Issue 76
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Issue 76

In the new exciting edition we chat to Hollywood A-Listers, Sporting Superstars, Action-man Bear Grylls plus the greatest team of columnists ever assembled

 Are you Sorted yet?

Behind the Mask

By Stuart Weir

 

On 22 February, Tyson Fury ended Deontay Wilder’s five-year reign as WBC heavyweight world champion in Las Vegas. Wilder, unbeaten and making the 11th defence of his title, had already been knocked down twice, before his corner threw in the towel in the seventh round to concede defeat. That Fury would win the most eagerly awaited fight in years was unthinkable a few years ago as he battled the depression, weight gain and despair which seemed to have ended his career.

Behind the mask is his autobiography, but it is far from your typical sports autobiography. Fury has been a professional boxer for 12 years and is unbeaten in 31 fights. In July 2015, he came to prominence when, against the odds, he defeated Wladimir Klitschko to become the undisputed World Heavyweight champion. Following that, he was involved in contractual wrangles and suffered mental health issues, resulting in him not boxing again for two and a half years. He fought Wilder in 2018, and seemed to have won but the judges scored the fight a draw, meaning that Wilder remained World Champion.

Fury faces his mental health issues head-on in the book, which is dedicated to the cause of mental health awareness. His own summary of that period is: ‘Throughout my life, I have battled anxiety and between 2015 and October 2017, I descended into a vile pit of despair but found a way back to having a life again.’ In several places in the book, he expresses the hope that his experience will help others to recognize the problem and seek help. As he puts it, if the six foot nine inch heavyweight champion of the world can seek help, so can you! f

Unless a person has experienced depression, he says, they really don’t know what it is like. At a time when he had fulfilled his ambition and become world champion and should have been feeling on top of the world, all he could feel was an emptiness, a darkness that had descended upon him which left him scared for his life. He adds: ‘Depression doesn’t mean that you’re a weak person or a bad person - it’s an ailment that some of us have to face up to. If the heavyweight champion of the world can go as low as any person can do, when he’s supposed to be so tough, then it can happen to anyone.’ He describes, in graphic detail, going out in his sports car on the motorway, intending to drive it at full speed into a motorway bridge to end his life. Only thoughts of his family and his Christian faith stopped him. He says of the incident: ‘That’s as close as I have come to ending it all. Without my faith I would have committed suicide that day.’

He has recovered but without feeling that he really understands what was happening to him: ‘I look back with relief and bewilderment at just how a person can enter such a state, suffocated by depression like I was, and I give thanks to God.’ He advises people who have friends who are struggling with mental health issues that the best thing to do is simply to just listen and have a sympathetic ear.

The title of the book reflects a pressure and expectation he felt in professional boxing to act in a particular way, which he describes as putting on the mask and losing himself in a character, which wasn’t him. Naturally, he says, he is shy and quiet but he was told his career would take off more if he was loud and cocky.

Fury is very open about his Christian faith and about the presence of God in his life. Of the Klitschko fight, he said: ‘I didn’t win the fight against Wladimir [Klitschko], God won it for me. He intervened in so many ways. I don’t believe anything happens by chance when you trust God; this was the plan He had for me and He had put everything in place for me to triumph.’ He had entered the ring to the song ‘I’m going to have a talk with Jesus’ and then afterwards ‘on the biggest stage possible I gave glory to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ In an interview in the ring immediately afterwards, he added: ‘This glory is not for me. This was down to my rock and my salvation, Jesus Christ.’

Fury acknowledges that God brought him out of his mental illness: ‘My faith has been a pillar throughout my life and has been critical in my battle with mental health. I know in my life I have made some mistakes but I’m also acutely aware of the forgiveness of God…My way out was to get down on my knees and cry out to God because there was nothing else that was going free me from the despair I was in. He answered my prayer, I felt a sense of a burden lifted and God decided that I would have another chapter in boxing…I thank God that when I asked Him for help that night on Halloween, He found me a way back. I had faith in God that if He wanted me to be back in the ring, He would give me the strength to do it. But this was more than just about returning to boxing; this was about returning to sanity.’ 

The Bible is a source of strength for him. He has an app on his phone that lets him know the number of days in a row he has read the Bible. He acknowledges: ‘Reading my Bible every day is very important to me and helps my state of mind in a significant way.’ He refers to Job, explaining that he was ‘one of the wealthiest men in the world and then he lost it all, everything he had. He was tormented and even his closest friends turned against him and pressurized him to deny God. But he stood firm and God eventually blessed him with more than he had ever had – and that in many ways is my story.’

He believes too that he has received God’s grace in order to share it with others. ‘It was to demonstrate His power and to show people around the world who are struggling in life that there is a way [out of] the deepest pits of helplessness… By the grace of God I have been placed in a position, on a worldwide stage through boxing, to be able to help others, and that means so much more to me than what I’ve ever done in the ring.’ He describes this as ‘my true purpose in this life.’

Tyson Fury looks to be in a good place; as he puts it: ‘when God is on your side, who should you be afraid of? Nobody.’

Lessons Learnt on Sea, Land and Air

If you bumped into Simon Walker in a bar, you’d never guess the calibre of his adventure CV. Unimposing and modest, you have to really probe to find out that he is a celebrated sailor of the highest ilk. Having sailed the ‘wrong way’ around the world twice, Simon now sails through the sky in his spare time, and his adventures on land, sea and air have taught him things that have set him up for all aspects of his life, including his successful business ventures.

In 1989, Simon Walker was watching British adventurer Sir Chay Blyth on the BBC, talking about a yacht race he was promoting, the BT Global Challenge. A group of twelve 72-foot racing yachts, crewed by ordinary people, would sail around the world ‘the wrong way’, against the prevailing winds, and Blyth was looking for volunteers. Despite the fact it would mean he would be away from home for ten months, would need to raise £30,000 and wasn’t much of a sailor, the race sparked something in Simon. It wasn’t long before he had signed up and was packing his bags. We found out more…

‘In modern life, what is out there that can stretch you?’ Walker says about his decision. ‘And the thing about offshore racing is, it stretches you in so many ways. It’s testing physically and emotionally. You’re leaving your friends and family behind. You get scared. You get exhilarated, it’s very much a roller-coaster. I just thought it all sounded fantastic.’

Like most adventures, this first race transformed Walker’s life and his outlook on it, and when the next race sailed a few years later, this time Simon was the skipper of a yacht – the youngest ever to compete in the race, at 28. 

Simon now has a host of sailing achievements to his name. He has sailed across the Atlantic Ocean seven times, led two expeditions to the Arctic Ocean, and won the first Teacher’s Whiskey Round Britain Challenge race in 1995. But it was as a skipper in ‘the toughest race of all’ (the BT Global Challenge is a 30,000-mile marathon around the planet – more people have travelled in space than have circumnavigated the globe the wrong way), that Simon learnt the most about himself, adventure and leadership.

 ‘During the first race I learnt how to be tough. You endure extremes in temperatures, from below minus 20 up to 35oC; you have to work hard no matter how tired or ill you are; and it’s mentally gruelling, due to the lack of sleep. You’re at sea for over 160 days, on and off four-hour shifts; when your shift is done, you go below and get four hours to rest before the next shift. Wet, tired, bruised and shivering, it takes a half-hour to get out of your survival gear. It takes another half-hour to put it all back on again, so the off-time really is about three hours. You learn to toughen up quickly!

‘At the other end of the spectrum, I also learnt the intense elation you get from pulling through such hardships and the feeling of complete satisfaction after a hard day’s physical work. It’s something I’ve rarely found in other walks of life and what, in many ways, has kept me going back to sailing; that and the feeling you get when everything is going right and you’re skimming across the top of the waves, with nothing in sight but miles and miles of ocean.’ f

 ‘It was during the second race, when I was skipper, that I really learnt lessons that would help outside of sailing. When you are captain of a football or rugby team, by and large, you can determine that if you have the best players and they play well, you will win the match. Sailing isn’t like that. If you’re the skipper of a crew in a long race, you have to throw your macho streak in the bin. There are just too many variables, like currents, weather, wind direction, for you to assume that the best crew will win. I quickly learnt that to “finish first, first you must finish”; something which has stuck with me to this day and held me in good stead in business. There are a million and ten things outside of your control in both a boat race and in business, whether that be an unexpected iceberg or Brexit. All you can do is be as prepared as you can be and work hard and you’ll come out of the other side, one way or another. You may not win, but you’ll be satisfied you did your best.’

