In the Latest Issue
In the our latest Issue 69, Love Speaks. We speak to Carl Wesley Anderson and learn about his life struggles and how he works through them with God by his side. We also speak to Britain's Got Talent stars Darren Sarsby and Andrew Murray about their aspirations, and Lenny Kravitz talks to us on race, God and spreading love through music…. We also have many more brilliant articles from our great team of columnists. Don’t miss this limited edition magazine.
And Gadgets, Entertainment, Motoring, Movies, Technology
Plus, the greatest team of Christian writers ever assembled.
Born to Blaze - By Sean Adams
Like any homogenised man sprouting from the heart of Midwest America with a dream, Carl Wesley Anderson wanted to take the world and light it on fire. And, serving as an American Christian speaker, author, documentary filmmaker, business owner (reaching more than 20 nations including Europe, Scandinavia, the UK and Australia), he was doing just that.
Then came conflagration that nearly consumed him. “That was the day when the world fell from beneath my feet,” Carl stated, eyes gazing into a marbled hearth, blazing within his charming, 100-year-old Victorian-styled home. “Married. Three kids. Successful, award-winning wedding videography business. And then the diagnosis. And all I wanted to know was: Am I going to live? Or am I going to die? Tell, me, God.”
In 2014, Carl was diagnosed with stage 3B melanoma—a skin disease that had already begun infecting Carl’s blood and lymph nodes. And, according to the doctor, Carl didn’t have much time left.
For these past five years, since 2014, he has faced the onslaught of death: undergoing three major operations, enduring 69 weeks of a drug-induced fever – days at a time, and maintaining equanimity, even while the cancer threatened everything.
“We had to turn it over,” Carl stated, clearing his throat. “In the weakness of the disease, I had to let our successful wedding video business go. There were many sleepless nights spent thinking: my vision is lost; my goal is gone. How do I support my family?”
In spite of the uncertainty, even in moments of hopelessness, Carl never lost sight of his one true hope: in God. “As a Christian,” he said “I realised, even in the midst of suffering, I am loved by God. I have identity as his son, an adopted heir through Jesus Christ. I don’t have to ask: why this bad circumstance? But I do have to ask: what does God want me to do in the middle of it?
“So, I researched and discovered, through the Bible alone there are actually 21 ways of recognising God’s voice.” He paused and smiled. “I heard God promising me, and encouraging me, saying, ‘I have a new calling for this new season in your life. You are going to come out of these cancer treatments to become a media missionary. I want you to tell stories in documentary films, showing how I have been faithful to every generation, including [your] own.’”
Having published his book (available on Amazon UK or his website) Love Speaks: 21 Ways to Recognize God’s Multi-Faceted Voice (Born to Blaze Ministries), and encouraged and equipped with new purpose, Carl travelled to England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland and began filming the Love Speaksdocumentary film series. Without much in the way of finances to produce the series, Carl relied on faith.
“After my editing, all we had was an idea, seven historical episodes and a trailer. And what was seen by only 120 people, initially, got picked up and licensed by TBN (the world’s largest Christian television platform), not only for the US, but for Africa, and the UK as well.
“That said, although I am eager for the whole world to see this, I am really excited to share this with the UK audience, especially. I want people there to watch this series and become inspired by their own heritage. I want them to look at the series and say, ‘We have a heritage that we can claim and pass on, even to the next generation.’
“Each of the seven episodes highlights coming-to-faith stories from all over the UK. My hope is for the people of these regions to watch the Love Speaks series, both airing throughout this year on TBN-UK and with the director’s cuts streaming now on our website, and become inspired, reigniting a passion for God and his Word, the Bible.”
In preparation for a growing audience, with the prospect of filming 14 more episodes (21 episodes altogether, as donations come in for finance), Carl crafted a Love Speaks Masterclass, personalising and illustrating 21 ways we can recognise God’s voice. Also contained in the Masterclass eCourse, found at lovespeaks.today, are five outreach applications and a free 100-page workbook for individuals or small groups.
“We started with nothing, having launched everything by faith. As of 2018, through God’s provision, we now have the potential of reaching over 100 million people worldwide for the message and hope and of God’s love on the TBN networks. We have a book, a documentary series with both an original version and an expanded director’s cut, and we have a Masterclass eCourse. I cannot help but give all praise and glory to him. This was his idea. He started it. He funded it. Let me say, ‘Soli Deo gloria’ which is Latin for to God alone the glory.’ Also, for me, that phrase means that no matter what we’re going through, God is with us.”
And God was with him. In the autumn of 2018, Carl discovered that God kept his promise about his new calling, and that the cancer was in full remission.
Carl reflects on the last four years, and how he still counts it a privilege to be alive to share the message that Love Speaks.
“One of the things that I’ve learned in my journey is that even in times of uncertainty, God supplies everything we need. He gave me my wife who has stood by my side. He gave me love and encouragement, revealing that whether in days of sunshine or shadow, he is there, just as the great preacher, John Wesley, stated with his dying breath, ‘The best of all is, God is with us.’
“If I’m gone tomorrow, if this is it, and this is my last day to be alive, I want my story to be this: that I lived out every day to the glory of God, and that his presence was with me, even until the very end. Soli Deo gloria.”
DNA - Just An Illusion
Fans of TV show Britain’s Got Talent may remember the 2017 mind-reading finalists DNA who impressed Simon Cowell, the man who notoriously hated magic acts, to comment that they were “incredible”. After losing out in the final, Sorted chats to Darren Sarsby and Andrew Murray to find out what has happened to DNA.
Tell us a bit about life before Britain’s Got Talent
Andrew: I was a magician, doing corporate events, all stuff for adults.
Darren: I did that as well but was predominantly a children’s entertainer. I did that for about 15 years. We became friends about seven years ago and decided we wanted to create something quite unique, something that other magicians and people in the magic world weren’t performing. So, we came up with a mind-reading, telepathy act, something that was totally unique to us, and we found it very hard to sell it to people. It’s very hard to explain it, we’re like magicians but also like mind-readers and we do something different to everyone else. So, we used to perform at each other’s gigs whenever we could and try to get some marketing materials along the way. But again, that proved to be very difficult and that’s why we decided to do Britain’s Got Talent so that we could get seen by millions of people.
How did you first get into magic?
Darren: We both got into magic from a young age. For me, I went to a summer camp when I was introduced to magic at about 11 by somebody else that was in my dormitory that performed magic and from there, I caught the magic bug … I needed to know how everything worked and back in those days you’d read a book, so I went to a library, I went to a magic shop, Alan Alan’s Magic Spot, and that’s where I first got introduced to magic and magic literature.
Andrew: Whereas me, I liked magic from an early age and I met someone who taught me to do children’s parties and it kind of sparked my passion for performing, albeit it was children’s parties … it was still in the vein of magic, but I could still do adult events in the evenings.
Where did you meet and when did you decide to become a double act?
Darren: Andrew and I met at an event around seven or eight years ago … I was performing at an event and Andrew was a guest. I’d already heard of Andrew’s name and I had all his details on my phone, his name, his email and his website, and finally we met. I showed him something that I thought would definitely fool him but didn’t. We met up for a coffee a few days later and just hit it off as friends [right] from the start, and at the time we wanted to perform together. It was way more fun, driving to events, hanging out and performing at events together, and we thought how can we turn this into something that isn’t two magicians performing together, and where we can create one act? … We wanted to create something totally unique, something that people weren’t doing so that people could see something different from another magical mind-reading act, and hopefully we’ve created that.
Simon Cowell used to hate magic. What made you want to audition for BGT?
Andrew: We’d been thinking of entering BGT for a few years before we actually did it, and we had this preconceived idea that unless we came out and did something to amaze everyone instantly we’d just get four buzzers … We’d just got to the point where we thought the act was right and we were certain that we would get a reaction should everything [go] right. On the day, everything did go right, and as they say, the rest is history.
Darren: The thing we were worried about was to say, “We’re mind-readers” and then buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz because people have a preconception about mind-readers being boring or nerdy or whatever, and we just wanted to not give them the chance. If you look at our audition, Andrew comes out onto the stage and I pop up next to the judges and I don’t even give them a chance to interview Andrew, we just go straight into the act.
Were you worried it would go horribly wrong?
Darren: [laughs] It did go horribly wrong for us.
Andrew: Only in the final.
Darren: We’ll go into that later. I think that what we do, we are very much on a knife-edge whenever we perform. It can go right, or it can go horribly wrong. I think that’s the thrill of what we do as performers … we do a show, we don’t get the same outcome every time. The people have the free choice of what to choose or what to think about and where we don’t have any control over that, things can go wrong, and it has gone wrong many, many times. I think the thing is, we’ve spent many years honing our craft, getting it wrong in bars, in clubs, restaurants, [with] friends and family, to the point where we’ve got it down to just a small percentage that when it does go wrong, we just brush it off.
Did friends in the business advise against it?
Andrew: The simple answer is no, because we kept it a complete secret from everyone except our closest friends and family that we were even entering the competition. We didn’t need the additional pressure, we didn’t want anybody to talk us out of doing it once we’d made our minds up.
Darren: And we’re very secretive people anyway.
Was there anything you did specifically to prepare for going on the show?
Andrew: We actually had the opportunity to go into an office in London and run through our entire rehearsal in front of three different groups of people, and that gave us the chance to make sure what we did once we got on stage wasn’t the first time we done it. It’s really hard to prepare for a performance at the London Palladium when you know you’re getting up in front of 3,000 people. So we did it three times in front of three groups of four people and that gave us enough confidence that if we could pull it off in … such a close environment, then 3,000 shouldn’t be that difficult
Darren: And the other thing is, in terms of timing when you perform, an audition is that they want you to do it within a few minutes. So we had to make sure that the timing and the rhythm of what we do was right and we were on the money with it, especially with the T-shirt change and stuff. There [were] different layers to our audition. So we had to not just perform it in our homes, which we did [for] hundreds of hours, but also doing it in a live pressured environment gave us the opportunity to cut stuff out, put stuff in, reconsider words. We put a lot of work and effort into the audition.
