not just building football pitches but supplying coaches and helping develop cultures in those places using the methodology that we have, which is to bring people in, coach them in something they love and then give them support in other areas to develop good social outcomes. And we have done that in Syria, Somalia, Jordan and Iraq where there are over three million displaced people, half of them children.”
Arsenal ladies’ captain Alex Scott has visited a refugee project in Iraq. She said of the experience: “The impact that football is having on these children’s lives is incredible. Having escaped violence and war with only the clothes on their back, football is giving them back a childhood and some normality after everything they’ve been through.
“The bravery and resilience the kids in the camps show is awe-inspiring and has really put things into perspective for me. But beneath the surface, these children have witnessed and experienced terrible atrocities and many have lost loved ones and friends.
“By encouraging teamwork, instilling a sense of achievement and just by having some fun, football is helping them to recover and giving them a chance of a better future. I’m so proud that Arsenal and Save the Children are making such a difference to so many children’s lives. It has been truly inspiring to see the power that football can have.”
It is great to see power for change that football has and how Arsenal is using it to make a difference.
Allan Chapman: Mr Starman - by Ali Hull
What makes some of us determined to fulfil our dreams, where others give up? This is a question I found myself asking when I first met Allan Chapman. Nowadays, he is a highly respected astronomer and historian. He took over the presidency of the Herschel Society when his friend Patrick Moore died. He lectures and writes on science and history, and turns up on Brian Cox’s television programmes. Yet he left school with no qualifications and none of his teachers thought he would amount to very much. In fact, when he was back in Lancaster, after finally making it to Oxford, he met one of his previous teachers, and when he told the teacher what he was doing, the reply was, “Pull the other one, Chapman!”
Yet the signs were always there, for anyone looking for them. While not getting on particularly well at school, even as a lad, he was making telescopes at home… How come?
“I was fascinated by the moon. The little terraced pit cottage we lived in (before being rehoused to the palatial grandeur of a council house) had a beautiful view of the western sky and brilliant new moons. By ten or eleven, I was making telescopes from old lenses and cardboard tubes, and I also made a tripod from brush handles. It magnified about 20 times, showing the craters. Even then, I was lecturing, showing the moon to passers-by. Our next-door neighbour, Sam Deakin, a real character who drove the shunting engine at the local pit (and who used to give me rides on the footplate), came out once and asked: ‘What at lookin’ at, Cock?’ So I showed him the moon. ‘Bloody ’ell fire, lad! Ah them’t craters?’
My parents bought me a real telescope, costing £3 10 shillings, for my 12th birthday, and I still have it. That was a lot of money in May 1958, but I was an only child, and my parents were in regular work. And we took the telescope on holidays with us, to look at ships.”
It wasn’t just telescopes that fascinated the young Allan. “Steam engines and trains were also a passion going back to infancy. All forms of science, machinery, and technology, in fact. I also made a microscope, dismantled clocks, had a chemistry set which I built up into a lab, kept a weather journal, and loved explosives. I made a musket – drop a lighted firework and a ball bearing down the barrel, and bang. And I made a cannon from a piece of scaffolding tube and a pair of pram wheels. My very genial and progressive headmaster, Frank Cawley MEd, gave me a firm (yet grinning) warning after I had tried to buy weedkiller at the local hardware shop to make an explosive mixture for my cannon. The proprietress, quite rightly, guessed that 12-year-old roughnecks did not generally go in for gardening!”
It is common for those who have not done well at school to blame their teachers, especially if they later make something of themselves, but Allan doesn’t. He recognises that the teachers believed they were doing what was the best for the boys in their charge.
“My teachers were a good, thoroughly decent, bunch of chaps; I was at a boys’ secondary modern. It is just that after the age of 11 (and I never even sat the 11+ exam) we were all being tailor-made to fit into local factory jobs, as our parents had been. We secondary modern kids, quite simply, were being trained for the industrial workplace, and that was it. Telescopes, home-made cannon, and an airship which I designed were just, ‘All right lad, and very good; but it will never get you a job in the factory. Folks think you’re a bit tapped.’
“‘Happy Harry’ Harrison, who was careers master, had to interview me when approaching leaving age. I said I wanted to work as an assistant chemist in a factory lab. I have never forgotten his words: ‘Chapman, with your tiny grain of intelligence, you will be lucky to become a bottle washer.’ And it was said in perfect, honest sincerity. When medic and astronomer friends ask why I never became a surgeon, or an astrophysicist, I reply, ‘My school only did butchers’ boys and car mechanics.’”