This attitude of being prepared and working hard showed in the way Simon skippered his crew, who finished second in one of the closest finishes in the race’s history.

‘The crew members would do more than steer quickly or trim the sails like speed demons. Sailing fast meant adding value to every task. They’d clean the toilet like pros, to lessen the chance that they’d all come down with a stomach virus. They’d use an Excel spreadsheet to plan out four meals a day, because the way they ate through 800 kilos of food would affect the trim of the boat. The commitment to be fast even affected the way they slept. To help balance the boat, they’d switch bunks whenever the conditions required it.’

Simon explains, ‘There was a watch change at two in the morning, so seven people who have been on deck for four hours in immense waves and wind-chill get to go down below. They’re covered in sleet. They’re bruised. They’re exhausted. And they’ve got four hours before they’re due back on deck. They clamber out of their dry suits. They lay out their mouldy sleeping bags on the bunks on the high side of the boat, and they get in. They’ve already used up 30 minutes. After another half hour, the wind shifts, and the guys on deck need to tack the boat. That means the guys down below have to wake up, grab their sleeping bags, walk across the boat, and lay out on the other side. Now they’ve lost even more sleep. It takes a certain kind of person to do that day after day after day for more than 160 days.’

Simon also discovered, which again has helped him ever since, that grit and determination are far more important than skill. ‘The race is not for everybody, but that’s life. We weren’t looking for ace sailors, or rich kids. Many in our crew had no sailing experience at all before they did their basic training. What we were after was great, extraordinary, ordinary men and women, who really understood what they were letting themselves in for. We looked for a certain spirit and lightness and vitality that would get them through. These people weren’t superstars. That’s what made the race special. But they were achievers. They had a tremendous amount of personal pride and self-belief and confidence. They are the lucky ones. They ingest life. They don’t fear it.’

Even after picking what he considered the best crew, Simon still had to carefully manage them, learning to be ‘boss’ at an accelerated pace compared to an office environment…

At 8am one day, Simon and his crew lined up on the boat’s foredeck and prepared to take in the 100-pound anchor. ‘There was one particular guy who had probably drunk a few too many beers the night before. Suddenly, he says he’s got a bad back — right in front of the entire crew. Everyone knows his back is fine, so all eyes turn to me to see what I’m going to do. Do I confront him? Do I let him get away with it? I had a split second to decide.

‘I chose to be unreasonably reasonable and play the guy at his own game. The only way to hold on to my authority was to make him look silly. I told him to trade places with this little woman, Kirsten, who was at the wheel. Now, this big hulking fellow has just lost his place to someone barely five feet tall. The next day, I didn’t let him take the anchor or the helm. I had him go below and make tea. “The lads will need a cup after their hard work,” I told him, “and we don’t want to put a strain on your bad back.” Wouldn’t you know, his back magically healed — and he went on to become one of the stars of the expedition.’

Simon also became a non-executive director of a company called The Adventurists, who run some of the world’s most renowned adventures, from The Mongol Derby (the world’s longest and toughest horse race) to the Rickshaw Run (a journey across India in rickshaws).

‘I thought I knew what ‘adventure’ meant when I became involved in The Adventurists, but it seemed I had a lot to learn. Before I started working with them, I had a traditional view of adventure. Although more subconscious than spoken aloud, I thought “If you enjoy something too much, then it can’t be a proper adventure. An adventure needs to involve blood, sweat and tears.” I learnt, through The Adventurists, that’s not the case. I took part in one of the events we put on called the Moroccan Monkey Run. We were dropped in the Sahara and given Monkey Bikes (basically motorbikes for children) and rode to the coast. We laughed pretty much the whole time, but it was certainly no less of an adventure for it. It was a joy to meet the local people, who showed incredible generosity everywhere we went – especially if we broke down. In one village in the Anti-Atlas mountains, all the kids came out to “help” while the local mechanic fixed the bike with the most basic of tools. None of us spoke the other’s language, but there were lots of laughs and smiles all round. So now, if I’m looking for an adventure, “nice weather”, “good food” and “good company” are generally on the list.’

It was through The Adventurists that Simon also got introduced to the sport of paramotoring, taking to the skies with a paragliding wing above your head and a motor tied to your back. Hooked, he soon found himself flying regularly and is now managing director of the world’s largest paramotoring company. A British company, Parajet was founded by the inspirational Gilo Cardozo, who in 2007 set the paramotor world record, flying over the height of Everest with Bear Grylls.

In true Simon style, he’s not settled for just ‘casually’ flying and has flown in ten countries, including a recce trip for the 2019 Icarus Trophy (the world’s longest paramotoring race) which saw him fly from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to Johannesburg.

‘It gives you a freedom similar to sailing, but in three dimensions instead of two. There really isn’t anything like it and you get to see the world in a way few people ever do. It truly is adventure at its best, which is perhaps why Bear, Levison Wood and Ben Fogle have all learnt to fly with us. It’s our mission, as a company, to enable more and more people to feel the joy of flying the most accessible, transportable and affordable form of powered flight. I feel it’s my mission, as a human being, to get more people to take that initial step, as I did when I first saw Sir Chay Blyth on the TV talking about the round the world race, and to sign up for an adventure of a lifetime; whatever that may be.’ 

 

The lessons Simon learnt from the race obviously impressed others, as he went on to be managing director of the race organiser Challenge Business and was instrumental in the next two round the world races. He also co-founded the online leadership coaching system my360plus and the consultancy Talentsmoothie, and co-authored the book Generation Y: what they want from work.

 

If you’re interested in learning to paramotor head over to parajet.com/learn-to-fly/ for more details.

 

For Ulster and Ireland

By Stuart Weir

 

Jacob Stockdale is a rising star in Irish Rugby. Aged 24, he already has thirty caps to his name, and rugby is in his blood. His father and grandfather played, and he told me: ‘I started playing mini rugby when I was about four or five and I have never stopped playing!’ He progressed from a local club to professional rugby with Ulster. It was all a smooth and easy progression: ‘When I signed for Ulster I went into the academy. In terms of helping people to transition from school into senior rugby, the academy is pretty perfect. You learn how to be a professional athlete, how to gym properly, how to eat properly and that sort of thing. They certainly give you every opportunity so that you’re definitely ready to play senior rugby when the opportunity arises.’

The smooth progression continued when he was given his first cap for Ireland in 2017, in New York of all places. His main memory of the game is a surprising one: ‘The one thing that absolutely stands out is that it was absolutely roasting. I don’t think I have ever been so warm in a game in my life. Another memory is getting to score my try, which was pretty cool. The try came from brilliant play by Keith Earls who made a line break and gave me a class pass and all I had to do was sprint into the corner to finish it off. So certainly one of the easier tries I’ve scored.’ At the time of writing he has an interesting record – when he scores, Ireland always win! That stat surprised him: ‘I wasn’t aware of that. I didn’t think I was that important to the team but obviously I am!’ 

A few months later he played for Ireland against South Africa, one of the powers of world rugby, three times World Cup winners, but that day Ireland won 38-3. ‘The South Africa match was my first ever game for Ireland in Dublin. It was a really good win, although at that point South Africa weren’t playing that well, while we were on the up and coming into some good form. I would say that I started the South Africa game pretty quietly but finished it off strongly but it was great to be involved and to score.’

The following spring Stockdale was involved in the Six Nations for the first time. Ireland were unbeatable, becoming Six Nations Champions with a Grand Slam (winning all five games) and therefore also winning the Triple Crown (by beating England, Scotland and Wales). Stockdale was chosen as ‘Player of the championship’ following his two tries against Italy, two against Wales, two against Scotland and one against England. His own assessment of that season is very modest and self-effacing: ‘The 2018 Six Nations was a big year for me, and I suppose breaking the try-scoring record for the Six Nations was the thing that everyone looked at and made everyone take note. But looking back, I also want to say that I was in a team which was playing brilliant rugby, and they put me in for a lot of tries which probably made me look better than I actually am. Especially as a winger, how many tries you score often depends on how well the guys inside of you, the outside half and the centres, are playing. And in 2018, they were playing incredible rugby which made my job a lot easier. I certainly had my fair share of poor games that season but as a winger, even when you’re not playing well, if you are still scoring tries there are still going to be headlines about you. There were games when I didn’t think I had a very good match but I was lucky enough to get over for a try and then everyone forgets that you didn’t play that well.’ Another career highlight was scoring against New Zealand, the reigning World Cup holders, and a team Ireland had never beaten in Dublin, not until November 2018. Stockdale got the ball in space, kicked ahead, and won the race to his perfectly weighted kick to touch down. He regards that as his favourite try ‘because of how important it was for the team. It enabled us to beat New Zealand at home; something we had never done before which was really cool.’ He adds ‘The New Zealand game was really something special, probably one the most enjoyable games I have ever played in, from start to finish and I’ve never really experienced an atmosphere quite like it.’  Ireland won 16-9.