How did the standing ovation at the London Palladium feel?
Darren: Getting a standing ovation at the London Palladium in front of 3,000 people, as performers, it really is a dream come true, something that you think about when you’re younger, when you’re practising or when you’re gigging, through all the hard times, the bad gigs. To get that confirmation that people have enjoyed what you’ve done is something that I’ve never experienced before and is something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
Andrew: And going into the audition process, I think the best that we hoped for was to get four yeses. Getting the standing ovation was really the icing on the cake.
Tell us a bit more about your journey on the show.
Darren: It’s a really amazing journey. It’s a bubble that when you are in it nothing else is real life, and actually when you come out of it, you realise the bubble isn’t real life. It’s a very bizarre situation. Our first audition was amazing. We had about a month to wait to be told we’d made it through to the live semi-finals. For me on a personal level, that was a really big deal because I’d been working for my agency for 15 years doing children’s parties and I knew that I didn’t want to air on a Saturday night on Britain’s Got Talent and then the next day go and perform at a children’s party. I knew that if I got through to the live semi-finals it would change my life and I’d give [the children’s parties] up. I knew that when I was going for dinner the day after the results … I was either going to tell my agency, “Hey, I’m not working for you any more and I got through to the live semi-finals” or “I went on Britain’s Got Talent and it didn’t work out for me”. Luckily it was the first, which I’m really thrilled about. The audition aired, and it trended on YouTube at number one for two days and we went viral, we hit the news in Australia. It really was incredible. All the local and national newspapers were talking about us with the T-shirt change. It really captured people. And then we won the semi-final to go straight into the final, and the final – I’ll tell you about that later. It left a bittersweet taste in my mouth … to put it mildly. People think you go on Britain’s Got Talent and that’s the end, but really its just the beginning. At the end of it, it feels like the bubble has popped and you’re out in the real world.
Can you explain the process behind the scenes?
Darren: It’s really a lot of emailing, going in and having meetings, a lot of secrecy because you know they don’t want the result coming out that you’re through, so you’re not allowed to tell anyone whether you’re through to the lives or not. Really, there’s not much more to say other than we worked really hard leading up to it.
Andrew: The only other thing that I [want] to add is that Britain’s Got Talent is a very well-oiled
machine … there’s so many people working on that show that they pull everything off with almost zero effort, but it’s a lot of hard work and they’re very good at their job.
Darren :It’s like organised chaos, really.
How do you put together new material?
Andrew: This is one of the most difficult things for all performers. Darren and I are very conscientious when it comes to choosing material and putting new material in the act. We always try to innovate rather than just take something that’s an existing idea and just make a minor tweak to it. In truth what we do is go through a process which is a lot of experimentation, a lot of rejecting ideas that at the time we think are brilliant … actually, putting new material in is quite a slow process. It really has to make the grade before it goes into the act.
Darren: I think the thing Andrew didn’t mention is that we will normally die in front of an audience first and then after we do that a couple of times, it starts to resemble the bones of … a routine and from there, we build. So yeah, we get things wrong way before we get it right.
Did you make any friends with any of the other acts or judges?
Darren:… We made a few friends; there was a crazy Dutch magician called Niels who is still a friend today, we absolutely love him … We really liked Tokio; Matt Edwards is really nice. We were friendly with everyone we spoke to, but we did kind of keep ourselves to ourselves. We knew that in a competition there can be jealousy and all that kind of stuff and we didn’t want to attract any of those feelings … so we just put our heads down in any of the group meetings … we’d be friendly and say hello, but we’d go off and do our own thing. So yeah, we were very friendly with the people we saw, with the members of the production; Simon Cowell was lovely to us, Amanda [Holden] and Alesha [Dixon], David [Walliams] were friendly, but I wouldn’t say we were friends with them ...
How were your nerves on the live final?
Andrew: As you can imagine our nerves were quite high, for the kind of act that we do we have to focus really hard on what we say and what we do, and I think there is a degree of trepidation there because you’re always aware that things can go not according to plan. I think that nerves can just keep you focused, really.
Darren: all we had to do was focus on our nerves. For the final we changed our act and we didn’t have enough time to rehearse and practise and that’s why nerves did get the better of us in the end, and that’s why we’ve never watched it back since ...
Andrew: In truth, things didn’t go as planned and it’s just one of those things. And that’s just one of the pleasures of performing on live TV.
There was a bit of a stumble in the trick in the final. Do you think that added to the authenticity of the act?
Andrew: That’s actually a really good question, and I think it was Simon Cowell [who] said that making the mistake, in a way, made us feel more human to the audience at home. There is a school of thought in mind-reading, or mentalism as it’s known, that people … intentionally don’t get everything right so that it creates the feeling that what you’re watching is absolutely genuine. The truth is, things don’t always go according to plan and there is always the chance that we will get a word wrong or a number wrong or somebody changes their mind half way through the process and we end up with egg on our face. Does it add to the authenticity? Without question.
Darren: I actually disagree, to be honest with you. We probably should’ve discussed this before we answered the question but for us, we are perfectionists, we don’t like to get it wrong … I don’t ever want to get things wrong. Andrew’s more than happy to miss slightly; he thinks it makes us more authentic. I don’t particularly like that. In terms of getting things wrong in the final, it was just a genuine mistake, the nerves got the better of us and we would change things if we could.
What advice would you give to anyone considering going on BGT?
Darren: If you’re passionate about something and you want it to reach millions of people, then go for it. If you think you’re going to do it and become a millionaire overnight, then I’d say don’t ... I’d want to know what they want to get out of it. If they want to be famous, if they want to be a millionaire, then I’d say it might not be the right place for them. If somebody’s passionate about what they want to do, and they want to take what they’re doing to the next level, then it’s a really amazing place to showcase your skill and your talent.
Andrew: The one thing I wanted to add to that is, if you’re considering going on to the show, go into it with a really positive attitude and try to enjoy every moment, because its over in the blink of an eye.
What has been your biggest high so far?
Andrew: Since coming off the show we have [had] the opportunity of performing at some really high-profile events, travelling the world and supporting some really amazing charities. That said, I think for us, the biggest high is having the opportunity to actually have our own UK tour and having the support of the public who pay money to come [to] see us and support us.
Darren: Yeah, I think [the] fact that people are going to invest themselves as well [as] to dedicate that time and that date to come and see us, and support us and enjoy what we do, it really is [an] affirmation that all this hard work has been worthwhile, and [it] is something that we’ve dreamed about. We’ve worked so hard to get to this position; we [are] just so grateful, so thankful, for anyone that would come and see us live. That’s the biggest high for us.
What’s next for DNA? Tell us about your dreams.
Darren: In all honesty, we’ve just had this UK tour and that’s all we’ve had in our mind for the last six months. We’ve been practising, rehearsing material, and really, we’ve only been focusing on that. Really, if you’d asked us a year ago what our dream was, it would have been to have our own UK tour, so we feel like our dream has come true and it has been a lot of hard work to get here. I think the ultimate goal, the biggest dream for us, would be to have our own show in Las Vegas, the home of magic.
Without giving away too many secrets, what can we expect to see on the new tour?
Andrew: We’ve worked really hard to put together an amazing show and we’re not going to give away any secrets. Suffice to say that when people come to the show, its going to be a very immersive experience; we try to get as many people involved as possible.
Darren: I think if you’ve seen us on TV, if you’ve seen us on Britain’s Got Talent, it’ll be everything you’ve seen and way more. It’s good family fun for all ages, and we’re just really excited to share what we’ve been working on, and we hope that everyone leaves having had a good time.
Andrew: We look forward to all of you coming along to the theatres, and if you do come along, make sure you hang around to the end of the show and say hi.
Doctor at Sea - By Georgina Ainsworth
A self-described “wandering wonderer”, Dr David Chong is passionate about surgery, the bigger meaning of life and ensuring he stays real to who he is.
When talking to pediatric plastic surgeon David Chong, it doesn’t take long before you get caught up in his energy, passion and pure zest for life. A man who, when asked to describe himself in two sentences, says: “I only need two words.” This “wandering wonderer” is a surgeon by day, a searcher in life and a seriously cool guy all round.
Dividing his time in Melbourne, Australia between a children’s hospital and his own private practice, this laid-back Aussie also finds the time to volunteer six to eight weeks a year with Mercy Ships on the world’s largest charity hospital ship – the same organisation that 20 years ago determined his path into plastic surgery.
With a volunteer crew of more than 400 people from 35 different nations, the Africa Mercy hospital ship provides free, life-saving surgery to some of the poorest nations in the world. And it’s here that the real story begins, back in 1997 when young Dr David stepped onto the ship for the first time in Madagascar. After struggling with faith and how to live a life that reflected what he believed in, he felt he had some searching of his own to do. “I grew up in such a conservative church background, but I was put off by the whole thing – people saying things and not doing them. The hypocrisy drove me crazy,” recalls David. “Consequently, I felt like I had to adapt my life to look clean on the outside yet I felt completely different on the inside… so I went searching.”
It was this moment when David says he “found his calling”, after coming onboard and hearing about the vision of Mercy Ships and why it existed – to bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor through life-changing surgery. During a welcome speech, David listened to Dr Gary Parker – the lead surgeon at the time – and describes the pivotal moment where he suddenly realised that he was meant to be used for something good: “Dr Gary Parker walks his life to the beat of a different drum. He’s listening to something so invisible yet so real. My life made sense all of a sudden. I knew why I had been called into medicine – I felt called to help those who need it most.”
