Issue 79
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Issue 79

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

 Are you Sorted yet?

7 Top Tips To Speed Up Recovery After a Workout

And 1 to stop it from slowing down

We’ve all hit the gym, given it our all, and then been almost completely bed-bound the next day. It’s tough to remain motivated enduring aches and pains, without an already iron will. I’ve started the gym countless times, and I always end up quitting after a week or so.

I know what my problem is, I push myself too hard and my body aches for days afterwards. After doing some research though, I figured how to reduce those aches and pains as much as possible. Here are my Top Tips to Speed up Recovery after a Workout.

Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water helps to keep both your brain and muscles operating at peak efficiency. The majority of people are dehydrated and don’t even know it. I used to be one of them, only drinking when I’m thirsty and that’s it.

Drinking water only when you’re thirsty is like waiting for your phone battery to completely run out before you charge it. You simply shouldn’t do it. Instead, it’s best to have a bottle of water with you throughout the day and take a sip every 30 minutes or so.

It’s always better to maintain something, then repair it when it’s broken - and your body is no different. This way, you’ll be able to stay fully hydrated and keep your body performing exactly as it’s meant to.

Get plenty of sleep

We all know sleep is great at helping us perform effectively, but did you know that a lack of sleep actually hinders our recovery rate?

How much (or little) sleep we get affects the entire body. Be it the brain, heart, immune system, mood, or metabolism; it’s all reliant on how much rest we get every night.

If you’re regularly sleep-deprived, this will greatly slow down your rate of recovery in the short term: it could also do substantial damage to your body in the long term. It’s best you sacrifice that late night to make sure you get enough sleep, especially if you just seem to be endlessly scrolling on your phone.
+ Increase your protein intake
One of the most important nutrients that your body gets after a workout is protein. It’s the thing that’s responsible for your muscles being able to repair themselves quickly and effectively. So how do you get it?

Chicken. Eggs. Almonds. Greek Yoghurt. Milk.

All of these foods are incredibly rich in proteins, and exactly what you need to be eating in order to make sure your body has everything it needs to keep rebuilding all of those muscle fibres.

Have a rest day

Your body can’t recover if you’re constantly using it. You need to stop every once in a while, if you want your body to repair itself properly. It’s like if you spent time downloading updates for your computer, but never let them install. Everything would just get slower and eventually, it would crash.

That’s not saying you shouldn’t do anything on your rest days. At the very least I would recommend some stretching, but taking up Yoga or Tai Chi is far more beneficial. By doing lighter activities, you allow your body to enter an ‘active recovery’ state. This aids blood flow, bringing more nutrients to your muscles and helps to remove excess lactic acid too.

Get massages

If you’ve done hard or prolonged exercise of any sort, it’s likely you felt your muscles become tight and ‘knotted’. When this happens you can feel extremely sore, with the muscles themselves feeling completely solid. The best way to relieve this tension is to have a massage on the affected area, though a foam roller could be used as the next best alternative.

Massage therapy has been proven to greatly reduce muscle soreness. Even if you can’t get a professional massage, some kneading of the sore areas can improve circulation and aid your recovery.

Drink some chocolate milk

I know what you’re thinking. “Chocolate milk? That’s a kids drink, how can that help?” Well surprisingly enough, chocolate milk has an outstanding amount of both carbohydrates and proteins.

Both of which your body needs, especially after exercise. When you just finish a workout, your body is desperately searching for any sort of nourishment - and this is the perfect time to have a glass or so of chocolate milk.

The high levels of protein and other nutrients will be able to kickstart your recovery, and decrease overall muscle soreness. Perfect to get you ready for your next workout.

Take supplements

Exercise works by breaking apart the fibres in your muscles, and then repairing said fibres. Vitamin C is a fantastic vitamin that helps to repair the muscle tissue, but most aren’t getting enough of it.

Found primarily in citrus fruits, and several other vegetables, the vast majority of us simply don’t get enough vitamin C in our daily consumption. This is a major problem, and it can leave many of us with a vitamin C deficiency - leading to delayed muscle recovery and tissue repair.

There are two simple solutions, however. You can either change your diet to include more citrus fruits and vegetables, or you can take vitamin supplementals. If you’ve got a busy schedule, or don’t have time to try and change your diet, then I’d say your best bet is to order Vitamin C supplements.

Don’t have a cold bath

For years we’ve been told that a cold water bath is exactly what you need to help muscles recover after exercise. Now though, new studies have shed some light that this may not be the best idea after all.

Two conducted studies have found that bathing in ice-cold water was actually inhibiting the post-exercise recovery of muscles. The temperature of the water was actually putting cells into an anti-growth state, leading to a delayed recovery.

Your best bet is to avoid ice-baths as a form of muscle therapy, and instead go for a warm bath or shower. The heat is able to relax your muscles, without delaying their recovery.

Now it’s your turn

These are all things that I’ve found help me when I work out. I understand that not all of these tips will work for everyone, but even if some are helpful then that’s good enough. Give these a go, and you’ll be able to get those gains without the pains.