Jacob Stockdale’s dad was a church minister, so he ‘grew up in a very Christian home, always around the church.’ He accepted his parents’ faith and as an adult his Christian faith continues to be central. ‘Growing up with that kind of childhood, it made sense to me and I knew about Christianity. I always kept my faith. I believe that God created this earth and His Son Jesus died for our sins and because of that we’re forgiven and have eternal life. For me it’s pretty awesome to know that and it gives me security.’

Rugby can be very physical and I wondered if there were any conflicts for him between loving his neighbour and smashing him! ‘No, I’ve never really found that. Rugby is a game that prides itself on respect, the idea that you can beat the hell out of each other for 80 minutes and afterwards you can go and have a chat and a beer together. That respect among players has always been part of the appeal for me of rugby which you don’t get with some other sports and which fits in perfectly with my faith. Of course, sometimes you do lose it a bit, because as humans we’re not perfect and we do make mistakes. And if you have had a bit of a scrap with somebody, you always go and make amends and apologise afterwards. That’s such a big part of the sport, that’s why I love it so much.’

He added that following Jesus ‘makes quite a difference for my rugby, especially when you’re not playing well or have made mistakes because you are in the public eye. It can be really tough to deal with that. And for me it’s really nice to have someone I can turn to and talk to and give Him the problems and God helps me deal with that. So, it’s a source of comfort that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have my faith.’

The only blot on his landscape was the 2019 World Cup. In 2018 Ireland had proved themselves to be the best team in Europe, not to mention that win over New Zealand, but in the World Cup they lost to Japan and New Zealand. Stockdale’s assessment is blunt and to the point: ‘The World Cup was largely disappointing. Obviously, we’d had a fantastic year in 2018 and leading into the World Cup, you would have thought we were in a very good place but I suppose things started to go wrong. It was a very similar team but we didn’t perform in the way we had in the Six Nations and the November series before. So, the feeling we had coming away from it was disappointment because we know how good a team we are, we just didn’t bring it to the fore.’

He still plays his club rugby for Ulster and loves it: ‘Ravenhill, Kingspan is a brilliant place to play rugby. The atmosphere is class, especially on a Friday night. We have very loyal fans and not just loyal but passionate as well. They create a lot of noise which gets you excited to play in front of. We train generally four times a week – that is Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. So, if we play on a Friday night, we only get three training sessions. If we play Saturday, we get the extra session on Friday. It is a pretty busy week. We usually only spend 90 minutes on the pitch. But as well as that, we would be busy with meetings to review the past game and to preview the game to come. We have one gym session a day and other wee skill-based things that we do indoors. We can be in from 7.30am to 4.30pm on a long day, but only on the pitch for 90 minutes.’

Away from rugby, he has a number of interests. He likes to walk his dog – Lila, a Hungarian vizsla. ‘I like to be quite outdoorsy when I can’, he continues. ‘My girlfriend bought me a tent for Christmas, and I want to try to make some use of that. I’m quite into Lego as well. I find that I can take three or four hours building something and completely switch off with it. I have an old Mustang and I am currently trying to rebuild that and put new parts into it and make it into a daily driver.’

He has achieved a great deal so far in a short career, but one feels there is a lot more still to come for Ulster, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions.

Path To Stardom

By Peter Wallace

 

Hailed as a future Hollywood megastar ever since his indie breakthrough – John Boyega’s talents have placed him front and centre in one of the biggest film franchises in history. But the path to fame wasn’t easy, and the young Londoner isn’t one to make exceptions…

 

In John Boyega’s latest and biggest cinematic appearances – as the modern Star Wars trilogy’s Finn – the Peckham-born star plays an Imperial stormtrooper who comes to reject his ideologies and instead joins the freedom-fighter Resistance.

It’s not just that this representation of Boyega appears in a galaxy far, far away. The casting off of beliefs is a concept far, far removed from the 27-year-old actor’s real-life core message. ‘I come from a family that has strong faith, and you realise that life is transient, and nothing is more important than inner peace,’ he smiles. ‘I pray and meditate a lot. Money and fame do not have enough power over me to change my personality.’

In spite of being propelled via the multi-billion-dollar Star Wars franchise, the ninth and final episode of the ‘Skywalker’ saga having come to a close this year, Boyega has stayed true throughout to life before the limelight. The son of a Pentecostal minister, Samson Adegboyega, who for the past fifteen years has preached in the capital, the young actor’s initial expectation was in fact to follow in his father’s footsteps as a representative of the church. ‘I had a wonderful drama teacher, Ms Early, and she helped convince my father that I was serious about my acting studies,’ he recalls. ‘I think she told him that it was a good way to keep me out of trouble, and so he was fine with that!’

Had the intervention of Ms Early not been successful, there’s little doubt that cinema would be worse off. Since making waves in his 2011 big screen debut as gang leader Moses in cult sci-fi hit Attack the Block – for which he was awarded both British Independent Film and London Film Critics’ Circle Awards – Boyega’s career has gone from strength to strength. Just four years later, he was chosen to front the Star Wars reboot alongside fellow Brit Daisy Ridley. The much-anticipated first instalment of the series, The Force Awakens, was an immediate record-breaker, reporting the then-highest opening weekend takings, and surging onwards to become the fastest film to scoop $1billion at the box office.

More so than financial gains, however, was Boyega’s shortcut to bona fide blockbuster stardom. In less than half a decade, Boyega had moved from working on films with less than $10million in the budget, to playing the lead on the seventh instalment of one of cinema’s defining franchises. In the modern era, such an astronomical rise is a double-sided coin. ‘Being in this position, you just understand the masses, how the masses think, you know?’ he says. ‘Through social media, we get to engage, we get to have fun. But at the same time, for those who are not mentally strong, who believe in every single thing that you read, that backlash...it is what it is sometimes. But to engage, to connect with the fans who otherwise wouldn’t get a day to day experience, especially during things like the press tour, and behind the scenes stuff, is always good.’

There’s always the sense with Boyega, though, that no matter the cameras and the red carpets, the teachings of his father remain to navigate him away from the perils and pitfalls that so many young Hollywood hotshots stumble headlong into. ‘Faith carries me through it all,’ he agrees. ‘But apart from that, you need a good set of people behind you. Good family and friends. I’m lucky that I’ve disciplined myself in choosing who I allow into my heart; it’s benefited me in the long run. Now I’m ready for the ride. Faith will guide me.’

Perhaps Boyega is lucky in that he is working in a Hollywood that has undergone sweeping changes in recent years. Not so long ago, such public declarations would have been considered unwise by many an actor’s management. In times past, the only avenue for faith-based filmmaking came at the fringes, with companies like Mike and Gloria Bamiloye’s Mount Zion Drama Ministry and Mount Zion Television. The industry has made headway, however small, in bringing about a space in which stars can be comfortable to express themselves. Boyega has not only benefitted; he has shouldered the responsibility that comes with such a huge opportunity and is hoping to do even more to unite his passions in the future. ‘I grew up watching the Mount Zion movies!’ he laughs. ’I thought because of my religious background, I would specifically go for a market that was based in spirituality. Later I realised that wasn’t for me, so I went secular, but I want to be able to make movies with spiritual themes in the future...’

If the title of Boyega’s debut stint as a producer is anything to go on, that chance may come soon. South African crime thriller God is Good will recount the story of a reformed gangster turned pastor who crosses paths with a detective as they battle against a vicious gangster. The film will deal with many religious themes as part of Boyega’s determination to extend his staunch faith into his work.

 ‘It’s an important story that explores themes of fathers and fatherhood, toxic masculinity, race and faith in a community that has become trapped in an unending cycle of violence and racial oppression,’ he explains, ‘and where sometimes it seems for men that violence is the only way of achieving power.’