When the time came to leave the ship six months later, he didn’t want to go and begged Dr Parker if he could stay: “I loved that the ship was not just talking about how people should act, they were doing it. They don’t just tell you what they believe, they use what they believe to genuinely change lives.” Dr Parker was clear with David, telling him he’d be more use to the ship if he went away and became a specialist surgeon and then came back to work for them.
“So I did,” says David coolly.
He left the ship to specialise in Otorhinolaryngology (or ears, noses and throats), but soon changed fields after speaking with Dr Parker: “I called him and he said to me, ‘Hmm… I think it would be better for you to be a plastic surgeon.’ So I changed!
“Plastic surgery suited me, particularly the face,” says David. “I always thought: ‘What is it about that face that we assume so much about each other just because of the way we look?’”
David’s parents fled Malaysia shortly before he was born due to political and racial persecution and set up in Australia, so David was no stranger to discrimination and the casual racism of the 1970s: “I have had a few bad experiences because of where I was from and how I look, but it was enough to give me empathy for those who are judged by what they look like, not who they are. That drew me into facial surgery – so much of how you are perceived is on your face. I love that many of the operations I do can alter someone’s life and how they are accepted into society.”
But it would be another 20 years to the day before David stepped back onto the ship as a specialist plastic surgeon to work alongside Dr Parker – once again in Madagascar. “It took me many years of wandering before I came back. I got lost and was doing my own thing.” But it was this time of being “lost” that gave David the ability to relate to people. “It was not wasted time,” he recalls. “There are things I wish I had never done, people I wish I had never hurt, but I can either choose to hold onto those things or not. I chose to move on with my life, to let go and to forgive. I think the world would be a better place if we all learned to do that.” And with that, he packed his bags and headed back to the ship that sparked his vision all those years ago.
For patients on the Africa Mercy, plastic surgery is far more than mere cosmetics. Devastating accidents resulting in burn contractures, and craniofacial deformities that should have been corrected at birth are all too common in the countries the ship visits where access to quality, affordable health care is scarce: “The stuff that we do here, it’s so preventable but they just have no access to health care. It gets to the point where it’s almost better to have a malignant tumour than a benign one because you have a chance of a quicker death and not one that slowly suffocates you. It’s shocking seeing what things can become when neglected.”
Since returning to the ship in 2015, David has volunteered each year for several weeks, visiting Benin, Cameroon and Guinea along the west coast of Africa. He’s given his time and skills to help those in need, conducting 145 surgeries on 135 unique patients over the past three years with Mercy Ships. “The moment I arrived on this ship I had an overwhelming feeling that I was being used to do something good. The look of desperation in the eyes of someone who knows that they are going to die and then seeing that same person after surgery, after they’ve been given a hope… I never tire of seeing that. It’s what captivates me most about this place. It’s impossible not to get swept up.”
Despite countless lives saved and people’s hopes restored during his professional life, David never really thought he’d end up in the field of surgery: “I never wanted the life of a surgeon,” David jokes. “I always thought they worked too hard and too much!” But after one particular day as a junior doctor when he was required to step into an OR to fill in for someone, he was blown away by the work that took place: “The medical marvel for me every time is our body’s ability to heal. I am amazed that my job involves crazy things like taking faces apart, putting them back, reconstructing bone etc. But it all means nothing if the body won’t take what we’ve done and start to heal.”
It was this realisation of the complexity of the human body and its intricate design that led David to continue his search on what he felt this life was about: “Without the ability to heal, surgery would not even work. Whatever you believe, whether you think we evolved from a series of cells or from God, the ‘maker’ gave us the ability to heal ourselves! I believe that doesn’t just go for outside, but the ability to heal on the inside too.”
As he recalls some of his most special cases on this ship, he begins to share the story of a woman who received more than just surgery. As a Congolese refugee, she arrived in Cameroon with no money, no company and no hope. A craniofacial deformity should have seen her die years prior, and those around her treated her as if she was nothing: “When I first met her she wouldn’t even look me in the eye,” recalls David. He soon realised that her scars from being rejected had caused as much internal damage and pain as her condition: “The amount of love that the ship showed her was incredible. The power of her being loved was far greater than any surgery we could have given her. It’s not just the physical we heal on this ship, we also free them from their emotional pain. I love that.”
Even when he’s not on the ship, David believes he lives his life differently since he started volunteering with Mercy Ships. Taking his eyes off himself allows him to live out what he believes in and finally understand the saying that giving is better than receiving (see Acts 20:35): “I made a choice – do I believe this is all complete luck and it doesn’t matter what I do, that I can live the way I want, and do whatever I think will bring me pleasure at the cost of others? Or, maybe there is some kind of meaning to it all.” Fed up with watching what his life could be like through a screen, David threw out the iPhone and ditched the news, with the aim of finding more time to do what was meaningful to him.
To this surgeon, life is an adventure. One with innumerous paths to explore and enjoy. When he’s not playing tennis or surfing, he’s meeting his patients and getting to know their stories. When he’s not transforming lives or travelling the world, he’s marvelling at the beauty of the creation around him and expressing his gratitude for life.
“The older I get the more I realise that there’s so much more in this life that cannot be solved with money. You can get caught up in things that just are not that important. When you’re around people who think the same, it’s contagious. There’s something about doing something for someone else – that’s what life is about; that’s what I get from coming and volunteering on the Africa Mercy.”
So now you too know a bit more about David Chong, one of the most down-to-earth, genuinely nice and humble men who also happens to be a renowned surgeon. He can say with first-hand experience that there’s a huge world out there to discover, and enjoy what you believe in. “Explore your passions. Find time to do things that are meaningful,” he says. “Mercy Ships is a great place to start but it does not have to be here. It’s what’s important to you. As a young, almost 50-year-old, believe me when I say time passes by too quickly. We all have the miracle of life, how do we want to use it?”
David’s pursuit of specialised plastic surgery, his love for those around him and his ability to take his experiences and mould them for the better has led to the passionate man that we meet today. And even though he knows he probably won’t ever see his patients again, he knows he’s been part of a ship that is making that kind of difference every day. And that, according to David, is “pretty cool”.
Great British Adventures - By Pete Woodward
In the first of a series of classic adventures in, around and from Great Britain, adventurer Pete Woodward cycles solo from Blighty to the Sahara Desert.
Wobbling along on a heavy bike, I reached the end of our road in Bristol. This was a well-worn path and every day on the way to work I headed left and past the Downs. Today I turned right and headed for Africa.
Stepping out of my front door and setting off to the Sahara Desert solo on a bike was the culmination of several years of bike touring across the UK and Europe and yearning to go further, see more. Exploring new places, travelling from my own front door and seeing landscape and cultures slowly change at the slow speed of a bike is something that excites me.
I had decided on the ride to the mythical Sahara Desert almost as soon as I got the map out. Then followed several months of rain, ice and wind-battered opportunities to toughen up the legs on minitours: Newcastle, the Isle of Wight, Wales and the South Downs Way. Before I knew it, the time had arrived.
As ready as I was going to be, I packed the bike and rode off towards the Channel. Sitting on the harbour in Poole that evening, waiting to embark on the ferry to Cherbourg might have felt like a momentous occasion. As it was, my nerves were shredded from sorting out several punctures and becoming ever more frantic about missing the boat. After a sustained push, I had made it but not by much and it took a bottle of scrumpy to settle the nerves.
As the ferry glided through flat waters, the last of a spectacular summer sunset faded over the Purbeck Hills. The fishing fleet of Cherbourg chugged past in the still morning air as I sat on the quay eating porridge. France is a joy to cycle through with smooth, open roads, beautiful countryside and most importantly, lots of pâtisserie. The undulating roads of northern France took me past Mont-Saint-Michel, through the impressive medieval town of Cholet and inland of La Rochelle. The summer sun beat down, the cornfields swayed in the breeze and the miles ticked away; over the Loire, past chateaus and vineyards on the banks of the Dordogne and devouring the local cheese with baguette in a pine wood near Roquefort.
France slipped by over the course of the first week and I treated myself with bed and breakfast in Lourdes. I savoured the moment watching pilgrims at the Grotto of Massabielle (Grotto of the Apparitions), where in 1858 the virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a local woman. The next morning, after a hearty French breakfast, I set out into the Pyrenees. As an avid cycling fan, there
was no way I could pass the mountains by without riding some of the cols made famous by the Tour de France. The spectacular roads of the Col de Soulor, the Col D’Aubisque and the Col de Pourtalet, and the clear mountain views, made the toil worthwhile; roads cut into sheer cliffs, through buttresses of rock and down sweeping valleys. I camped that night high in a valley in the mountains next to a trickling stream.
At more than a mile above sea level the air was cold and I woke early in the morning, freezing. Hitting the road and working hard to generate some heat, I warily eyed two huge dogs sat in the middle of the road but escaped unmolested to cruise through the dilapidated and unmanned border post into Spain.
Climbing out of the frigid shade of the French northern side of the ridge and gliding into the sun-bathed Spanish southern slopes was like slipping into a warm bath. The landscape changed instantly; less green, more brown. Turquoise-green mountain lakes glimmered in baked mountain valleys. By lunchtime, I was out of the mountains and stocking up on provisions while making faltering conversation with a Spanish woman with bright red lipstick. Zaragoza that night was a revelation and the difference with the previous night shivering in a tent could not have been more marked. Zaragoza is a spectacular city on the Ebro river. The capital of north-east Spain’s Aragon region, the city has a spectacular blend of Islamic and Gothic architecture. I gorged on a huge paprika, bean and tomato stew that had a surprise poached egg in the middle.