Australia’s Bushfires: A Red Light to the World

A personal take by A Rocha UK’s CEO, Andy Atkins, who spent his childhood in far north Queensland and returned at the height of last year’s bushfires.

I woke feeling refreshed. From the pleasant smoky smell my first thought was that my wife was cooking bacon and eggs for our breakfast. Then I realised she was sound asleep beside me, it was pitch black outside and, according to my phone, 2 am in the morning. It was November 19. We had arrived in Sydney from the UK about 18 hours earlier and my body clock was upside down. But what on earth was that smell?

I stood on the roof terrace of our AirBnB apartment and looked about; but instead of lights twinkling around the iconic harbour, I could see – nothing. We seemed to be enveloped in a thick fog reminiscent of a wet British winter; yet this was summer in Australia – not at all how I remembered it from childhood. Then the penny dropped. It wasn’t fog but smoke. The smell was not wood-smoked bacon but the actual forests of Australia going up in flames. I was appalled.

In the morning, so too was Sydney. I went for a walk in a nearby park and stopped to photograph the Harbour Bridge; a grey silhouette against a yellow/pink haze. A cyclist stopped and commented. ‘Awful sight, mate, isn’t it? You can usually see for miles from here, but today you can hardly see the other end of the bridge. Disaster.’

I walked back for breakfast and found TV headlines were screaming the news: overnight, for the first time ever, the entire city of Sydney had been blanketed in smoke from the vast number and extent of the bushfires raging out of control in the Blue Mountains to the west.

What was going on?

Bushfires are a seasonal risk in Australia, with ‘better’ and worse years. But this was a new, significant – and scary – development. So what was happening? Scientifically speaking, a number of human causes coincided with the natural El Nino cycle to make perfect conditions for an unprecedented fire season. East and South Australia had suffered drought for the last three years, so the land was extremely dry. Indeed, rainfall in the wet season – April and October – of 2019 and the previous two years was the lowest on record for a three year period across large parts of NSW. Successive hotter years had also triggered another problem, as trees shed more leaves the hotter it gets. By early 2019 unusual amounts of combustible ‘fuel’ had accumulated on the floor of Australia’s famous forests.

Then from mid-2019 Australia suffered a prolonged heat wave, experiencing, in mid-December, the hottest national average temperatures ever recorded (41.9 degrees C). In short, Australia’s primeval forests had become a fire bomb, primed to ignite at the first ‘dry’ lighting strike or careless local land clearance.
The result of this mix of factors meant Australia was, as we arrived, heading for the longest and most catastrophic fire season ever. Australia has always had forest fires. The new ingredient is global heating caused by human activity – particularly burning fossil fuel and clearing forests and wetlands. According to a study conducted by the World Weather Attribution, the fire weather risk was 30% higher in the 2019/2020 period than in 1990, due to anthropogenic climate change.

More fire and climate change impacts

We had come to Australia for a wedding of our ‘honourary’ daughter in the family of close Anglo-Australian friends – little else would have persuaded me to fly, because of flying’s contribution to climate change. We headed for the beautiful Hunter Valley for the wedding, staying in a quaint hamlet surrounded by forest. I noticed it was parched. A couple of weeks later the forest on the mountainside above the hamlet was reduced to stumps and ashes. By that time, we were further north but we watched the news reports with total horror. Fortunately, the town’s buildings were spared.

After the wedding, we headed to ‘Far North Queensland’ as they now call it, where I had lived until I was ten years old. For the first forty five minutes of the flight up to Cairns, the forests of New South Wales were obscured beneath us by a solid blanket of smoke sweeping out to sea. I confess I was close to tears.

It was a relief to leave the fires behind and arrive in the ‘wet tropics’. North and south of Cairns, the luscious rainforest still stretches from the Pacific Ocean, across narrow coastal plains, up the mountains of the northern Great Dividing range and across the tablelands beyond. So rare and important a habitat is it, that it now has UN Global Heritage Status as the Gondwana Forest. It includes the Daintree RainForest, better known to British TV viewers as the jungle where they film I’m a celebrity, get me out of here. This was my ‘backyard’: Daintree was part of my Dad’s parish as the Anglican rector of Mossman, 50 miles north of Cairns.

In Mossman I visited several family friends of my parents’ generation, including sugar-cane farmers George and Shirley Vico. We sat catching up in the relative cool of the veranda of their ‘heritage’ Queenslander House, looking over the cane fields to the rainforest-covered mountains beyond. George was very concerned about the fire-risk. He told me he’d been keeping temperature records on the farm since I was knee high to a grasshopper (50 years in fact!) and that 2019 had broken all his records. Worse still, he warned, the northern Australian summer was still a month or two away from its normal peak-heat period.

He was right to be worried. Australia’s fire nightmare was far from over and only really ended three months later, in early March 2020, following exceptionally heavy rains in NSW. By that time, the bushfires had done devastating damage across the continent. No state was spared. Worst hit were New South Wales and Queensland. In total, a mind-bending 46 million acres or 72,000 square miles of forest land was burned according to Australia’s Centre for Disaster Philanthropy. This included 53% of the Gondwana rainforest in Queensland – though thankfully there were no fires in the Mossman and Daintree area - and a staggering 80% of the Blue Mountains Forest of New South Wales, also a World Heritage site.