In producing a film before his thirtieth birthday, Boyega shows just how far he has come. His dedication to his craft, however, and the work ethic that saw him complete three films in 2017, for example, are just as obvious traits off-camera. When Boyega says he stays humble by relying on his faith, he’s not inferring it’s an easy ride – indeed, the star puts in as much daily effort into this side of his life as he does on his professional vocation. ‘I pray every day after I wake up and before I go to bed - that’s how I was raised,’ he nods. ‘In the evening I pray and then sometimes if I have enough time I’ll try to meditate as well. Just to detach from the day and the current challenges and struggles of daily life, I try to detach and hopefully find some good path.’

That ability to disconnect from the omnipresent pressures of a celebrity lifestyle has roots in his upbringing: ‘I don’t drink,’ he shrugs. ‘Because I was raised by parents who never drank. It’s harder if you’re a party animal before you’re famous, because when the glory comes, you do not want to give it up.’

But though this may seem restrictive to your average wannabe star, Boyega is sure in the knowledge that his childhood was anything but strict. ‘When I tell people where I was raised, they always go, “Oof, how was that?” as if it was rough,’ he explains. ‘I reckon I had a better childhood than most people who were raised in amazing environments. It was happy and active – playing on the estate, climbing trees, and going to theatre clubs. There was so much community, so much to get involved in.’

Incredibly, Boyega has even managed to find the same path as another member of that community – breakout Black Panther star Letitia Wright. A year younger than Boyega, Wright has outpaced him in at least one regard, with a spot on the gargantuan Avengers franchise finale, Endgame, which became the highest grossing film of all time on its release this year. There’s no hint of jealously, however. Instead Boyega sees himself and Wright as living their childhood dreams together, and hopefully opening the way for kids like them who have at some point felt compelled to compromise on their personal beliefs in order to succeed in the public eye.

‘Letitia and I were in the same class at London’s School of Acting,’ he smiles. ‘It was so special for me to see her in Black Panther because I have seen Letitia from when we both had nothing, had no credibility, and wanted our chance. We would sit and after classes, everybody would congregate at a nearby McDonald’s and I remember seeing Letitia and we would speak about our dreams and our visions. We would speak about our spirituality, our relationship with God, prayer, and various other things. We knew something was cooking. We knew there was a group of people that were gonna come out of there and really do it. It felt like this group of people might just be the example and prove the success is real. We all did that and it’s just mad. It’s crazy for us all.’

Like many of his contemporaries, Boyega represents a kinder side to celebrity. Though the entertainment industry continues to be a cut-throat world in many ways, as a London-born child of Nigerian immigrants, Boyega feels akin to the kind of underdog stories that have characterised his move from the inner city to premiers around the globe.

 ‘I love people like Drake, he’s done very well in his career and I like his perspective, I really respect the guy,’ he says. ‘And I’m into Afrobeats now; it’s coming up, just in terms of the way I’ve been seeing Afrobeats infiltrate popular culture and mainstream culture. Just a bit more awareness of it is a good thing. Even in little commercials, all the Afrobeats music you’ll hear. I’m a big fan of that movement!’

His next high-profile TV project again speaks volumes. Small Axe will follow a group in London’s burgeoning African-Caribbean community from the late Sixties into the early Eighties. Directed by Academy Award-winning director of 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen, the BBC mini-series will see Boyega star as Leroy Logan, one of the Metropolitan Police’s first black officers. Is it a stretch to imagine that the struggles of former generations and fellow immigrants have shaped his determined persona? Boyega’s mix of open-hearted artistry and instilled toughness reflects parts of his life, good and bad – his childhood friendship with Damilola Taylor, killed at the turn of the millennium aged just 10, is balanced against his ambitions to fight stereotyping from the media, and even his own industry.

He has made a point of refuting aspersions about his upbringing, such as the reminder that despite the shadow of crime that crossed his path, his estate was just two minutes’ walk from ‘a beautiful theatre.’ And as he looks towards a future where he has achieved so much in such a short time, the sense of a clear vision has never wavered, despite outside expectations. ‘My mom and dad have been together for 25 years, so that’s the system I will follow,’ he explains. ‘It’s nice to survive with your companion by your side. I’m sure it’s a good thing. But I’ve never experienced it. I do know, however, that she’s got to be Christian.’

Humility works both ways. Boyega may be becoming known as a role model who stands his ground and keeps to his moral compass in spite of fame and fortune, but he’s not about to undo the good work by beginning to believe his own hype. ‘I grew up as a minister’s son and was systematically religious in the beginning,’ he notes. ‘I was religious because that was all I knew. But then I let it go and had my own spiritual experiences and came on back. When I did that, my life and my outlook changed. I’m still a work in progress but I have a fundamental blueprint for the kind of man I want to be – and it’s a result of a process of being around some incredible people in acting school who had a spiritual awareness and weren’t afraid to say it.’

The Killer Virus That Might be a Catalyst for Change

‘It was the worst of times, it was the best of times, it was the winter of despair, it was the spring of hope, it was the season of darkness, it was the season of light.’

With my apologies to Charles Dickens for first daring to plagiarise and then adding insult to injury by rearranging his famous opening line! However, as Rahm Emanuel, the former Major of Chicago, once declared, ‘Never let a serious crisis go to waste… it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.’

COVID-19 has shaken our foundations – and this strange virus has drawn out some of the very worst, but also the very best in humanity.

It has shown us the selfishness of some of our attitudes and behaviours for what they really are.

It has given birth a new generosity of spirit and countless acts of self-sacrifice.

It has left the world’s poorest and most vulnerable least protected, again.

It has demonstrated there are things that matter far more than the pursuit of constant economic growth.

It has forced us to pause.

It has called us to re-evaluate.

It has posed us some serious questions.

It has invited us to search for deeper answers.

It has helped us to focus and realise that the real priority is people, community and the quality of relationships that we have; that growth in these areas is what really counts.

That’s why we find isolation and social distancing so difficult and unsettling.

Human beings are social beings. We’re made to relate. We are wired for community and interdependence. We thrive when we are connected – and struggle when we’re not.

The well-known term ‘fight or flight’ was coined to represent the two choices that our ancient ancestors had when faced with danger. But, in that case, how did homo sapiens manage to survive? Our forefathers couldn’t fly, and nor could they outsprint some of their most ferocious predators. Neither would they have stood a chance in a one-to-one encounter and battle to the death with a sabretooth tiger. The truth is that we humans only survived because we learned to work together. We learned to collaborate.

Californian Redwood trees first graced planet Earth more than 240 million years ago. They are still going strong today. An adult tree will sometimes grow to be over 300 feet tall. With its trunk more than 20 feet in diameter, it can weigh more than 5,000 tons. And research shows that some of the oldest individual trees alive today are more than 2,000 years old.

It is an extraordinary story. Across the millennia, these giants have survived earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, blistering heat, harsh droughts and ice ages, and still they stand. Yet for all this, their root systems are not deep – on average only reaching some 6 feet, to a maximum of 12 feet, down into the soil. The secret of their success lies elsewhere. Their roots may be shallow, but they extend a long way out. They reach over 50 feet from their trunks as they intertwine with those of other surrounding trees. They stand because they stand together.

So how do we respond to the huge challenge that COVID-19 confronts us with? How do we stay connected? How do we learn to do community differently?

We all have a part to play. We are in this together. Because, in truth, our livelihoods have always been bound up together. As Mother Teresa once remarked, ‘Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.’ It is just that this present moment makes it all much, much clearer.

The challenge is that, in our chaotic world, it has become increasingly difficult to find a sense of deep and genuine community. Some find it impossible. It has become one of the most universal sources of human suffering of our age. Children, teenagers, adults and the elderly all find themselves exposed to the contagious disease of loneliness.

The irony is, of course, that most of us live in closer proximity to more people than at any other point in history. We’re surrounded by people. They are everywhere. But somehow, we’re lost in the crowd.

But Australian writer Mike Riddell goes further. ‘It’s a bizarre development in the tide of history that we have become so isolated from one another that we have begun to regard our self-contained separation with a certain amount of pride. Those who can function without significant support from others are described as independent and self-reliant, while our desire for relationship is treated as evidence of some weakness.’