Spain brought new challenges. Steep mountainous ridges were separated by vast, empty, flat plains with long straight roads. I battled headwinds across the plains where ramshackle huts made from corrugated iron squeaked in the hot wind. Fields of recently decapitated sunflower stalks withered under the scorching sun. There was little sign of life and the villages that I did come across were mostly shuttered up throughout the heat of the day. Conscious of the distance to cover, I pushed on and rode long, hard miles. Villages smelled of the spicy casserole that I had eaten in Zaragoza and one heavily forested mountain valley smelled so strongly of pine resin that it was reminiscent of a sauna.
My shadow, stretched long ahead of me in the morning, slowly swung around to trail behind me in the evening. By late afternoon I was often out of water with gummed-up lips and a crust of salt. Villages often had a communal tap and it was a magical moment to run cool water over my head after a long afternoon slog. One evening in a whitewashed village square in Santiago de Calatrava a small boy nervously approached me. With some animated signing and scrutinising the map, I showed him where I had cycled. With wide eyes, he whistled his appreciation. He asked to try some of the tuna, tomato and pasta in my pan and looked less impressed, before scampering back to his parents to share his story.
That night I camped in one of the many olive groves under a full moon. Into southern Spain, the Moorish influence became increasingly visible through castles and mosques. It was harvest time and teams of migrant workers trudged to the fields in the morning and laboured under a hot sun. The temperature was rising and, in a heatwave for the region, I recorded a temperature of 47°C one afternoon near Cordoba. The road ran out late one afternoon just past Huerta de la Cueva. Too tired to rethink, I kept going and gambled on the gravelly path. I was rewarded with a beautiful ride up a wide, shallow valley. Tired and with weary legs I ground my way up the stunning valley feeling the loneliest I had so far. I scoured the landscape looking for a sheltered spot to unroll my sleeping bag and climb in.
Finally, I stumbled on a large farmhouse where I could hear voices and headed over to ask if I could camp in the field. A tall man in his mid-20s padded around to the front of the house dripping in his swimming shorts. After some faltering conversation, he agreed that I could camp and pointed to an area of scrubby ground near a hedge. I was immersed in setting up the tent with my thoughts on being horizontal as soon as possible when Miguel reappeared with friends, mostly women, offering a beer. I had stumbled across a mixed hen party and things were looking up!
My Spanish is very limited and it took some interesting charades to explain to Isabella that I wasn’t the stripper. With that confusion cleared up, we partied until the early hours and I demolished the Mexican buffet. A central open square to the farmhouse was watched over by the huge skull of a bull, with magnificent horns, and we danced under the stars.
The next morning, I was awoken by the tinkle of dozens of tiny bells as a herd of goats was driven past my front door by a cheerful teenage shepherd. Having seen the glorious morning light, I set out on the last push towards the most southern point in Spain, Tarifa. It was a Sunday and there were lots of club cyclists out enjoying the lovely roads of the parque natural de la Sierra de Grazalema.
The Rock of Gibraltar heralded my first sight of the sea and I swept along the coast. The strong winds funnelling through the strait have turned Tarifa into a wind and kite-surfing mecca and the cobbled streets of the old town were interspersed with surf shops. I treated myself to a steak and enjoyed the view of Africa from the harbour wall.
Tangier appeared from the water as a sprawl of white buildings bristling with aerials but as soon as I was cycling up narrow streets, its charm was apparent. I dumped the bike at the cheapest hotel I could find and headed out to explore the medina. Life oozed from all corners of the souk with sellers of goods of all kinds piled together in narrow alleys. Sat outside a café, I enjoyed a sugary mint tea and chatted to Mohammed about my plans. He was sure that riding alone into the desert was a bad idea. As I left, he hollered, “You’re in Africa now, man!”
Woken by the call to prayer the next morning, I set off along the coast and was very conscious about being on a new continent. Mohammed’s warnings had found a crack in my confidence and I was wondering how safe I was. However, cycling past roadside hawkers of huge yellow melons, wearing wide grins and enjoying life, I began to feel at ease. The coast was a disappointment, though – Asilah and Larache empty and uncared for; peeling paint and flying plastic bags. I turned inland.
I had read about Ouezzane before I left and remembered the warnings about it being the cannabis-producing capital of Morocco. Without many other options, I decided to risk it and rode along dusty roads scanning the hillsides for weed. Cycling straight into the town centre, I stopped in the bustle.
While I was trying to figure out which way to turn, Ahmed greeted me like a long-lost friend, installed me at his friends’ basic hotel and took me to meet his family at the local café. It was Ramadan and so we waited for the sun to set. The eerie call from the mosque echoed around the town signalling that the day was over, and we shared a meal of boiled eggs with curry powder, pitta and glasses of milk and orange juice. Ahmed explained that he is an artisan, making wooden ornaments for the markets around Morocco. His family looked on, slightly bemused by the smelly cyclist that he had found, while I kept an eye on the door for any passing drug barons.
Another long day in the saddle and I rolled into Fez, with directions being shouted from a passenger hanging onto a moped alongside me. Fez is an ancient market town known as Morocco’s cultural capital. Rolling into the incredible souk felt like cycling back in time. The narrow streets were in places completely built over, creating tunnels. Shafts of sunlight burst through the gaps and filtered into the smoky streets. Crowds surged around the lanes, closing out their business in the vibrant mix of cooking smoke, sparkling jewellery and pungent leather. For the brave, there was the option of open-air dentistry. Donkeys pulled carts of wrinkly vegetables through the crowds. I ordered a tagine and received a huge juicy hunk of meat on a bed of couscous. It was so good that I ordered a second and instantly became a local celebrity.
I crept out of the hostel in the morning and left the money for the room next to the owner, who was asleep at his desk and missing the football highlights on the television. Out of Fez, the road started to climb again, this time into the Atlas Mountains; grey skies, dark-brown rock and valleys littered with rubble. The landscape could have been Martian. The rain came before the top and I toiled over countless passes not marked on my map. Two days later, with the cloud beginning to break, colour returning and the road losing altitude, I sped past a huge mountain lake where thousands of bright pink flamingos chattered and squawked. At the top of the last pass, a lorry full of squaddies had told me that the famous Marathon des Sables was based from Erfoud on the plain below and as I descended into the Sahara, the heat built to the low 40s.
The landscape became flat, dusty and gravelly. With the mountains quickly receding behind me, it appeared that the world was flat to all horizons, but this was deceiving. Rivers ran in deep, steep valleys which were difficult to see before reaching the lip. They would appear suddenly and were densely packed with greenery. Kasbahs sat in the valleys, looking like huge ornate sandcastles made from layered dirt and stone. Berber nomads based in black tents by the roadside offered dinosaur fossils for which the area is famous.
I passed straight through Erfoud, where the road ran out and herds of camels roamed the land. I was headed towards Merzouga on the hard-baked gravelly mud and steering on a compass bearing. The heat bore down and the ground, hard and bumpy, rattled the bike to pieces. The water ran out and I fought to keep the panic down. Feeling rather more exposed than I would have liked, riding in the Sahara on my own with no water, I trusted in my compass and eventually a collection of buildings solidified from the heat haze. This was Merzouga and the famous sand dunes of Erg Chebbi. An hour later, I was relaxing in a baked mud hostel drinking mint tea and wondering at an incredible ride. The dunes rose like smooth hills beyond the town and rippled for as far as the eye could see. Bristol felt a long way away.
Four days later, I rolled into Marrakech having ridden through flash floods, topped the incredible Tizi n’Tichka pass in the High Atlas Mountains and slept in a rat-infested gite in the mountain village of Taddart Izdar. An unforgettable adventure.
Lenny Kravitz Rock of Ages - By Allison Kugel
Lenny Kravitz on race, God and spreading love through music…
Twenty-nine years after releasing his debut album, Lenny Kravitz is still letting love rule, but with an eye towards societal strife that continues to go unchecked. The multi-Grammy award-winning musician brings forth a conscious body of work with Raise Vibration (BMG Rights Management UK Ltd), his eleventh studio album. The first single from the Raise Vibration album, ‘It’s Enough’, is a battle cry against corporate greed, political corruption and racism. Kravitz switches gears with his follow-up single, ‘Low’, exploring the perils of his near-mythical sensuality with intonations alluding to his past intimate relationships. For Lenny Kravitz, the art of the story is paramount, while pop music trends are immaterial. He tells stories through his writing, vocals and the multitude of instruments he has mastered over the years.
Musically, Raise Vibration is an eclectic blend of the kind of stylistic rock ’n’ roll-funk sound that Kravitz is known for, with subtle nods to vintage R&B and choruses that sway towards pop appeal. His music puts you in a trance-like groove and defies all genre.
Lenny Kravitz, the man, is a veritable roadmap of his past experiences. From making his way in an industry that doesn’t always value individuality, to making his way in a world that begged to define and categorise him by race and ethnicity in his formative years, he wears his memories on his sleeve and they inform much of his artistic expression. Our conversation surprised me as it took a more intimate turn. He and I delved into matters of spirituality, racial identity, family and the rituals that aid him in creating his eclectic sound. We were very much on the same page as he shared his feelings about everything from racism and societal injustice to his personal spiritual journey, his family and his music.
You’ve said you were born to make music. Can you share your earliest memory where you became aware that music was going to be your life?
For me the pivotal moment was going to see The Jackson 5, live at Madison Square Garden, when I was six years old. I was in the first grade. I had already been intently listening to their record. But I went to the show, and the next morning that was it! I was completely sold. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
What was it about The Jackson 5 that resonated with you?
Number one was the music. The music was incredible. The music that was made by these kids was not elementary, it wasn’t bubblegum as they used to say back then about young artists. This was very sophisticated, high-level music with the best musicians, the best producers, and [Michael] was one of the best singers who ever lived and who ever will live. The level of interpretation and feeling and vocal range… it was a perfect storm for me, the way everything came together. On top of the music, the presentation and the showmanship were top level and soulful, and these were people that I could identify with. They looked like me. I had the same hair… there were so many things that came together in my mind.