Collateral damage?

When forests catch fire, it’s not just trees that burn: it’s wildlife too, the birds, mammals, insects, amphibians and reptiles. They are killed outright or die later of injuries, starvation or exposure, having lost their food supply and shelter. WWF Australia now estimates that the fires killed more than 1.25 billion animals.

This is a terrible loss for nature and the people of Australia and, indeed, the whole world: Australia has more than 200 ‘endemic’ species – found nowhere else in the world. It is very likely that some already rare species will have been burned to extinction. This includes the Kangaroo Island Dunnart, a carnivorous marsupial found only on the Island. It is estimated that New South Wales lost a third of its remaining koalas, on top of declines they had already suffered in recent years from land clearance and drought. Recovery for them and for many other species will be difficult because of the loss of habitat over vast areas.

The fires have had a considerable human impact too. While the direct death toll has been mercifully low considering the scale and duration of the fires – 33 people – the indirect health impact has been more dramatic. Figures published in the Medical Journal of Australia put the number of deaths due to smoke pollution at more than 400 people – ten times the number killed directly by fire. It is estimated that 80% of Australia’s population of about 25 million was blanketed by smoke this summer. The long term health effects are not yet clear.

Greater fire risk – and the probability of more catastrophic fire seasons – are not the only side effect of climate change now threatening Australia’s people and wildlife. I saw other consequences, as well as inspiring resilience and determination to overcome them.

Back to my roots

After visiting the ‘far north’ rain forest area, we flew even further north to the Torres Strait Islands, between mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea. Our destination was the island of Mer where my parents worked – and I have my first memories – before we moved to Mossman. Mer is a tropical paradise: a green mountain in a turquoise sea, skirted by coconut fringed white beaches. It has a population of about 450 people with their own language, Meriam, and ancient traditions. The islanders have long lived from the fruit of the earth and sea. We were grateful to the indigenous island council for granting us a permit to visit – and deeply moved by their welcome of this ‘Mer boy, come home’ as Fallen Passi, the Chair of the Island Council described me.

As a child, a permanent sight was a wavy band of blue-grey in the water, a few yards wide and a few yards from the shoreline. These were vast and thick shoals of sardines. For dinner, you only had to wade into the water, throw a traditional multi-pronged spear into the shoal, and you would almost inevitably catch several plump fish. But now, I could see no sign of them. I asked Fallen, who was giving us a tour of the island, about it. ‘They disappeared about 6 months ago’ he said. The cause? The chief suspect, he said, was global heating. The local government environment department believes that the shallow inshore water had got too hot for the fish and they had moved much further offshore. Hopefully they will come back; but with climate change promising more frequent super hot weather, this disappearing act of one of the island’s main food supplies will also become more frequent and possibly permanent.

Sea-level rise

An even bigger disrupter creeping up on Mer is sea level rise. I was sitting on the steps of the old Mission House, chatting with the current Anglican minister, islander Reverend John Noah. The house had been built for my family in the 1960s on the headland above the beach, four metres above sea level at the most. I remarked to ‘Father John’ that the sea now looked much closer than it used to; but of course I was a small child then, so any distance would have seemed further. ‘It’s not your imagination’, replied Fr John, ‘the sea is rising up Mer.’ Those living on the narrow coastal strip between beach and mountain, probably about three-quarters of the island’s population, are increasingly vulnerable at storm times and high tides.

The well-organised island council is encouraging people to move inland and ‘uphill’. This is complex, as there is no ‘empty’ land: it is all owned by one or other of the island’s families. But with good local leadership and cooperation between the clans, it will happen. But pity the countless Pacific Islands that are simply coral atolls, with no hill to retreat up.

Are the Best People Getting the Jobs?

How competent are Cabinet members, to do the jobs they have been given to do?

I’ll never forget my first few visits to Parliament. Of course it is an impressive building, but what impacted me most was how ordinary everyone was. The bubbles of my presumptions were pricked as I noted that parliamentarians were not operating on a higher intellectual or spiritual plane than mere mortals like me. Don’t get me wrong – I was also impressed with the astounding levels of sacrifice and passion I encountered, but I became convinced that many of the leaders I had rubbed shoulders with within medicine, NGOs or the church would excel in this environment. I reckoned they had just as high (if not higher!) levels of strategic thought, integrity and competence. In fact I became convinced of the need for folks like them to get involved to improve the standard of leadership in our country.

Current events are causing people to re-examine just how competent some of our elected leaders really are. The handling of Brexit, Covid, and exam results mean we are asking questions about basic management, communication, and strategic planning skills, rather than policies.

In the last few years there have been many talented and experienced MPs in the House of Commons. But sadly many of them have not served on the front benches of either the red or blue team. When promotion only follows adherence to a tribal faction or leader, rather than skills, the first casualty can be the level of competence of those in leadership. Two years ago, embarrassed Labour supporters often watched inept shadow cabinet interviews from behind their sofas, while now even some of the most loyal Conservative supporters struggle to label the present Government’s handling of contract tendering, Covid testing or Brexit as competent, or to defend it.