It is too easy to become so preoccupied with ourselves that we simply neglect to build, or don’t have time to build, meaningful, mutually supportive relationships. We spend our time pursuing our own agendas, our own fulfilment. Yet, at the same time, the unending quest of every human being is to shatter their loneliness.

Perhaps the coronavirus crisis, forcing us to live in isolation from one another will enable us to realise at last that autonomy is never liberation; that if the value our society really does prize above all others is freedom, it is high time we invested more intentionally in community.

In truth, our lives are bound up inseparably with others from the very beginning. The mystery of life is such that our very conception requires the active participation of others. We are essentially dependent beings. Each one of us is the product of community.

More than that, interdependency is a principle which is built into the very nature of the universe.

The tree needs the soil.

The soil needs the rain.

The rain needs the cloud.

The cloud needs the air.

The air needs the tree.

Perhaps, in the end it is impossible to be fully human without being committed to others. Held in tension with our drive for autonomy is, paradoxically, a great longing to belong – to be welcomed, to be valued, not just for what we do but for who we are. We need both to know and to be known. We crave being seen, heard, loved and treasured. The delightful contradiction at the heart of all this is that we can only fully discover who we are as individuals in the context of community. Only as we become aware of the needs of others can we come to understand what it is to be truly us. Perhaps this was part of what Jesus was getting at when he uttered his famous statement ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

A proper sense of love for ourselves is a vital ingredient when it comes to building healthy relationships. Only when we are truly at peace with ourselves, can we give ourselves to others and discover that we are able to serve others without losing anything. And this, again, is why community is essential to human fulfilment. It’s only in community with others that we can find that elusive acceptance and sense of worth that we so crave. It is this sense of belonging that leads us towards self-acceptance and self-worth.

Just before his death in 1631, John Donne, the English scholar, poet and one-time Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, wrote these famous words:

‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’

But having said all this, my experience has been that the challenge of community is, of course, that people are frustrating. They interfere, make unrealistic demands of me, disappoint me and let me down. Perhaps it is sometimes this – our fear of being hurt – that holds us back from making ourselves vulnerable and makes wearing the protective shell of independence and self-reliance more tempting. We are afraid that commitment to others might make us weak. As C. S. Lewis put it, ‘There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable.’

Willard Waller, the American sociologist, gave his life to studying people in order to gain an understanding of the complex interplay that goes on in human relationships. He focussed this around two deceptively simple yet profound statements:

In any relationship one person loves more than another.

The person who loves the least in any relationship has most power and conversely, the person who loves most has the least power.

In other words, the greater an individual’s love for another, the more vulnerable they become. Those who are more deeply involved in and committed to a relationship end up giving the one who is less involved more power. Waller called all this ‘the principle of least interest.’

The way I see it, to commit ourselves to others never comes with a guarantee of success. Instead, of its very essence, it is a venture of faith and sometimes I will be disappointed. However, I’ve also discovered that there is something about being in community with those who are different to me that is very good for me. I am enriched, but more than that, the best and most lasting relationships, rather than being based on the removal of differences, or the careful avoidance of acknowledging those differences, are in fact built on confronting, embracing and celebrating them.

As I often say to my friends, there is only one thing tougher than being committed to community. Not being committed to community!

Living With Grief: A Totally New Landscape

Interview with Chad Gardner, King’s Kaleidoscope

 

We’ve all heard of the seven stages of grief. It is said to be a journey from shock and disbelief, through guilt and anger, on to acceptance, passing through various other phases such as depression. It’s a process that sounds very clinical and defined, suggesting that one could easily put their finger on where they are at and look forward to what’s happening next. It’s as if when at the depression stage, you can be led to believe that hope is always around the corner.

The reality for many men is that things are not quite so clear cut. Our individual journeys can skip and replay any of these phases in any order. C.S Lewis described grief as ‘a long winding valley, where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.’ Grief is rarely predictable.  

For Chad Gardner, of Seattle-based group King’s Kaleidoscope, the process of working through grief was a public one. As lead singer of an increasingly popular alternative rock band, Chad’s music and lyrics took people through many of the stages of grief. Ahead of their second ever UK gig, David Taylor talked to Chad about his journey and his music.

 

You experienced a period of pain that would have finished most men. Can you share what you went through?

 

I don’t know about finishing most men, but it certainly finished parts of me and changed my life. I had a period of six months while making our first album where my wife and I left our church and jobs. We lost our first child to a stillbirth, as well as two other extended family members. In addition, my wife’s father died from brain cancer in ten weeks, out of nowhere, and she was also in a car accident. It was a lot in a short period for sure.

 

As a Christian, did you feel sufficiently supported by the church, and your peers, for dealing with this? 

I did. We had and still have an incredible network of friends and family who deeply love us.

 

What is King’s Kaleidoscope (KK)?

 

King’s is a band that was birthed from a church plant. I was a music director and had a rag-tag group of people that played consistently together until I left the church. Then we made our first record in 2014 and here we are in 2020, still making music. The line-up of musicians is ever-changing on the road but we still get most of the alumni into the studio when making albums.

 

Your albums take people on a journey with you, and you don’t hold back from being honest about how you feel towards God or society. Was this intentional?

 

I don’t know any other way to be. For better or worse, I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, it’s a very natural way for me to write music, and a consistent outlet for processing my own faith.

 

In ‘Backwards’, a track on your latest album Zeal, you talk about being ‘sick and tired of church and chess’. What do you mean by this?

 

If this was a live interview, I’d flip the question and ask you what it means to you! I’m speaking poetically about the endless, distracting circle of church politics.

 

Does being a Christian bring added pressure to the journey of grief?

 

I haven’t had that experience. Being a Christian has been my foundation for grief and hope. I wouldn’t know how to go through anything difficult without hope for the future, and the redemption of all my pain. 

 

A lot of men handle grief by trying to take care of those around them, feeling pressured to be ‘the man’ in the situation. What would you say to these guys?

 

That scenario sounds like a distraction method to me. I would encourage them to trust their community and loved ones and be honest and open about their feelings. But firstly, be as brutally honest with those feelings directly with God and let him begin to comfort and heal.

 

Zeal ends on a high, as you sing that ‘It’s gonna be okay, with a little bit of grace.’ Do you feel you’ve completed the journey, or is there more to come?

 

The journey is never complete this side of heaven for me. I feel like I’ve learned 1% of what I began to uncover with Zeal, and that is, simply, to stay in the fight for faith.

 

During their London gig, Chad opened up about a family member’s suicide. Referencing a poster in the green room, he explained that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 40 in the UK. He dedicated a number of the songs to those struggling and encouraged men to talk and ask for help. 

 

King's Kaleidoscope’s latest album, Zeal, is available on all formats at kingskaleidoscope.com

Siku

Siku is a graphic artist, responsible for the dramatic artwork in books such as the Manga Bible. We asked graphic designer, illustrator and author Ben Mears to find out more.

 

Who are your inspirers? Who has influenced your creativity and the way your artistry has developed?

 

I have had the same crop of visual art influencers for all of my professional life, right from the days of art college till now. They tend to serve specific dimensions of visual art for me: Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, although I am really a Michelangelo-acolyte rather than a ‘Da vinci-ite’. I go for Michelangelo for power; he is a muscular painter and sculptor.

Secondly, Moebius (Jean Giraud); conversely, Moebius is not a power but finesse artist. [He’s] the consummate designer with a rare awareness of his artistic sensibility which stretches beyond visual storytelling into what I would describe as ‘total story telling’ (in the sense of ‘total football’).

Thirdly, Simon Bisley. He was a fellow 2000 AD stablemate, but of the generation before mine. He has Michelangelo’s primal energy and transfers that into comic-books with a razor-sharp cutting-edge mental approach… he is mental! And finally, Frank Frazetta, who is again of the Michelangelo school. I would gaze at Frazetta’s paintings endlessly as a teenager.

Of all four geniuses, I consider Moebius to be the greatest. I think Moebius might be the greatest visual artist of all time… in my humble opinion.

 

And who or what is 2000AD?

 

2000AD is Britain’s leading comic book anthology, in the last 40 years. Its headliner, Judge Dredd, has been portrayed in Hollywood films starring Sylvester Stallone and more recently, Karl Urban.

 

From a creative’s or designer’s point of view, what drives you? Where do you find motivation for your work?