When and where do you feel most creative and musical?
It could be anywhere, but it’s in the studio, so wherever that may be. My studio is in the Bahamas. It’s my favourite place to work; it’s my workshop. When I’m in the studio and I’ve got all my equipment and all my instruments, and everything is set up, that’s the magical place for me. It’s where I’m comfortable and where I can flow. When I’m inspired and in that flow, I can move. I jump around from instrument to instrument, and it’s wonderful.
You are such a true musician in every sense of the word. Are you recording all of the instrumentals in addition to doing your vocals and producing?
Yes, I start on drums normally and then I go to a guitar, a bass, another guitar, keyboard, percussion… I keep layering as though I was painting, until my picture is complete.
Raise Vibration’s first single, ‘It’s Enough’, is a call to action anthem about political corruption and social and racial injustice. Was writing ‘It’s Enough’ a form of therapy for you, and a way of turning hopelessness into empowerment?
I react to the world. Just as you say you did, I have a reaction. I actually recorded the song twice. I was trying to find the direction for the record. The way the song started, the first version of ‘It’s Enough’ was a full-on guitar, bass, drum, punk rock song. It had an angry tone to it, because that felt like the proper reaction. And then I thought about it and ended up changing it and finding this groove, which is the polar opposite of what it started out as. I found that by being calm and by being centred and by being quiet, it was more effective. It brought out a whole new feeling in the song, and I think it enables the listener to hear the lyrics even better.
And you feel it brings more of a positive energy, as opposed to the original version, which would have brought forth anger.
Absolutely. I’m all about positive energy. I’m stating the facts, but in the end, I always take an optimistic and positive tone that “People, we can do this!”. We can do it. It’s just a matter of waking up.
What does the title of your album, Raise Vibration, mean to you? And how do you raise your vibration? Do you meditate? Do you pray?
It means exactly that; waking up. I meditate, I pray, I try to be still, I try to be quiet… and listen. It means having the desire to learn, to improve, and to face my faults and learn from them. I’m always looking to go higher. And taking as much ego out of myself as possible.
How do you define God?
I believe that God is my creator, our creator. Whether we realise it or not, I believe we are all created by the same God. I believe we are all one creation, we are all connected, and I believe that God is the ultimate source of love and all we are looking for.
Do you consider yourself an activist?
That’s a difficult one. I use my music to express myself, and if it inspires others then that’s a beautiful thing. I don’t know that I’m initially doing it for any other reason than to express myself. But I do see myself going more in that direction where you could call it that.
I ask because when I listened to ‘It’s Enough’ I could tell you’re at a point in your life and in your career where you have no problem stating your opinions on societal issues.
Right, but for instance, from my first album, Let Love Rule, up until now, I haven’t had that problem. It’s always been within me to express myself truthfully.
Your music really transcends any one genre. It’s a blend of rock, punk, blues, soul, pop. You can’t categorise your music. It seems to be that people want to put you in a box and label you, and you railing against that.
People love a box [laughs]! And they want to put you right in it, so they can easily define, for their own comfort, what you are. I’ve been fighting against that from day one in my life, and in my musical life. Like with radio stations, this one only plays this, and that one only plays that. This fits here, and that fits there, and you don’t fit here. It’s like, ‘… That’s not what art is about!’ But, unfortunately, that’s not what the business is, which is very frustrating. [Growing up] I knew I was black, but I knew that wasn’t all I was. I knew I was also Russian Jewish and I knew that my great-grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee Indian. My mother always taught me, “Yes, you’re black, but you’re just as much this and you’re just as much that, and you don’t discount that.” If you’re mixed, like me and like your son, you don’t discount one of your parents. You’re just as much one as the other. But what my mother did say to me when I was a child that I think was very smart, and I didn’t realise it until I got older, was: “Even though you’re mixed, society only wants to see you as black.” I didn’t understand that at age seven.
Did you feel diminished by it, at that time, at age seven?
I remember her saying it, but I don’t remember exactly how I felt when she said it. From what I recall, I remember thinking, “What does that mean?” Of course, as I grew and went through life, I understood what that meant. People aren’t going to see all the complexities and the differences. People are going to see what they see, and that is the colour of your skin. Not all people, but a lot of people. That was a very good lesson once it kicked in. I was like, “OK, people don’t see everything for what it is.” People see what they want to see. They judge it how they want to judge it, based upon their preconceived ideas of what that is.
It’s a tough conversation to have with a child.
But kids now from what I see are not tripping on the race thing like generations before, are they?
There is a difference from generations ago.
You have to explain to kids people’s [messed]-up attitudes about race. That’s really what you’re doing. You have to break down the judgement and short-sightedness, and people’s hang-ups, and the history of people screwing over other people because they were different.
Speaking of kids, how would your daughter, Zoë, describe you, both as a man and as an artist?
Oh wow! We’re very, very close. I think she would say that I have respect and integrity, and love in my heart. I think as a musician, she respects what I do. She’s grown up around it. She grew up seeing it her whole life. This is hard because If I say, “She thinks I’m amazing,” then it sounds like I’m complimenting myself. She respects the craft, what it takes and what I put into it, which is everything.
What are those days like for you, when a new album is released?
When I’m finished with an album, I’m at that place where I let go and I’m excited that I’m finished. It’s always exciting getting a new project out. I hope the people who enjoy my music will get something beautiful from it and will relate to it. As far as the rest, in terms of how well it does, sales and all of that, that’s all great, but the main thing for me is that I expressed myself authentically to who I am, who I was at that moment in time, and that it represents me well. That to me is everything. That’s a success.
Let’s Talk About Sex - By Ali Hull
Emma Waring is a sex therapist, and often meets couples, in the course of her work, whose ignorance regarding sex both shocks and saddens her. As a result, she recently published a book, Seasons of Sex & Intimacy (Hullo Creative), which sets out to fill in the holes in our knowledge. For she believes that despite the amount of sex education in schools, nobody really prepares people for sexual intimacy – how our bodies work, and how our partner’s body works as well. And not only is there not enough guidance on sex when it all goes as it should, there is also, she feels, not enough advice on what to do when things go wrong. Nor is school the right place for this information to be handed on to children…
Emma says, “I fundamentally disagree with the idea that children should get their sex education from school. I actually think that children need to get sex education from their parents. As parents, we know our children better than anyone else, and I think we have a responsibility to talk to our children about this from a really young age, to help them understand that sex is a normal and natural part of life. There is nothing to be ashamed of and sex should be celebrated.”
So when should this begin? “Children will often be inquisitive around the age of about three about where babies come from. This is the age we often start taking young children to look at baby animals on a farm. If we can talk about sex without shame or obvious embarrassment, it sets our children on a healthy path to understand sex as a relational thing that two people do when they love one another. We can then build on this story as they get older and have more complex questions. I think the other way to look at it is, if we don’t choose to talk to our children about sex, they will learn about it through pornography and from their friends, probably giving them a very distorted and often incorrect view.”
But surely we live in a highly sexualised society, with plenty of sex scenes on TV and film – what is wrong with the information that can be gleaned from these sources? “I would agree that we live in a sexualised society and we are constantly facing sexualised images – but I don’t think these are very helpful. Sex, when portrayed in films and on television, usually involves young couples, who have perfect bodies. The sexual act will be spontaneous, very arousing for both participants, who will simultaneously orgasm with very little or no foreplay. The message is ‘this is the norm’, but actually it isn’t! It sets up an unrealistic expectation about how sex should be, and is very removed [from] how sex is for most couples. Sex is rarely if ever shown between couples in a committed long-term relationship, or where one person has a disability, or is overcoming breast cancer or prostate cancer.”
In fact, she says, sex changes – even between the same couple, over the course of a lifetime, and that is one reason why her book is called Seasons of Sex and Intimacy.“Spring will [be] passionate, often early in a relationship when sex is new to the couple. Summer is [the] time when a couple get used to how each person responds sexually and this can be deeply satisfying. Autumn may be more predictable and at times perhaps a bit boring and this is OK too. We will move through these seasons at various points and then revisit them. Perhaps a holiday reignites sexual desire and a couple move from autumn back to spring.”
The dangerous season for a couple, of course, is winter. This, Emma says, is “where there is no sexual intimacy and the couple can start to feel distant and unable to tackle the problem. If a couple [are] in the season of winter for a long period of time, it can make it more difficult to tackle sexual problems and get the couple back into having regular sexual intimacy. It’s certainly possible, but often when I’m working with couples who have not had sex for a long period of time, there will be relationship issues to tackle initially, things that need to be addressed before we can consider how to address the sexual problem.”
This can be when things get difficult, she says. “Talking about sex is not easy. In doing so we make ourselves vulnerable. We don’t know what our partner’s response is going to be. We are sharing the most intimate parts of ourselves. And the environment we grew up in can make it harder as well, if people grew up in a family where sex was never mentioned or mentioned disapprovingly. As a sex therapist, I often ask whether my clients ever saw their parents naked, or whether their parents [hid] their bodies and seemed ashamed of them. All these things impact how we think and view sex as we get into adolescence and adulthood, and this can be more challenging if we are in a relationship with somebody who grew up with an opposite parenting style. It may be that one person is very comfortable talking about sex and the other is not. Some of the work that I do with couples can be about discussing this awkward dynamic and working out ways to talk about this subject comfortably.”