So could you help improve things? Could you bring your skills to the table to serve the common good in politics? Why not find out? We all feel pretty competent in our armchairs.

Off the Boards

David Robinson is a prolific playwright and actor, and has performed around the country for over thirty years. Locked out of the theatre like every other performer by the virus, he has been revising, creating and writing, and is currently working on a play based on the life of famous comedian, Ken Dodd.

Q: How has the epidemic hit people like you?

I have never in my thirty years of performing experienced the uncertainty and fear that the creative arts are feeling right now. My last performance was in The Screwtape Letters on Saturday 14 March. My next performance is unknown. So, though it is encouraging and refreshing to see pubs and restaurants opening their doors, it remains frustrating not be able to do what I have always enjoyed doing the most: telling stories through live theatre.

Q: But you have not been idle?

I have been running a series of Facebook interviews via the ever-present Zoom called Tea for Two for Ten: ten-minute interviews over a lovely cup of tea and custard cream, chatting over the arts, and lockdown, and the church and anything else that might come up between slurps. It has been a valuable lifeline. Alongside that I have been revisiting one of my favourite scripts: Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Judy Moore and I dramatised this best-selling book in the 1990s. We are now reworking the script into a two-hander, focusing on the story from two distinctively different angles: Corrie’s point of view and a Nazi officer’s perspective. It has been fascinating process and we are looking forward to bringing it to the stage later.

And I have been writing a one man show, based on the life of Ken Dodd (see separate box). Just like one of his own typical variety shows, getting through the writing might take me a lot longer than I first thought. But the happiness will be worth it.

Q: What else would you like to do next?

I have a few tales bobbing around in my head that I would be keen to tackle: including the Reverend W. Awdry, the creator of the Thomas The Tank Engine series, and a man called Thomas Byles, a Catholic priest and another unlikely hero, on board the Titanic. And I found myself a wonderful theatrical agent a few years ago, just to supplement some of the work I create for myself. This allows me, when successful, to dip a toe into films and commercials and to benefit from working alongside other brilliant like-minded theatre companies.

Q: How do you feel about the government bailout, promised to the entertainment industry in early July?

Those of us in the creative arts are adaptable and hopeful by nature, and are used to the occasional knock back, but the road back for many in the arts will be tough and certainly not immediate. But the lights will come on again and the audiences will shuffle back into the stalls, eager for more happiness and tears. The Edinburgh Fringe will return, and I have no doubt that, in amongst the laughter and the tickling sticks, there will be many heartfelt new productions based on and inspired by months of lockdown and isolation. Creativity can grow in the darkest and loneliest of environments.

Woodbine Willie
In 2014 to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War One, I adapted Bob Holman’s excellent biography of a man known as Woodbine Willie, an unsung hero of the Great War. His real name was the Reverend Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, and he was an Anglican priest, who volunteered for the front line and became renowned for offering both spiritual support and cigarettes to the troops. The unsung characters have always been a quiet attraction to me, those who are on the very edges of notoriety. When you dig into their back story and discover the real person, you wonder why we don’t know more about them.

Studdert Kennedy was a remarkable campaigner who had a relentless desire to do good for those around him. To understand him, I realised very quickly I had to grasp his passion, his anger for any injustice, his deep concern and love for the young scared soldiers around him.

Noel Coward

The first production I took to Greenside, at the Edinburgh Festival, was in 2015, a play with music called Noel Coward and Friends Live in Las Vegas. It centred around the friendships Coward had with Gertrude Lawrence and Ivor Novello. Coward could act and write and sing…a little: a description that felt familiar to me. He also wrote on many occasions for his friends and was fiercely loyal to them, using the same gang of actors for many of his hugely successful plays and films. Similarly, I enjoy creating and performing with friends I know well, and have been fortunate to be able to do so for most of my career.

I set the play towards the autumn of his career in the late 50s, when all his close friends, including Gertie Lawrence and Ivor Novello, had predeceased him. He was in Las Vegas and was the talk of the town, with full houses every night. It was financially the most lucrative time of his life, and yet he was at his loneliest. So it was a production with some enchanting Coward and Novello songs, not sung by me. I added some clips from Coward classics but the play was mainly about friendship and valuing those we have close to us: a longing for happier days. It played to enthusiastic houses at Edinburgh and then toured briefly the following year. We would all love to revive it one day.

Woodbine Willie

In 2014 to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War One, I adapted Bob Holman’s excellent biography of a man known as Woodbine Willie, an unsung hero of the Great War. His real name was the Reverend Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, and he was an Anglican priest, who volunteered for the front line and became renowned for offering both spiritual support and cigarettes to the troops. The unsung characters have always been a quiet attraction to me, those who are on the very edges of notoriety. When you dig into their back story and discover the real person, you wonder why we don’t know more about them.

Studdert Kennedy was a remarkable campaigner who had a relentless desire to do good for those around him. To understand him, I realised very quickly I had to grasp his passion, his anger for any injustice, his deep concern and love for the young scared soldiers around him.

Ken Dodd

Q: What led you to write Tickled: The Ken Dodd Story?