He thinks his failure at school might have been an undiagnosed learning difficulty – possibly dyslexia. “I have an acknowledged genius for wrecking computer databases, mixing-up passwords and bank codes, and losing pieces of paper, bags, and keys.”
Whatever the reason, Allan did not shine at school. When he left, instead of going into a factory, he got a job in a library, and he started night school. Night school led to qualifications, and these, in turn, led first to Lancaster University and then to Wadham College, Oxford. Not that his parents were sure this was a good idea…
“When I planned to go to Lancaster, at the age of 23, then Oxford at 26, my parents thought I was heading for an almighty fall. After all, I had a rock-solid, secure muggins job in the town hall, in the days when all you could get sacked for was criminality. Mere incompetence and unsuitability did not count. I had a secure job down to 65, including sick pay and a pension. Only a fool would give up such a cosseted life. Yet once it was clear where I wanted to go, my parents and grandparents gave me their fullest support; Dad, who loved being behind a steering wheel, took days off work to drive me to Lancaster and then Oxford for interviews. They did become proud of me, while remaining uncomprehending. And I in turn remained rock-solidly loyal to them, and our local world. We always were close and in touch. Working-class parents were always fearful that university would alienate their offspring and give them air and graces. But never with me.”
Fuelled by the sheer love of finding things out, he got himself all the way to a DPhil, and then had to decide what to do next.
“Being independent was an ambition since childhood. Not to be some boss’ muggins. I was inspired, in part, by the lives of the comfortably off scientists of the early Royal Society whose biographies I lapped up as a lad, and of the exotic and courageous madcaps in Jules Verne’s novels. Those gentlemen who could trot off to the centre of the earth, the moon, or cross Africa in a balloon, or go around the world in 80 days – just for a lark. Nobody ever had a job, but they came and went, frequented their gentlemen’s clubs, and always had spare cash for a mad caper with their chums. Much more up my street than doing a 48-hour week on the shop floor. I suppose a lot of other lads were similarly inspired, but I did something about it. So, scenting no chance of a job in the left-leaning history of science scene, I set up a small business to make detailed working replicas of a collection of 16th century astronomical instruments which I had researched in my thesis. And they did more than keep me in bread and dripping for a year or so. I also started to get noticed – about 1975 – by American universities who ran courses for visiting students and summer schools in Oxford, and who paid quite handsomely. Then invitations to the USA to lecture came in, and my early TV work – and so on. I realised that having financial independence was the only way – even if what I planned was not quite so colourful as being blasted to the moon by a cannon. I have always been grateful to God for my blessings, and recognise a duty to give back. The British homeless are my main concern: Christian-based charities such as the Salvation Army, the Gatehouse and Porch in Oxford, and the Booth Centre in Manchester and the north.”
We are often told that “science has disproved God” but this is not an idea Allan has much time for.
“In my mid- and late- teens I read a lot of Bertrand Russell’s books, and still love his History of Western Philosophy. I read various atheist writers, and was fascinated by Charlie Darwin. Yet I never felt that unbelief gave you anything. It only took away. And as for agnosticism; it never had much appeal to someone who never had much time for shades of grey. As far as science went, I have simply never quite – with my simple, unsophisticated little brain – been able to grasp how so much glorious and intricate wonder, which I see as the creation, could have just happened out of nothing.”
Allan Chapman is still proud of his roots – he regularly invites children from his old school to come and be shown round the dreaming spires of Oxford. And he hasn’t stopped being the inquisitive boy who just wanted to see what might happen. Invited to give a lecture to a local astronomy society, he went first to “the Society’s Christmas dinner. There were party poppers on the table, which set me thinking, for they really are miniature firearms. Anyhow, I used my penknife to remove the cardboard ring and stuffing to make a little gun barrel. I then found that using a five-pence coin as a cannon ball, tamped down with paper streamers to get a tight compression, I could blast the coins some six or seven feet across the room, even hitting the ceiling. We all had great fun. Some little roughnecks just never grow up! No wonder I was chucked out of the Wolf Cubs.”
He recognises that his granny would not believe he has got a proper job, even now: “Nay. All that ‘ere talkin’ is what toffs do. Folks like Lords’ sons, an’ doctors’ and ’t vicar’s sons. Gentlemen’s sons. Not folks like us.”
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