Emma believes the information in her book is needed, by those who are already in a relationship and those who want to be in the future. In her work as a sex therapist, she says, “Many couples have said they wish that they had the information I had given them sooner, so they would not have had to live with the problems for so long. I hope the book will give couples quick and easy access to the information they need, and to be able to work out whether they can fix their own problems, or whether they need to consult a professional. If you are a close couple and you don’t feel your sexual difficulties have caused emotional distance, you may be able to implement some of the self-help strategies I discuss in the book and this may be enough. Or you might need to see your GP who can provide you with medication. Maybe you need longer-term sex therapy with a trained therapist, and I have provided information in the book about where to seek this type of professional help. I suggest all couples go and visit their GP first of all. It is frustrating for a couple to invest time and money in seeing a sex therapist only to find six months down the line that actually there is an underlying medical condition that can be treated easily, removing the sexual problem entirely.”
So, what can a sex therapist offer that a book can’t? “There are occasions when a couple will really benefit from seeing a sex therapist. If they are having difficulty communicating, bringing in an impartial third person can be very helpful. Sometimes we are not aware of how our partner perceives us. They may feel, for example, that we are angry when we speak to them, and yet we are not necessarily feeling this ourselves. Sometimes a therapist will be able to validate that by reflecting their own perception of a patient. This kind of feedback can be helpful if it is done in a constructive way. Sometimes I work with couples where one person talks over the other or gives their partner no space to voice their needs or desires, and this is what is happening in their home. Or I might work with a couple where they almost have a parent-child dynamic – one person takes a very nurturing role and the other slips into being compliant, and so loses their sense of autonomy. Often my role is to simply walk alongside these couples as they find ways to help themselves, and it will be the couple and the work they do away from the sessions that will make the difference. Having regular sessions with a therapist, however, will help them stay on track. If a couple agree to go away, for example, and do some homework-style exercises, and they know this is going to be reviewed soon with the therapist, they are much more likely to do the exercises than if they had no sense of accountability.”
What are some of the key issues she feels men need to know about regarding how sexual desire works for their wives? “Couples often say to me that this information is absolutely key – the different ways men and women experience sexual desire and arousal. Often men and women are not aware that there are differences. But academics William Masters and Virginia Johnson pioneered research into the nature of human sexual response (and the diagnosis and treatment of sexual disorders) in the twentieth century, and this revealed the differences. They wrote Human Sexual Response, which was published in 1966 [by Little, Brown and Company], and much of my training as a psychosexual therapist was based on their work.”
Masters and Johnson identified four distinct phases of human sexual response:
Excitement phase, including desire and arousal.
Plateau phase, at full arousal, but not orgasm.
Resolution where the body returns to it normal state.
“Masters and Johnson suggest that one moves through the four linear stages from desire to resolution,” Emma says, but other researchers disagree: “Rosemary Basson has looked more recently at the female response cycle and she suggests men and women do not necessary follow the linear model. She argues that unlike men, women have less spontaneous sexual desire and are often in sexual ‘neutral’. This does not mean that they do not want sex, but it is not necessarily at the forefront of their minds. Instead, women need two important factors to be present for sexual desire to happen: she has to feel positive about the relationship and connected to her partner, and she has to be sexually aroused.”
Looking at the first of these issues, Emma points out that a problem somewhere else in the relationship will – for most women – impact their sexual relationship as well. “If a woman is unhappy, feels unheard or is dissatisfied with the marriage, this can directly affect her willingness to engage in sex. And of course, that means effective communication is vital. A big problem in the relationship will simply get in the way of sexual desire, and if it is not addressed, then the woman may well not be interested in sex at all, even though it is not sex in itself that is the problem. If there is a fundamental dissatisfaction within the relationship, then both parties need to address this before the sexually difficulties can be adequately addressed. And the need for arousal is, of course, why foreplay is so important – one of the things that is often left out of sex scenes on TV or in film, not least because of the time it takes up.”
Emma sees men and women in her clinic – so is there a marked difference in their questions, their attitudes to sex, or their willingness to engage and take her advice on board? “I don’t feel that there are any obvious marked differences in the questions or attitude to sex, or indeed willingness to engage in the advice or treatment discussed. I have noticed over the years that we can have stereotypical views about how men and women behave and there is not always a basis for this. I try not to hold any stereotypes but take each individual as I find them. For example, we can make the assumption that men are always willing and ready for sex and women are more reluctant or not interested, but in fact I see as many men who are struggling with low sexual desire as women. And I very rarely meet anyone who is looking to have ‘casual’ sex. This could simply be that those who are open to therapy are more likely to have a different attitude to sex than those who wouldn’t consider therapy, but what surprises me is that almost everyone I work with is looking for sex to be a meaningful experience. It seems that most people instinctively feel sex is better in the context of connection and love. When I work with single patients, I always ask them what their hopes are for the future and almost without exception they are looking for a lifelong committed partner and to be able to enjoy sex within that relationship.”
Life Through a Lens
A passion for capturing the human extremities of life has seen British photographer Tom Bradley banged up in a Congolese jail, stranded and sleeping in a goat hut in Togo and staying in a leprosy colony in Nepal. Charlotte Walker reports…
I can sleep anywhere,” says Tom, unsurprisingly, after spending the past decade photographing Syrian refugees, Bangladeshi LGBT rights, Armenian prisoners and leprosy patients in 14 countries.
The 33-year-old has a life less ordinary; spending half of the year overseas, with the remainder staggered between staying with friends in London and occasional breaks at his parents’ home in the Wye Valley in Gloucestershire.
Among his photographic projects, most of which centre on themes of injustice, there is one mainstay; Tom has carved a niche for himself in photographing leprosy.
“As far as I’m concerned, I will be photographing leprosy for the rest of my life,” said Tom.
“There are so many layers to this disease – biological, social and political.”
While many people might associate leprosy with Bible stories or films like Ben-Hur, Tom’s first direct contact with the disease came through friends who had volunteered at Lalgadh Leprosy Hospital in Nepal.
“This was ten years ago now and after my two friends returned from Nepal, I visited the Nepal Leprosy Trust office in Richmond and told them I’d be interested in spending time photographing at their hospital, learning about leprosy.
“They set me up with accommodation at Lalgadh hospital, to which I have been on four occasions now. It was there I met Dr Hugh Cross, a podiatrist who has worked with people affected by leprosy for many years. It was after several conversations with him that I thought I should try to photograph leprosy across the world.
“I thought diseases like AIDS and malaria had been covered so well photographically but leprosy hadn’t. I saved up to go to Nigeria where I took some photographs for The Leprosy Mission.”
Again it was the injustice of leprosy that caught Tom’s attention. Not only the injustice that sees people with leprosy feared and cast out from their families and communities because of ancient beliefs, but the injustice that there are 3 million people globally today needlessly living with disabilities because they haven’t been cured soon enough.
There was a great effort to rid the world of leprosy in the run-up to the millennium, with the World Health Organization setting a target to ‘eliminate’ the disease, defining ‘eliminate’ as being fewer than one new case per 10,000 of the population.
“It is this word ‘eliminated’ that Dr Hugh Cross brought to my attention,” explained Tom. “The vast majority of countries across the world reached this ‘elimination’ status, bringing new cases globally from millions each year to around 250,000; however, this figure has stubbornly stayed the same for a decade now. The use of this word has convinced many governments to no longer invest in health services to completely rid the world of this cruel and disabling disease.
“So my project, Leprosy Eliminated?, questions the use of this word. I strive to explore the topic of leprosy in all its complexities, looking at all the different ways it affects people, as well as the ways people are fighting it. I want to show it exists in the world today, and without concerted effort it is not going away any time soon.”
Tom was educated at St Paul’s School in West London, where his father was also a maths teacher. He maintains close links to the school and continues to run short holidays for Christian Union students during the summer and Easter holidays.
“St Paul’s has an excellent Christian Union,” said Tom. “The idea is to provide a space where people can consider questions of faith and a spiritual side to life. It is a place where we encourage each other to grow. I know many of my closest friends through this.”
Tom took a gap year between school and studying Zoology at Durham University where he made his first visit to the developing world.
He said: “I had always wanted to travel and had my heart set on going to Africa ever since I can remember.
“I volunteered with an organisation working in Swaziland building a school for children orphaned by AIDS at a time when almost half the country was estimated to have HIV.
“In reality it was 15 incompetent Brits building a classroom, but it was a good organisation and life-changing experience.
“I took a friend of the family’s old film camera with me and spent a small fortune developing films, but I was hooked!
“I was then photo editor of the student newspaper and my degree took second place to photography. The reason I didn’t change course was there was an opportunity to work in a game reserve in Africa for two weeks near Johannesburg.”
Tom managed to build a name for his photography among development charities and travelled to Togo in the summer of 2010 with Mercy Ships, where he stayed for four months.
He said: “In the final month I stayed with one of the local volunteers in the capital of Togo, Lomé, in a small, local flat. I found out about a leprosy colony up in the north and set out on a four-day trip to the colony. My host in Lomé assured me there was no need to call ahead, so another friend and myself embarked on a ten-hour bus ride and a 20-mile taxi journey to the colony, which was run by nuns. We arrived only to be told by the nuns that there was nowhere to stay.
“An old man was walking along the road and I asked him if he knew of anywhere we could stay. He led us to this clearing where there was a small group of huts. He brought out a goat from one of them and gestured to his wife to sweep [the hut] out. We stayed there for two days.”
Tom said on another occasion he was staying in the Congo taking photographs for American Leprosy f Missions, which involved travelling for seven hours on the back of a motorbike to a remote town on the Congo river.
“I didn’t realise it was so far and didn’t bring any of my documents,” he said. “I then saw the police chief dressed in white with a gold wristwatch and gold sunglasses. Basically, he wanted money and wanted to make an example out of me for not bringing my passport.
“I was thrown in a ten by 15-foot cell with seven other inmates and a bucket in the corner. The next afternoon, security for the government got me out. [I was] covered in mosquito bites.”
On another occasion he stayed with a friend in Khokhana leprosy colony in Nepal, supported by The Leprosy Mission, for six days.