It is often said that the good old days of variety died in the 1950s, but I believe it died on 11 March 2018, the day Sir Ken Dodd passed away. He was the last of the truly great music hall entertainers and we will not see the like of him again.

Q: You had a family connection to him?

My father’s cousin, Diana, was a good friend of Ken’s, and travelled many miles assisting him with anything from driving him home or selling his souvenir tickling sticks. Her insight into the man off stage has proved invaluable. The only way to experience Dodd was to see him live in a theatre, a joy I had on numerous occasions. He was well-known for giving value for money, with his shows lasting well past midnight. He would quip to the late-night audience ‘Don’t worry about getting mugged after one of my shows, loves, you’ll always go home in the daylight. If the cabs are all done, you can always grab yourself a milk-float.’

Q: What is his appeal?

It is his palpable love for what he did. He would often claim that he had never been a solo performer, it had always been a double act between him and his beloved audience from day one. His energy, even in his later years, was quite remarkable, not only for his length of shows, but also the content. It was a persistent tidal wave of humour coming at you, washing over the stalls and on up into the circle. Not only the stories and the gags, but the eccentric physical stuff and then the songs, and even a touch of ventriloquism. He rarely needed supporting artists, he was not only a one-man act, he was very much a one-man variety show. Which is the main guiding reason for thinking my tribute to him needs to be a theatrical one man show.

Q: How hard will it be to recreate him, on stage?

It will need some careful thinking and planning, not least physically. He was an instantly recognisable figure, even if it was just for his teeth and unruly hair, which I must admit the months of lockdown has got me coming close to. My hope is that I will do the great man proud, with the aid of watching him on DVD again and again, along with chats with Diana and some pointers from a voice coach.

He had his share of personal tragedy, tears and tough times. But his purpose in life was to bring people happiness and he did so for over sixty years. In the few times that he was interviewed, he would often refer to being ‘lucky’ in the business, but in later years he exchanged the word to ‘blessed’. He had a quiet but real faith and was a regular attender for evensong at Liverpool Cathedral, the venue for his final curtain call. So the joy of writing about my comedy hero will continue, but the opening night at the Fringe will sadly be on hold till August 2021.

Q: Following on from your play on Woodbine Willie, you turned to another war for Chamberlain: Peace in our Time?

That same fascination for those on the edges of a story drew me to write on Neville Chamberlain. The books on Churchill could fill a library and yet the volumes on Chamberlain could barely take up a shelf. Why? What was happening behind the famous door of Number Ten when the great appeaser was wrestling with the script for his famous 1939 broadcast to the nation? The play is a two-hander, with Chamberlain being guided by his personal assistant, Jack. There is also a delightful scattering of wartime songs throughout the play. The journey, the research and then eventually the final production developed into one of my most enjoyable and satisfying theatrical experiences to date.

Q: Future plans for it?

It is heading for the Brighton Festival in 2021, hopefully followed by a national tour. The production has to date been the most successful of the one act plays I have taken to the Edinburgh Festival. But who knows? Sir Ken may have the last laugh.

Q: What will Christmas mean for you this year?

The Christmas season can be responsible for helping us to sail through the choppy waters of January and February. But we have the current unknown seas to navigate first, with the prospect of large gatherings looking remote. So we have been having an eye on other plans to help us through the festive season.

Searchlight (my theatre company) will have a series of four sketches available for churches and community groups. We are going to be filming them professionally over the summer, and then we will have them ready for church leaders to preview and hopefully purchase from October. They will be in our usual style: fun, and short and to the point with hopefully a thoughtful punch to finish, and importantly reflecting on the year we have all journeyed together.

The package of material is called Clapping for Christmas, and we will look at the story then and now through the eyes of the Innkeeper, (hospitality) and the Shepherds,( farming and supermarkets); the Three Kings, (royalty, We’ll meet again) and finally Mary and Joseph, (family and the carers). Our hope is to bring some real joy and smiles to the Advent services, as well as space for some timely reflection. More details on the resources will appear on the Searchlight Theatre Company website.

Military Transition

Is there life after the Army?

By Samantha Rea

As an officer in the British Army, Eric Warren served in Afghanistan, the Balkans and the Middle East, before retiring as a major after a career spanning 16 years. He now works in the City, and serves as chair of a network which helps veterans transition to civilian life. Here, Eric shares his own experience of establishing a new career outside the military, along with his insight into making the transition as seamless and successful as possible.

Q: Why did you join the Army?

When I was at school, I played a lot of rugby and swam for the county. I was super active, so when the careers people lined me up for office jobs, I was a bit dismayed. I’d done an internship at an accountancy firm, and it was so boring – I knew I didn’t want to do that. Then a careers officer, who was ex-military, said: ‘Have you thought about joining the military, because they’re active and outside all the time?’ So I went to an open day and I met other people who were just like me, who enjoyed the outside and wanted to do something exciting and active – and from that moment on I was hooked.

Q: When you were in the Army, you did a BSc in Information Technology and followed that with an MBA. How useful was that when it came to applying for jobs post-Army?