 

Easy: self-expression. In actual terms… self-actualisation. It’s like breathing, talking, laughing, loving, giving, saving, helping, procreating, eating, suffering, worshipping and so on. We do these things to actualise ourselves in our world; to imprint our consciousness on our civilisation. We don’t need to think about to do… we simply do it because we have to. In some way, we really don’t have a choice unless we have chosen to check out. Many people do that, you know, checking out of meaningful existence. I tend not to need to be driven; I am driven as a response to a sense of who, what and why I am. In my case, this is entirely (almost entirely) a spiritual thing.

 

You’ve worked on some projects that could be deemed religious or spiritual. How did you feel about them and where do you stand on religion or faith?

 

I think ‘everyone’ has faith and religion. I think faith is intrinsic to self-actualisation; very few people actually think of themselves as procedurally manufactured biological machines without essence, purpose or an end goal; except if one is nihilist… in that case, they fall into the ‘checking out’ category. Now, I did say, ‘everyone has faith’… that extends to having ‘faith in no faith’. We all have a ‘jumping-off-point’, and that largely reflects a ‘step of faith’. Faith doesn’t have to be ‘blind’ to be faith. But faith has to acknowledge an absence of some relevant key information. Anyone who can’t admit to that has a problem; a cultural blind-spot masquerading as intelligence.

Regarding my ‘spiritual’ work (although I regard all my work as spiritual), I started doing religious content in 2006. This resulted in the bestselling Manga Bible and several other projects, including The Hero Bible, Manga Jesus, Drink It! and Apocalypse. Doing this sort of work was a natural evolution from my work on video games and 2000AD’s Judge Dredd. It’s like breathing and walking; as you get older, your ideas about the things that hold value changes. I felt I needed to deploy my most powerful gifts into the service of Jesus Christ and humanity. That particular enterprise has morphed out of all recognition since 2006.

 

Did you find these projects affected you in any way? If so, how? And were they satisfying?

 

There is a philosophical antipathy between artists, art and the Christian institution; one formed in the last two hundred years. It is into this context that I reluctantly injected myself, creating The Manga Bible with Ed Chatellier. With great reluctance (under the strong prodding of Ed), we approached the then editor of Hodder Faith who happened to be a comic book fan and follower of my work on 2000AD! All that enthusiasm and good faith got our work off the line with the big wigs. Some of the best years of my professional career were in those days; every editor and salesperson bought into the vision and the public bought into too.

Our mandate was to tell the story… not to pollute the pool with advocacy or preaching. We felt if we allowed the discipline of storytelling its primary function, we would win. The Manga Bible proved our theory and gave me confidence to develop our ideas further. The culmination of all that work are my current book projects, Drink It! and Apocalypse.

 

Do you ever do projects that you feel are exactly what you want to do with your life, and do you sometimes take work purely to get by? 

 

Sometimes I do work purely to get by, but that rarely happens these days. I did more of that many years ago. These days, I tend to do more of what I really want to do.

 

What has been your favourite project to date?

 

Drink It!

 

Do you have a process or routine that prepares you to get into the creative zone, and a special place that is set aside for your work?

 

I have a studio at the back of the house. It’s my bat cave and cut off from the rest of the house. Everything I need to be creative is here… including dead silence or eardrum blasting music! No one to complain about my taste in music or uncivilised volumes.

Routine: maybe by sheer force of practice over several years, I have trained myself to allow a brief (work description and objective) to settle in the unconscious part of my mind. I leave it there to percolate while I get on with other stuff like research or even play. I like to saturate my mind with stuff and allow inspiration to rise like bubbles in a beer glass. It tends to rise as I rise from bed… like the end of a waking dream. If the extraordinary does not occur (LOL), I do the hard graft of good old-fashioned research.

 

At what age did you realise you had creative/artistic talents and how did you discover that?

 

When I was three years old: watching Dr Who (the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee). I saw it and thought to myself, ‘I want to do that!’ What I meant was, whatever was responsible for the aliens, monsters, ray guns, special effects and so on. At the time (as you would expect from the average three-year-old), I didn’t know what a concept artist was. I was always a fantasist. As a child, I played alone a lot, creating foes and conflict out of my imagination! My mum would ask why I didn’t want to play outside. I found the question curious. What was wrong with the creatures and players I concocted out of my head? They seemed more interesting than the kids outside. The fact that I fantasised my way through school probably explains my bad report cards throughout secondary school. I was good at almost all the arts… including the humanities like literature, history, theology, economics and then martial arts, dancing and the like. I liked studying people. And when it comes down to the brass tacks… I like drawing people. That’s why I ended up doing comic books.

 

You’ve recently completed illustrations for an incredible work, Apocalypse: The Book of Revelations. Most people are probably intimidated by the thought of reading Revelation because it is so deep, complex and involved – but you’ve illustrated the entire thing! Was this a forbidding task to take on? And where did you begin?

 

We talked about doing Revelation (Apocalypse) for 15 years! We tried getting it off the ground with several publishers. Eventually, Ed and I decided to get it done on our own. I had been told by several friends and professionals that Revelation was a project I was born to do. So, this is my first stab at it, and it is my most visually stunning work yet. One of the reasons I grappled with Apocalypse was for the reason you cited; it is intimidating. The hope is that an illustrated version might coax readers into venturing into the book.

I am also a trained theologian, in biblical texts. One of the modules I took was in Apocalyptic literature. I must also note that I am an anime and manga fan, so Apocalypse isn’t as intimidating as you might expect. Having said that, the amount of work required to decipher the blocks of motifs, Hebraic and prophetic visuals and categories is mind-numbing! I spent two weeks studying the candlesticks (the menorah) verse describing the candle stand that surrounded Jesus as he announced himself to John. Getting an accurate theological, contextual and historical design of the candles took some doing, and that was just candles! Not to talk of specific types of beasts and locusts and dragons and women clothed in the sun… Every item is precise. Every plot planned with precision and placed at precise plot points. As a theologian, I had a duty to ensure I got it right… as much as humanly possible.

The greatest fun was getting to do Jesus in a totally fresh perspective. Just rendering him in a non-religious way (hooded and menacing) was a cherry on the icing for me. Correcting long held assumptions (like angels having wings), transposing the whole narrative into a superhero contemporary timeline… drawing what I am reading without interpreting… at least as much as I could.

 

There are many budding artists and designers out there. If there was one piece of advice you could impart to them, what would that be?

 

See… That was the best advice I ever got from another genius. See… see the world around you. Look! Listen! Know yourself. Study, learn, practise, then know yourself. From that know and pick your heroes carefully for they will represent something about your make up. That’s why I say, ‘Know yourself.’ Be honest and know what your base talents are; and then hone them.

The best way to learn is to copy. It is in copying that you become acquainted (and this is a shocker) with how complex the original is. The work of the master is the sublime, but the subtlety in the sublime masks the hours and toil behind the work. But then, what work should you copy?  This is why I say, know yourself. It’s no use Michael Jackson copying Barry White! Better off Michael Jackson copies James Brown as he learns the trade (which was what he did) and then veers off as a master in his own right. Know who you are. There are all sorts of artists, not all can be da Vinci and not all can be Quincy Jones. You will know what you need to be because you will find yourself enmeshed in it. From that, hive off the superfluous… things that you are rubbish at and find the things that you are both good at and enjoy profoundly. Do this in concert with your studies and with the influencers of choice.

If you get good, you will get opportunities. Make yourself available to others. Help without expecting anything in return. Help sacrificially. Listen to others; hear them with compassion and speak with compassion. The journey of the artist is a journey of being. It isn’t what you do… it is what you are. When you offer up yourself, you cultivate humility which creates self-awareness which makes you a good and highly proficient artist. Remember; if you get good, you will have opportunities. Don’t panic. Be creative; not just with the art, but with how you apply yourself to art and opportunities. Be flexible. Humility is flexibility. Be adaptable. Be gentle. Be kind.

Losing Weight For Good

By Samantha Rea

 

Tom Kerridge is the Wiltshire-born chef best known for television programmes such as Saturday Kitchen, Sunday Brunch and Great British Menu, where he graduated from competitor to judge. He’s chef patron of The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, which is the only UK pub with two Michelin stars – and he’s struggled with his weight, reaching around 30 stone at his heaviest. Now, at least 12 stone lighter, Tom extols the virtues of a healthy lifestyle. The success of his BBC series Lose Weight for Good led to Fresh Start and most recently Lose Weight and Get Fit. With a book of the same name, packed with lower calorie recipes and exercise suggestions, we asked Tom for tips on how we can all shed the pounds for summer…

 

How difficult was it for you when you first went on a diet?