“I encountered the most extraordinary stories at Khokhana,” said Tom. “I met a man who used to work as a mountain porter in Nepal. He lost all sensation in his feet because of leprosy and [had] frostbite. To stop the spread of the gangrene that would emerge from this, he amputated his own feet with a pair of nail scissors. He actually kept the nail scissors on a key ring.
“There was also an older lady known as the ‘Tiger Woman’. She was forced to live in a hut outside her village after villagers found out she had leprosy. One day a storm destroyed her shelter and she sought refuge in a nearby cave where a tiger lived. She said the tiger used to snarl at her but never attacked her.”
Tom said life can be lonely living in remote parts of the world but, in many ways, it is a lifestyle that suits him.
“I think I value relationships more living like this,” he mused. “Most of my closest friends are from school but I also value new relationships. Sometimes it can be a lonely lifestyle. But human values are the same across the world and are not dependent on countries, culture and borders.
“Dhaka in Bangladesh is the city where I have spent the most time and in Sierra Leone and generally in West Africa I always feel at home.”
Predictably, Tom’s lifestyle has taken its toll on his health.
“I have been ill numerous times and as a result cannot drink beer any more,” he said. “Likewise, I can’t really drink milk any more. I had malaria in Sierra Leone and have permanent tinnitus after getting a fever in the Republic of the Congo. But apart from that I’m doing pretty well!”
Tom has had his work published in variety of publications and by a number of charities, including The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, BBC, CNN, BuzzFeed, The Leprosy Mission, World Wildlife Fund, Mercy Ships and the Nepal Leprosy Trust.
At the time of writing Tom is back in Nepal, the country in which his international photographic journey began a decade ago. He is based at The Leprosy Mission’s Anandaban Hospital, which became a recognised disaster response centre by the government of Nepal in the wake of the 2015 earthquakes, which killed around 9,000 people and left behind a lasting trail of devastation.
Although a specialist leprosy hospital, the clinical skills and compassion demonstrated by its team –which reached out to 18,000 earthquake victims with emergency medical care, food parcels and tarpaulins and roofing sheets for shelter – raised Anandaban Hospital as a beacon of light throughout Nepal and neighbouring India.
Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, the leprosy hospital once hidden away on the hillside and avoided by local communities is now inundated as its services suddenly became widely known and respected. But with patient numbers doubling to 40,000 a year since the earthquake, it is a hospital under immense pressure with the same number of staff working tirelessly around the clock to ensure no one is turned away.
The Leprosy Mission’s Heal Nepal campaign seeks to find new cases of leprosy early, before a person become disabled, as well as giving people the care and surgery they need to work and provide for their families once again.
Within 24 hours of receiving the cure, a person affected by leprosy is no longer contagious. By finding leprosy early before nerve damage leaves hands and feet numb and vulnerable to wounds, The Leprosy Mission’s team at Anandaban Hospital can prevent permanent and avoidable disability, as well as bringing real hope of seeing an end to this ancient disease forever.
Anandaban Hospital in Nepal is critical in its vision to see the disease finally confined to the history books. Thanks to UK Aid Match from 27 January to 27 April, all donations to the Heal Nepal campaign will be matched by the UK government.Visit healnepal.org.uk for more information or ring 01733 370505.
To see more of Tom Bradley’s work, visit tom-bradley.com
Thomas Cochrane and the Dragon Throne - By Ali Hull
Thomas Cochrane was on the run, fleeing the Boxer rebels who were killing men, women and children across China. They were murderously hostile to anyone from the West, and missionaries and Christians were cut down without mercy. Cochrane, a missionary doctor, had sent his family on ahead of him, but had stayed in his Mongolian town to protect his people. Only when they persuaded him that his presence was more of a danger than a help, did he set out to follow his family. Having spent the night at an ancient burial ground, he wakes up the following morning…
At dawn the sun rose like a huge red disc; it was going to be another scorching June day. Tom gathered his things and saddled the horse. It was tempting to linger in this quiet place but he must press on. Suddenly a man emerged from behind a mound. Then another and another, until a score of them formed a circle around him. Grasping swords and spears, they looked like characters in a Chinese opera. He saw the flash of scarlet scarves and knew they were Boxers. Was this how it would end, butchered in a graveyard, thousands of miles from home?
Then one stepped between him and the others. He said hoarsely “I know this man. No one touches him except over my dead body.” He turned to Tom. “Go at once because I can’t protect you. Ride!”
Tom scrambled into the saddle and galloped away.1
Cochrane survived – as did his family – and got back safely to Scotland, where he was from. However, he was soon back in China, and eventually was able to found the first medical school there, in Peking. His story is told in Thomas Cochrane and the Dragon Throne, written by Andrew Adam. Adam is also a doctor, and is Cochrane’s step-grandson. He grew up fascinated by the old man, by that time retired and living back in the UK, who helped in his education.
“I knew and admired him when I was a boy, though at the time he seemed as old as Methuselah and he was something of an enigma. My mother wrote his first biography, but it had a fairly narrow appeal and was remaindered soon after publication. It was short on facts and as a doctor I was left wondering how on earth Cochrane survived professionally in a notoriously hostile environment, let alone dreamt a great dream to establish a Western medical school in imperial Peking under the Qing dynasty.”
Dr Adam initially wanted to tell Cochrane’s story because it rankled that the medical school, still thriving and now called the Peking Union Medical College, did not acknowledge that it was founded by a Western missionary – that didn’t fit in with the story the Chinese government wanted to tell, of interfering Western colonialists, who came simply to exploit. But Adam also discovered there was far, far more to Cochrane’s story…
“When I looked into it, I became intrigued by the wider story. I’m a retired pathologist, so I am fascinated by opium dens, eunuchs, concubines, body snatching, foot binding, poisoning and massacres. All of them feature in the book.”
So what did he have to draw on? “I inherited a suitcase full of Tom’s diaries, journals, letters and photos and reports of the Union Medical College. Through them I learned that he planned to write his own biography. He never got round to it, but he sketched out numerous chapter outlines and draft passages. He also wrote a number of magazine articles. The best were published in the Christian Herald and Signs of the Times when he was in his 80s. My main secondary sources were a slim ‘official’ biography written by Francesca French in the 1950s, my mother’s book The Doctor and the Dragonand a two-volume history of the London Missionary Society.”
Thankfully, to find out more information, Dr Adam didn’t have to travel to Beijing (formerly Peking) since, as he says, “The Communist Party destroyed all the college’s records in the 1950s when it expelled Westerners from the country. Happily, the School of Oriental and African Studies in Bloomsbury has the largest collection of missionary archives in the country and I found plentiful material. It was very exciting to unearth unpublished letters – written in Tom’s own hand to his home board in London, describing the atrocious conditions under which he had to work.”
What was so bad about the conditions? The buildings he had to use, he discovered when he arrived in Inner Mongolia, “were sheds built for pigs. The ceilings were made of grain stalks covered in rice paper, and above them a colony of rats with tails like noodles scampered about. When the rain got in, the paper became sodden and rats, stalks and droppings fell on anyone standing below.” Tom knew that bubonic plague, which is carried by rats, was endemic in Mongolia. He later wrote: ‘It came home to me that I was the only medical man in thousands of square miles of bandit-ridden territory and that it would be as much as my life was worth if I should happen to perform an unsuccessful operation.”
Those conditions also horrified Dr Adam, when he read Cochrane’s diary as part of his research. As he comments, “I was amazed that a missionary board, as late as 1897, would send a doctor fresh out of medical school, as wet behind the ears as the ink on his graduation certificate, into one of the most challenging situations imaginable. I was even more surprised to learn that Tom Cochrane’s case was by no means exceptional. Young missionary doctors (of whom about a quarter in China were women) were often single-handed; they had no previous experience of tropical and exotic diseases and they frequently lacked the necessary languages. They should have been working alongside older experienced practitioners and learning from them, but many – like Cochrane – were the only Western doctor in thousands of square miles. Astonishing!”
Cochrane was no stranger to difficulties, however. He had been a bright boy at school, but at the age of 13 had to leave education to help support his mother and siblings, after his father died suddenly. Tom worked during the day, in an office, and then in Greenock docks by night. And having set his heart on being a medical missionary, every spare moment was taken up with studying. He succeeded, under those very difficult conditions. Having that kind of grit and determination stood him in good stead when he went to both Mongolia and China.
Cochrane’s years in Mongolia were ended by the Boxer Rebellion in 1900; he returned a year later to the capital, Peking. Cochrane knew that what he could do was a drop in the ocean – what China needed was lots of doctors and medical staff, and they needed to be Chinese. So the country needed a college, but he had no contacts, no money, no clout, nothing.
The story of how he finally got his college, with support from the Empress-Dowager, and was also accepted at court, is told in detail in the book. Dr Adam puts Cochrane’s success down to the fact he prayed about everything, and whatever we think about that, clearly in his case, it worked. “He worked in obscurity in the city’s slums and the temptation to give up must have been huge. His constant prayer was, ‘Father, help me to touch the Dragon Throne!’ Then, when the time was right, things happened very quickly and in an orderly sequence which could be called ‘coincidences’. For me, these coincidences are the most exciting thing in the book, and particularly what happened when Cochrane’s path crossed those of two awesome figures. One was Li Lianying, the imperial chief eunuch and the right-hand man of Cixi, the dreaded Empress-Dowager. As her private executioner, he had blood on his hands. Cixi was the other figure and her hands were even more bloodstained. In the Boxer uprising of 1900 she threw in her lot with the rebels and was implicated in the slaughter of 30,000 Chinese Christians and hundreds of missionaries. Yet these two tainted individuals proved critical to Cochrane achieving what he wanted to achieve.”