The military sponsored me to do those as part of my progressive career training. When I left, it was a long time since I’d completed my undergraduate degree, but I did move into a technology environment, albeit in a business setting. So I’d say they’re both somewhat useful, but the MBA more so, because it has a civilian business leaning.

Q: Can everyone in the Army do degree courses?

Different corps and regiments have different specialities. I was in the Royal Signals which encouraged us to do a lot of training around technology, and across all ranks, you’d do courses and modules that could add up to an undergraduate degree. The MBA was offered to me when I was on promotion to a senior rank. So undergraduate degrees are open to more and more people, not just officers – but the Masters level qualifications are more aligned to some of the roles officers tend to do, to enable strategic thinking.

Q: Will the Army support people in doing degrees that might be useful to them in the future?

When people have training for their trade or service, that’s given to them as part of their normal military service – so if you’re a submarine commander, you’ll be trained to command submarines. In terms of a more broad education, it’s largely down to the individual to do that off their own back. However, the military has a great facility for personal education, in terms of financial support and the time it gives people to do courses that sit outside your training, so there’s huge opportunity.

Q: Can working your way up the ranks in the military improve your employment prospects in civilian life?
There are some trades and services where the skills tend to be more transferrable. So if you’re in the Royal Engineers driving big trucks, you’ll have a Heavy Goods Vehicle licence, which you can take straight into a civilian job, whereas if you’re an infantry soldier and you’re highly experienced in battle fighting, that skill is less directly transferable to civilian life. So career advancement is a way around that, because part of promotion at any rank, whether it’s as an officer or not, is that you’re put on career courses as part of your promotion, and that tends to include educational development and qualifications. So the more you are promoted, the more useful qualifications you’ll gain.

Q: Is it possible to make sideways moves within the military to gain skills that could be useful in civilian life? For example, could an infantry soldier transfer into the Engineers, to get those skills under their belt?

Yes, the Army almost encourages people to multi-skill themselves by trying different things. It’s not a common practice, but the opportunity is there to transfer from one cap badge, corps, or regiment, into another one, which has a different skillset. So if you wanted to move from the Infantry into the Royal Engineers, I’d be surprised if you weren’t supported in that.

Q: If somebody’s in the Army at the moment, and they’re thinking about handing their notice in, what ducks should they line up before doing that?

Consider any pension or financial issues, and get an idea of what you want to do. List three areas you might be interested in working in, then gauge the opportunities that could exist for you, and start lining up a network of people who can help you. Also think about where you want to live and work when you leave, and see if you can get posted nearby for your final posting. I’ve known people placed in Germany who’ve had to travel back and forth to the UK to do resettlement courses, which is quite challenging. Even within the UK, if you want to start your new career in Manchester, then being stationed in the south of the country isn’t the best final posting, because you’ll be travelling back and forth to line up work and accommodation. So consider this when you submit your posting preferences.

Q: What sort of help is available to transition from the military into a new career?

The Career Transition Partnership can put you on courses funded by the Ministry of Defence. They offer everything from CV reviewing to vocational, educational and practical courses, and they’re available to everyone who leaves the military, regardless of rank. It’s called resettlement, and the longer your career, the more time and funding you’ll have available to you to do these courses – because the longer your service, the more time it will take to transition, and the more support you’ll need, particularly if you’re older, trying to transition into a new, second career. You’ll usually be released to do these courses in the last three to six months of your service, before you hand all your kit in – which is an extremely emotional experience, I can tell you!

Q: What was your experience of transitioning from the Army to civilian life?

The military is a relatively safe environment to be in – it’s a regular income, and it’s the public sector, so dropping that security blanket was nerve-racking. I knew I was ready for a new challenge – I’d achieved everything I wanted to in the Army. But I went through periods of uncertainty as to whether I would succeed, and part of me thought I’d made a big mistake. It was the only job I’d known, and the Army’s unique culture was all I’d known since school, so there were moments of self-doubt when I thought, ‘Will I be able to do this? Why would anyone want to employ me?’ There was also the overhanging cloud of not knowing what I wanted to do, because even if you have an idea of what you want to do, you never know if that’s going to be a success, because you haven’t experienced it yet.

Q: How did you get through that?

By reaching out and speaking to people. I had a network of friends through my career, some of whom had left the military previously, so I sought them out and asked for their advice – there’s an element of security in knowing that people before you have gone through the same experience.

So my first network was my friends network, then my second network consisted of the people my friends put me in touch with. This is important, because the military is very good at this, in that people will only recommend you to other people if they think you’re a reliable individual. So the strength of your network is important to give you another connection, to someone you don’t know, from someone you do know.

I put a lot of work into that. I think I OD’d on caffeine for about three weeks whilst meeting people! To keep track, I mapped it out on a piece of paper, using a spider diagram. If I met somebody who was a colleague of a friend, I’d introduce myself politely, thank them for their time, and if they couldn’t help me, I’d ask if they knew someone they could recommend. Sometimes the network would end with no future link, and sometimes it would grow by another step – and go on to grow further. You never know how good a connection or a meeting will be, until you pursue it as far as it will go. So the advice I’d give to anyone is: grow your network and don’t be afraid to ask for advice, because there’s no such thing as a silly question.
Q: How did you make the decision to work in the City?