 

When I first lost weight I was on a lower carbohydrate diet, and my trigger moments were around roast dinner and freshly baked bread. Those were the things I missed the most, because the lovely smells evoked the feeling of: ‘I want to eat that!’ Now I’m on a lower calorie diet I can have bread, which is great because bread’s lush, but moments of weakness will come no matter what diet you’re on. There are always times when you’ve got to be strong. People talk about which diets work, but actually all diets work – you’ve just got to find the right one for you. Finding one you can stick with is the difficult bit.

 

What gives you the strength to walk away when you’re craving something unhealthy?

 

Remind yourself why you want to lose weight. Remind yourself what your motivation is. If you’re going on a diet, you’ve recognised that there’s an issue with what you’re doing. You’ve recognised that what you’ve been doing isn’t working for you. Maybe you’re making noises when you go up the stairs or maybe you’re in even worse health than that, and you’ve recognised that long term, ‘This is not good for me.’ So tell yourself where you want to be, whether that’s jogging around with your kids or whatever it is. Then in moments of weakness, remind yourself what you’re doing this for.

 

If you do have a moment of weakness, and you eat a family size bar of Dairy Milk, how do you come back from that without letting it turn into a downward spiral?

 

Remind yourself that it’s not the end of the world. Everyone will have days where they fall off the wagon, when things go wrong or something happens – that’s why you shouldn’t schedule in ‘cheat days’ because they’ll happen by accident. They happen when you go to a friend’s house for tea and they’ve cooked something that isn’t part of your diet plan. You’re not going to be rude and not eat it, so enjoy yourself, then get back on it tomorrow. So don’t have cheat days –  just embrace it when things happen. And don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember this is long term. It’s about changing the way you eat, rather than thinking short term.

 

A lot of us are on diets so we look good in our swimwear for summer, but the message in your book is about making healthy eating and exercise a way of life. Why is it important to think of this as a lifestyle choice rather than a quick fix?

 

The problem with fad diets is that if you’re eating badly and you need to lose weight, you can’t just suddenly lose weight then go back to eat badly again, because if you do that, the weight goes back on. It’s about balance. If you can get to a point where you’re happy in your clothes, and you think, ‘I’m fit enough here,’ there isn’t anything wrong with having fish and chips on a Friday.

It’s about being conscious of what you eat – eating better and moving more. The recipes in this book can fit into a short term diet plan. They’ll work – you’ll eat great food and you’ll know exactly what you’re eating. But I recommend enjoying them as part of a balanced diet, and a healthy lifestyle. From an NHS guidelines point of view, if you go to the website and put in your details such as height and weight, you’ll see how many calories you should be consuming each day to reach your weight loss goal.

 

I’m easily influenced by adverts on the TV for triple cooked chips, or a chocolate gateaux. If I see it, I want it. What advice would you give me?

 

Plan for every eventuality. Arm yourself with healthy choices and have them around you, so if you walk past a Mars Bar, or see something else that makes you think, ‘That looks nice!’ then you’ve got the low calorie skinny popcorn next to you, and you can have that instead. You can think to yourself: ‘That burger and chips on the advert looks great, however, I’m cooking myself this lovely bowl of penne pasta with pesto and pine nuts and a little bit of parmesan and it’s delicious!’

A big mistake people make is not eating enough, and not eating at the right time, then they get hungry and make the wrong decisions. So eat food, make sure you’re not hungry, and enjoy what you’re eating. Focus on the foods you can eat, not the ones that you can’t, and get into cooking. When you enjoy being in the kitchen, you’ll enjoy everything.

 

When I’m at home, eating meals I’ve planned, I find it easy to be good –  but when I go out it all seems to spiral out of control. What are your tips for eating healthily if you’re going to a restaurant?

 

The beautiful thing about restaurants is that they have a menu, and there will be choices on there that are better for you. Don’t have the deep fried camembert, followed by fish and chips, followed by a creamy, stodgy bread and butter pudding. There will be other options. There will be a lovely soup, a salad, a piece of fish that’s been roasted or grilled, a dessert that involves a bit of fruit –  maybe even skip pudding and just have a coffee. Don’t do yourself in by not going out and spending time with people. You can enjoy yourself – just make conscious decisions.

 

Should we clear all the unhealthy food out of the house?

 

It depends how strong-willed you are! It really depends on your mental strength. I recommend not having temptation there because then it’s a lot easier for you. However, if you’ve got kids, or growing teenagers, or a husband or wife who doesn’t need to lose weight, who’s quite happy having a slice of chocolate cake on a Saturday afternoon, you can’t deny everybody else. So you need to take responsibility. Having said that, a lot of the recipes in this book don’t feel like lower calorie recipes, so you can cook them for your family and they’ll enjoy them.

 

Is it OK to have little treats now and again? I know you don’t believe in cheat days, but can we have the odd glass of wine without feeling guilty?

 

Of course you can, but make sure you calorie count it. You can have a glass of wine or a gin and tonic, or a pint of beer, but it all counts towards your daily allowance, so if you’ve consumed it, make sure you take responsibility. Losing weight is all about taking responsibility. Nobody made you eat this stuff in the first place to get you to this point. Other people will support you, but nobody is going to force feed you low calorie food. You have to make conscious decisions about what you consume.

 

I imagine it would be helpful to do this with a partner, but what if your partner falls off the wagon and tries to pull you down with them so they don’t feel so guilty – what would your advice be?

 

Remind them why they’re your partner. Tell them you’re here as a support system as well, and say: ‘Help us do this.’ Give your partner and your friends a gentle nudge to help you. Remind them how important it is to you that you stay on the straight and narrow. And remember that’s what they’re there for – they’re friends and partners because they want to make things work for you.

Exercise plays a big part in losing weight and leading a healthy lifestyle, but we all have days when we don’t feel like it. How do you motivate yourself if you have a day like that?

 

Sometimes my day starts at 5.30am before the gym opens and finishes at 1am the next morning, so on days like that I physically cannot get there and there isn’t anything I can do about it. However, I do like to try to get to the gym at some point every day. There are days when I don’t feel like it, but I make myself go. I remind myself that it’s worth going because I’ll feel great afterwards. You can motivate yourself by finding something you enjoy doing. If you’re dreading going, you’ve chosen the wrong activity. It should be about playing squash, going for a swim, running, getting on a bike, going to a class with friends. Find something fun that you relish doing and that will be your motivation.

 

What should we do when we hit a plateau and it seems like we’re not making any progress with losing weight?

 

Re-evaluate what you’re doing –  if you’re not getting any slimmer, it’s probably because you’re cheating somewhere. One of the big things that can help when you’re on a lower calorie diet is using an app and putting in everything you consume, whether it’s cups of tea or a little bit of biscuit –  then look at it and re-evaluate, because maybe you’re not being 100% honest with yourself. Maybe the sandwich you’ve made is fine but the bit of bread that was on the side, that you didn’t put in the sandwich but that you still buttered and put a bit of jam on and ate, and thought it didn’t count because it wasn’t part of the sandwich – actually it does count. All those little things count.

 

Your end goal for weight loss was being able to run around with your son – that was something you really wanted. You set yourself SMART goals – goals that were specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely – to help you achieve the weight loss that would allow you to do that. I think most of us are more vague – how would you help someone figure out a proper goal that will inspire them?

 

Look for what you want out of it. Focus on where you want to be at the end of the journey and set yourself achievable goals so you enjoy getting there. You don’t have to climb Mount Everest or run a marathon, or row across the Channel. The important goals are the small ones, like going up the steps to a plane or getting to the top of a couple of flights of stairs without getting out of breath. Or it might be finishing your run a bit quicker, or going that bit further on a bike ride – or getting to the end of the day and realising you’re 200 calories under your target calorie count. What an achievement that is! Those are the magic moments that happen throughout the day that make you feel great. So feel good about achieving those small goals and remind yourself why you’re doing this.

An Officer and a Gentleman

By Samantha Rea

 

Major General Paul Nanson CBE serves as Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and General Officer Commanding Recruiting and Initial Training Command. With more than 30 years spent in the British Army, Nanson has served in the Troubles, the Gulf War, the Bosnian war, the Iraq war, and the war in Afghanistan. His book Stand Up Straight shares the lessons we can all learn from Sandhurst, where officers in the British Army are trained to take on the responsibility of leading their fellow soldiers. We found out more…

 

What inspired you to join the Army?