Cochrane met the eunuch at night. Li Lianying was suffering from the effects of the botched surgery that had made him a eunuch, and he came to Tom’s house in secret, because “foreign devils”, as Westerners were known, were so hated. But Cochrane was able to help him, to treat him successfully, and they became friends. This friendship was key to everything else that Cochrane achieved.
For Dr Adam, writing the book has clearly been a labour of love. He found it a challenge at times, though, to get into Cochrane’s head in order to write the book, not least because our attitudes have changed a lot since Cochrane was keeping his diary. As he says, “Nineteenth-century Christianity as taught in the mission field had a robust, no-compromise exterior and it was tainted with colonialist attitudes towards ‘the natives’. I had to appreciate this to understand Tom Cochrane’s bursts of frustration and impatience – his day books are frank about his failings. He had little time for colleagues who did not see things his way or dragged their heels. But he was a man of great self-control, rarely raising his voice and firm but fair in his judgements. This proved to be of great value to him. When he had to confront a Chinese person, he did so in a way that did not cause that person to lose face. He learned the wisdom of the Chinese saying ‘If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow’. The insight which his diaries give into his prayer life helped, and I had the advantage in having known him when I was a youngster. He is part of our family folklore and I still hear his gruff Lowland voice when I read his letters.”
Of Grace and Grime by Dan Bowman
It’s not the musical genre one would immediately associate with declarations of faith, but the history of rap and hip hop is intrinsically linked to religion. At the forefront of the modern movement is grime superstar Stormzy, who is refusing to compromise on his beliefs as he makes his way to the top of the music world.
“I’m blinded by your grace…” comes the soft vocal refrain, complementing the traditional gospel chords that sit behind the eponymous lyrics. It’s a moment of striking spirituality among one of 2017’s standout albums, but the hymn-like tune’s sonic surroundings are, on the face of it, far removed from anything that might be heard in church on a Sunday morning.
The album is Gang Signs & Prayer; the artist Michael Omari Jr, aka Stormzy, the Croydon-based rapper at the forefront of the UK grime movement. The stripped back and sub-three-minute ‘Blinded By Your Grace, Pt 1’ may appear to sit incongruously among Stormzy’s more recognisable work, the uptempo ‘Bad Boys’ and the bombastically relentless ‘Big For Your Boots’.
But ‘Blinded By Your Grace, Pt 1’ and its anthemic sequel further down the running order channel a very different image of the MC who has taken the grime genre to the mainstream.
“I needed to make an album that represented me, which was always going to be a struggle,” he explained to The Fader earlier this year. “I wanted to touch on the gospel side of things, and my faith, because that’s so integral to my character. And the other side of my life – growing up in the streets, doing the things I’ve done with the people I was with, that is also a very integral part of me. I’m not a one-dimensional character.”
At just 24, Stormzy has gone from a freestyle sensation to a giant of the British music scene who regularly rubs shoulders with the likes of Adele and Ed Sheeran. The contrasting images of Gang Signs & Prayer have encapsulated what makes this MC stand out from the crowd – he’s as open about his faith as he is about the time when he lost his way and strayed into dangerous territories. “I was a good boy in primary [school],” he told The Guardian prior to the album’s release. “Then I was a bad boy.”
Even the album sleeve is a mix of gangland and gospel iconography. Standing at a laid table with a host of balaclava-clad men behind him, the image explicitly conjures Da Vinci’s representation of The Last Supper. Its immediate impact on grime fans, Christian scholars and historians alike serves only to further underline the young Londoner’s ability to subvert expectations. The 6’5” performer is positioned front and centre, reminiscent of Jesus himself in Da Vinci’s rendering. Explicit comparison to Christ may well be reductive in this instance, but there’s certainly no doubt that Stormzy is a towering figure in current British culture, not least in his position as a role model to a vast swathe of young black men.
“The main thing with me is my young black kings,” he told The Guardian. “And this ain’t to ostracise young black women or old white men, or Asians, it’s not to ostracise anyone. It’s just to say, ‘OK, young black men in my country, when it comes to who is going to achieve, you are always the very last.’ So I need to talk to my young black kings, because I’m one of you, we who are always last.
“And I say to them, ‘You are sick, you’re nang, you can do this. You’re better than anything anyone’s ever told you that you are. You’re just as powerful as me. You’re just as sick as me. You are just as ambitious, and you can be just as creative and as incredible and as amazing as me, Kanye West, Drake, Frank Ocean, all these people that you see. You can do that.’”
This element of social awareness has always been a part of hip hop and rap culture, from Grandmaster Flash’s ‘The Message’ to Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed 2015 effort ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. For Stormzy, the overtly political tone of some of Gang Signs & Prayer provided the realisation that he has come far in such a short length of time. He is no longer known for being the first unsigned artist to appear on Later… with Jools Holland (an impressive feat in itself) – he is now a Brit Award nominee with a UK Number One album and a wide-reaching influence, as referenced on Gang Signs’ second track, ‘Cold’.
“My favourite line is: ‘All my young black kings rise up / Man this is our year / And my young black queens right there / It’s been a long time coming I swear.’ I just love the fact that I can say that on the tune, and it can resonate. ‘Cold’ was a turning point for me, because I figured out how to approach grime differently. It isn’t a political ‘conscious rap’ song – it’s a bubbly, fun, vibrant grime track. But with that one message, it becomes bigger than a song; it becomes bigger than me.”
So too is Stormzy’s faith a concept that goes far further than his own desire to wear a heart on a sleeve in musical endeavours. It’s this belief that links the young MC’s family – his mother was a regular visitor to a Pentecostal chapel in Streatham – and his African heritage. And if the former part of ‘Blinded By Your Grace’ is intriguing in its un-electronic rawness, the concluding part – six tracks later and featuring singer-songwriter MNEK – combines rap, organ and overdubbed choral vocals in a powerful expression of faith so clearly influenced by his days in church.
“Offering faith and humility is something we’ve all got to learn to do. I’ve seen it from within the walls and outside too, and that’s a big part of my message. It’s believing in being looked over, but also believing we can all achieve what we want despite the setbacks and prejudices that life throws at us.
“It’s a spiritual way I am trying to communicate with people – music has always been spiritual to me and grime, as a medium, is the perfect tool. It’s spoken word, it’s my own sermon.”
If ‘Cold’ subtly showcased Stormzy’s cultural consciousness, there’s no such understatement on Blinded By Your Grace, Pt 2. “Although I’m not worthy / You fixed me” he raps, before later adding: “This is God’s plan, they can never stop this … You saved this kid and I’m not your first / It’s not by blood and it’s not by birth / But oh my God what a God I serve.”
“I’m lucky to be where I am now with my career,” he continues. “I hustled and struggled, then everything just happened at the right time. It was all God’s timing, but my work. God, my family and being real are the most important things to me. Everything else comes second.”
But although there is a clear relationship between rap and religion, there’s also a sense that what Stormzy, Kendrick and the like represent is a modern incarnation of Christian music – and it is not without its stumbling blocks for the more traditional churchgoer. There’s plenty of profanity, for example, and Stormzy’s background makes it impossible to dismiss the fact that as a young man in London he was involved in crimes ranging from drug-dealing to robbery.
In Stormzy’s case, the uplifting nature of ‘Blinded By Your Grace’ (not to mention its clear titular connection to ‘Amazing Grace’) is indicative of the young man’s redemption. Despite the arguably un-Christian elements of grime, and by extension rap music, his rise to prominence has been based on a deep faith regardless of his own shortcomings, battling prejudice, an impossibly complex music industry and the perils of depression too, a subject he has been extremely vocal about of late. “You know, the reality is we all have things going on in the background, and they are challenges of life. It doesn’t matter where you live, what you do, or how much money you have in the bank, life is full of challenges and through speech, music and communication I’ve always believed we can overcome the ills.”
Help from a higher source certainly fits that equation. “One of the things that I’m most impressed by, in God, is the grace that he has,” he told The Guardian. “No matter what we do, there’s always this, ‘OK, it’s fine. I understand.’ That’s not to say I can go out and do something bad … But just that knowing that someone’s got you throughout anything, and they’re not going to judge you, they’re just going to understand your situation – that grace.”
Five months have passed since the release of Gang Signs & Prayer, and Stormzy by no means shows any sign of slowing down or letting up. In 2014, grime pioneer Wiley tweeted that Stormzy was the “#1 grime don in this new era”, imploring him to take the genre “to where we couldn’t”. A triumphant set at this year’s Glastonbury Festival – played to an estimated crowd of 30,000 – attests to Stormzy’s desire to do just that; while his involvement in the opening bars of Simon Cowell’s charity single for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster highlights his current cultural significance.
“I find it strange and uncomfortable to aim for anything less than the greatest. That doesn’t even make sense for me, that. If I was going to be an engineer or I was going to be a baker or I was going to be a fireman, why would I not aim to eventually be the greatest at my job? I’ve never understood why I should just try and be the best rapper in London, or even the best rapper in the UK. I don’t want to be the best rapper in the UK. I want to be the best artist in the UK.
“That takes my competitors from 20 people to 100 people, because now they’re indie bands, female singers, soul singers, legends, rock icons that I’m competing with. In my head I’m like, ‘Why can’t I compete with them? Why can’t Stormzy from south London do that as well?’”
There will always be two duelling and composite parts to Stormzy’s personality – and as Gang Signs & Prayer proves beyond doubt, he’s as likely to set aside his faith in the quest for sonic domination as he is to give up those gritty and heartfelt depictions of urban life.
Wiley and the like may have passed the baton to this Croydon-based upstart to take the musical genre to places it’s never gone before – from Jools Holland’s stage to the Brit Awards and, quite possibly, if organiser Emily Eavis is to be believed, a future Glastonbury headline slot. And wherever he goes, it’s not just grime that goes with him into the mainstream, but also the unflinching faith that Stormzy has already taken on his shoulders all the way to number one.
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