I knew I wanted to work in London, and I was lucky enough to meet a number of people in financial services who recognised the value veterans bring. I discovered there’s a huge veteran community in the City and a massive network of veterans in financial services, and I plugged into that, as part of my advice-seeking journey.

Q: To what extent do civilian employers tend to recognise the value of veterans?

The transferable skills the military give you are amazing. The self-confidence in your ability, the passion and enthusiasm to learn new skills, the ability to communicate well, a desire to achieve, to get things done and deliver – these are ingrained in all of us, no matter what our rank. I’ve done some work with HR teams and recruiters across a number of industries, to sell the transferable skills which might not always be apparent on a CV. Awareness is growing and organisations that have already employed veterans definitely see those skills as valuable assets.

Q: If someone’s left the military, and they feel unfulfilled in their new career, how can they improve their situation?

In the military you tend to move into a new job every two or three years, so when veterans leave and start new roles, it’s normal to get itchy feet, especially if they’re in their first job since leaving. People often don’t know exactly what they want to do when they transition, so they may not have landed in their perfect job. Organisations such as Liquid List [] provide free advice, support and networking for veterans, and the Career Transition Partnership is also a resource, even once you’ve transferred out of the military, and it’s embedded into businesses across all areas.

Q: If transitioning to civilian life is proving to be difficult, is going back into the Army ever the answer?

If someone leaves and misses the life, or thinks they’ve made a mistake, I’d encourage consideration for the Reserves. I know a lot of people who, when they’ve had those thoughts, have joined the Reserves, and they’ve enjoyed the best of both worlds. You have time in uniform, you usually retain your rank and you enjoy what the services offer, but with less commitment and without long periods of time away. If joining the Reserves doesn’t turn out to be the answer, then I believe the military is supportive of giving capable people the opportunity to re-join.

Eric Warren supports veterans’ charity The Poppy Factory

The Two Sides of Ewan McGregor

Ewan McGregor talks to Sorted about his belief system, his approach to playing the dual roles of Jesus and Satan, and how his work as a UNICEF ambassador is helping children to survive.

Let’s begin with a sweeping generalisation: successful actors, more so than most other professions, are blessed with broadened minds. They travel the world, inhabiting characters for weeks, months and in some cases years, gaining new perspectives as they invest themselves into foreign cultures, tackling issues and playing out scenarios so we can bear witness to their experiences for our entertainment.

Effectively these people are not just financially privileged but are enriched with experience – and, dare we say, wisdom – most of us can only dream of. They give us glimpses into worlds beyond; they are, perhaps, the world’s best ambassadors for adventure.

Ewan the humanitarian

And none more so than Scottish actor and humanitarian Ewan McGregor OBE. His adventurous, ambitious spirit is infectious. He possesses a childlike wonder that suits his cheeky smile; his roguish charm marries his rugged, seasoned looks. On screen, whether portraying someone else (in person or in voice) or embarking on one of his motorcycle odysseys, the McGregor we see seems genuinely invested – interested – in whatever he’s doing, and the world around him. He is someone who, in a trend of besmirching and dismissing the A-list elite given the other things going on around the world right now that are of significantly greater importance, we may just want to cling on to and nurture.

From Nineties knockabouts like his breakout performance as drug addict Renton in Trainspotting to a more mature range of roles in the Noughties and beyond, McGregor’s breadth is wide indeed. He has been Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, warring identical twins in the TV version of Fargo and in 2015, embarked on religious oddity Last Days in the Desert, playing dual roles again: intriguingly, Jesus and Satan. It was a film that divided opinions (although it received generally favourable reviews from critics) given its potentially controversial subject matter.

Playing Jesus – and Satan?

Tackling the temptation of Christ would be a big deal for any actor, but McGregor, as always, played it his own way.

I never really went onto the set thinking about playing Jesus in the way that people may have thought,’ the 49-year-old reminisces. ‘There can sometimes be a bit of an abrasive reaction to any film which deals with a project involving religion, but I have to say that there wasn’t anything in the script which was deemed to be controversial. It’s not my desire to engage in something controversial like that and it never would be. I’m getting too old for that!’

Despite this, the film drew not inconsiderable criticism from some quarters, with certain viewers decrying it as lacking in scripture, straying from the biblical account, and at select points displaying it as ‘antichrist material’. Other watchers, though, praised the film for its ‘updated’ take on the temptations presented to Jesus by the Devil, even if those elements weren’t necessarily scripturally accurate.

‘In any film you have licence to bring the present into the past,’ continues McGregor, ‘you have to. You must also allow scriptwriters and directors the ability to stray into new ideas and interpretations that draw people in. It’s no different to advancing the detail or the drama or the fantasy from a novel into a screenplay. If any film didn’t stray from the direct material of a novel or original story it would be unwatchable.’

By his own admission, McGregor doesn’t these days qualify himself as directly ‘religious’, mostly for the reason that he doesn’t attend church. He does, however, recount his childhood in Perth suburb Crieff being infused with ‘vaguely Christian values’, and he has raised his four children (with now ex-wife Eve Mavrakis) in the Jewish faith.