 

I wanted to join the Army from a very early age. I was brought up with a taste for it because our next-door neighbour, when I was very little, had served in WWII, and he regaled me with stories of derring-do. His sons were joining his regiment, so when they came back on leave, I chatted to them about Sandhurst and about being an officer, and it just lit a spark with me. I wanted to go to this amazing place, but I failed my selection to get in. They said go away and get a bit more confidence, so one of the things I did in that time was join the Reserves, then I went back and did regular selection 18 months or so later. I got in and the rest is history.

 

It seems like we could all benefit from the discipline that’s instilled in the Army. Do you think we should have National Service?

 

I don’t think we need to go back to National Service. I do think there are elements of military life that can be applied to the civilian world, such as self-discipline and values-based leadership, but I don’t think we should make people join the military service. For certain people it’s the right route, so it’s important to spell out the amazing opportunities the Army gives, and to try and get that word spread, so people realise it’s an option.

 

Do you think schools should take a leaf out of Sandhurst’s book and teach pupils about confidence and self-discipline?

 

I think there’s definitely a place for teaching youngsters about standards and being confident in their own skin, and particularly with schools, [about] being allowed to fail. Failure should not be seen as something that’s bad, necessarily. You’re there to learn, and you’ve got to learn that there will be times when you don’t make the right decision, or things go wrong for you, and bouncing back from that makes you a stronger character. There’s a place to learn these life skills in schools, but I don’t think it’s necessarily got to be in the Army way.

 

Some of the Amy’s values, such as putting other people before yourself and helping anyone who’s in trouble, correspond with Christian values. Is there any connection? Do the Army’s values stem from Christian values?

 

The values of the Army may very well come from Christianity: I couldn’t say, but we do encourage our cadets to understand the spiritual needs of their soldiers. We encourage them – we don’t order them – to go to church. We have a chapel at Sandhurst, and we have Chapel Sundays. They don’t have to go, but we encourage them. We say: ‘If you are going to lead men and women, particularly in an operational environment, you need to understand that they will have beliefs that you need to attend to.’ I absolutely recognise the importance of religion in active service. Everybody needs something to believe in, and when times are tough, I personally look to my religion to cope. Others may not, but I think everyone needs to understand that.

 

You say in your book that we allow other nations to send their personnel to Sandhurst for officer training. What if we end up at war with that country? Couldn’t they use our tactics against us? And doesn’t this book give the competition the edge?

 

That’s not a Sandhurst decision – it’s decided through foreign policy and defence policy. We get those nations that the UK wants to deal with, so I think it would be unusual for us to go to war against any of them. If we do though, we’re not giving away any state secrets at Sandhurst, we’re just teaching British values and standards, and an example of professional British soldiering. And if the opposition gets out of bed a bit earlier because of my book, OK I’ll take that one!

 

There’s a massive difference between life in the Army and life as a civilian. Do you think there’s enough support in place for those leaving the Army?

 

The Army’s very good at transitioning you into civilian life, and I’m going through that process myself at the moment. Whether you’re an officer or a soldier, the support you get as you leave the Army is brilliant, and thereafter there are many organisations that support veterans. Could we do more? Of course we could. We know that, and people in the Army are looking closely at what more help we can give. But in terms of transition, the skills we learn in the Army or at Sandhurst absolutely translate into the civilian world.

 

Do you despair of people who don’t meet the standards that have been instilled in you by Sandhurst? So for example, Sandhurst Time means being five minutes early, and you’re also taught to be prepared and presentable. So if someone turns up late, unprepared and looking scruffy, how easy is it for you to be tolerant?
The standards we get taught at Sandhurst are there for a reason, and it’s explained to us why those standards are important. In the Army, people are relying on you, and the effect of being late is terrible. When people are late in the civilian world it does frustrate me, because I’ve been taught to be on time. It doesn’t mean I think any less of them, but I do think being late shows a lack of respect – unless you can’t help it, of course. I don’t want to come across as a Puritan – I have my failings the same as everyone else – but I think it’s important in terms of you as a person.

 

In everyday life we’re often told, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff.’ However, the message in your book seems to be that we should. Why’s that?

 

I take a leaf out of the book of the cycling team at Sky, where the thinking is: ‘Get the little things right, and the big things come right as well.’ I think attending to detail is important, and getting the detail right is important. For any of us who serve in the military, and particularly in the Army, where we have to synchronise and co-ordinate, and make sure everything’s accurate because lives depend on it: you do pay attention to the small stuff, because the small stuff matters.

 

You wrote that when we look good, we feel good. Do you think we should all make more of an effort, even when no one can see us? If we work from home, for example, should we ditch our jogging bottoms and dress as if we’re going into an office?

 

I don’t think you’d put a three-piece suit on to sit at your kitchen table, but I do think if you are going out in public that making yourself look good, making sure you’re smart and that your shoes are clean, must make you feel better. It certainly creates the right impression among others. I think looking smart and presentable is a huge part of life.

 

A lot of us, I think men especially, put off going to the doctor. We shrug things off thinking, ‘I’ll be all right.’ However, in the book you say that even if someone has a blister, it’s immediately sorted out by the medic. Do you think we should all get into the habit of getting things seen to straight away?

 

Yes, I think men are more prone to grizzling it out and thinking: ‘I’m not going to go sick because it’s a sign of weakness.’ Particularly with mental health, because I think it has somehow become a sign of weakness to ask for help. We’re now doing mental resilience training to get across the message that everybody needs help at some stage, and no one should be afraid to ask. The earlier you ask for help, the earlier we can sort it out for you. If you’re struggling to deal with something – and some of our boys and girls see some pretty horrific things – if you need a bit of help, talk to someone, and we will sort it out. There’s nothing we can’t sort out in the Army if you let us know. And that translates into Civvy Street. One of the things I talk about in the book is, when you pack your rucksack, don’t carry unnecessary weight around – whether it’s physical or mental. Get rid of it as soon as you can by sharing it with others, talking to people, and do not be embarrassed to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness.

 

You mention in the book that in the Army people tend to open up when they’re eating together. Relating that to civilian life, I think often families don’t eat together because someone’s coming home late from work, or the kids are at after-school clubs. Do you think we should strive to eat together as a family?

 

Yes, I think getting together round the table, and having a meal together, with phones put away and televisions switched off, just talking, is really important. Sharing food together probably goes back to when we were cavemen. It’s a time you naturally come together and maybe you’re able to talk more freely when you’re sitting there eating a can of beans or whatever it may be. It’s nice, when you’re worried or scared, to have that ritual of sitting, just talking, with your mates. The same applies to talking to your kids. If you’re sitting around chatting you’ll probably pick up on things, and gain an understanding of what’s going on in their lives, that you might not get if they’re upstairs playing on the Xbox.

You wrote about cadets having their socks lined up and their pillowcase creases facing the door. What would you say to someone who wondered if their time might be better spent focused on things that seem more important?

 

An ordered environment equals an ordered mind, equals a better approach to life. The reason we make cadets do those things, that may seem trivial to an outsider, is that for us it’s an important part of making sure you have pride in your equipment and your kit, and that you have the discipline to ensure your kit is in good order. Primarily that’s because, at the end of Sandhurst, we expect you to be able to look after 32 men and women, and be able to make sure they are in good order and they’re looked after properly. So taking it back to civilian life, I’m not saying everyone needs to fold their socks, but it’s not a bad thing to make sure you live in an uncluttered house because that creates a sense of order to your life.

 

Is there any way a civilian can get the kind of training cadets get at Sandhurst?

 

British Military Fitness delivers military style fitness in all the parks in London, and I know that most of the boys and girls who work for them are ex-Army. There are other organisations out there, I’m sure, that will do a similar sort of thing to us, but if you want the real thing, you’re going to have to join the Army!

Sorted Issue 76 Cover

Issue 76

April 2020

In the new exciting edition we chat to Hollywood A-Listers, Sporting Superstars, Action-man Bear Grylls plus the greatest team of columnists ever assembled  Are you...

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Sorted Issue 76 Major General-Paul Nanson

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By Samantha Rea   Major General Paul Nanson CBE serves as Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and General Officer Commanding Recruiting and Initial Training...

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