‘There is a lot of faith in our house,’ McGregor chuckles, but he recognises that it’s not his job to enforce those beliefs. ‘My daughters have always had the freedom to decide what it is they believe in and how they want to live their lives, and I would never want to steer them away from that,’ he says, adding that their faith, along with his own open mind, naturally influenced his decision to take on the dual role.

‘I can safely say I would never have accepted that role had I been an atheist, or if my belief system was so radically different to the subject matter in the film. I feel that would have been something of a hypocritical way to go about painting the story that was laid before us; so for me it was interesting to try to tell the story, but from a position of having slightly stepped back. it would have been wrong to be too invested, too close. What was incredible as well was the freedom to embark on what was a significant period of enlightenment and research. As an actor, you’ve got to feel lucky to be granted that sort of opportunity.’

Christian values

Although McGregor sees himself as taking a ‘fluid’ approach to religion, he says he approached the film ‘as someone brought up with Christian values, who is nowadays just as much influenced by Judaism in the sense of the people who are around me and who have made me the person I am today.’

He continues: ‘I think most of us are like that. There are events in our lives that guide us down the route of faith and belief and comfort; the other instances may make us feel we need to take more salvation in the people and things around us, and I think that’s a pretty legitimate way to feel. Obviously, I’ve been around people who are wholly committed to the church and to their belief systems, but I also respect those who want to find their own way through things, and at their own pace.’

While Last Days in the Desert was overtly religious in its story-telling, McGregor was just as keen to explore its other themes. ‘It’s assessing how fathers and sons get on with each other, and it examines their unique relationships with each other,’ he says. ‘It just so happened that the main protagonist is Jesus, that’s all. We never set out to upset anyone of faith or to insult what is detailed in the Bible.

The power of film

‘In fact, I made sure that I went into it with good knowledge of the Bible and about how Jesus is portrayed, and the many stories which shape the type of person that he was. I equipped myself probably more than I should have and more than I needed to.’

This is typical of McGregor, who reveals himself to be quite the deep thinker; a man who finds substantial personal enrichment in immersing himself in the subjects his roles deal with. He recognises, too, the power of film not just to entertain, but to educate. In this case, he relished the opportunity to explore the deeper meanings behind the film.

‘As with all things, the best stories involving faith are those that present to the reader an idea,’ he says. ‘Someone sat in a big city isn’t going to relate too much to a guy in a desert, and he isn’t supposed to. What’s supposed to happen here is the ideas, morals, values and beliefs that we offer can be understood, taken on and perhaps adapted to other types of lives. That’s really how the whole thing works.

‘The fact the script doesn’t deal with Jesus in any kind of controversial way made it an easy choice for me to go into the project, and I think I came out of it a better actor too. Ultimately, the director, Rodrigo Garcia, invented a story of a time when Jesus was in the desert, and made it so it’s more focused on the parental and child side of a paternal relationship.’
Head out on the highway

Away from work, ‘wandering the desert’ isn’t all that far from how McGregor spends his own spare time – although any such wandering is performed astride his beloved motorcycle. Together with his best friend Charlie Boorman, McGregor has embarked on epic adventures from London to New York (in 2004: 22,345 miles given that they took the ‘long way round’); in 2007 the intrepid duo travelled over three months from John O’Groats to Cape Town for the ‘long way down’; and in December last year, they took the ‘long way up’ from Patagonia to California – another three-month adventure.

While some may take a cynical view that McGregor has been indulging his recreational passion a little too much with these journeys, he has used them as an opportunity to further the aims of global children’s charity UNICEF, for which he’s been an ambassador since 2004. Likewise, the books and TV series based on those trips raised awareness of his and the organisation’s work, visiting UNICEF programmes along the routes and (in April 2012) delivering vaccines to children across Nepal, the Republic of Congo and India.

It seems these journeys are when McGregor is at his happiest, most at ease. ‘I like exploring the world and being able to appreciate different cultures,’ he says. ‘If you think about it, taking a motorbike trip from Scotland and riding all the way to South Africa was crazy, but it’s also incredibly fulfilling in a way that is hard to explain. Wherever you are, you have the feeling that you don’t need to be anywhere else. You experience moments where you feel that you have understood everything about life, about the universe. It’s a powerful feeling.’

He continues on the themes of freedom to explore – ‘just by getting on the bike you are able to run away and leave everything behind’ – and to think: ‘When you’re spending hours and hours out on the road, you have a lot of time to think about your life, obviously, but you also spend a lot of time not thinking about anything and not thinking about all the things that are part of your daily life,’ he muses. ‘You find yourself just enjoying the experience of being on the bike and then getting satisfaction from the experiences you have when you meet people [whose cultures and worlds] are different from your own.’

We must do more

This adventurous spirit has always been part of McGregor’s fabric and, in his lifelong pursuit of enlightenment and discovery, so is a desire to help those in need. His work as a UNICEF ambassador included a visit to northern Iraq in 2016, to see how children’s lives had been devastated by years of conflict. He said at the time: ‘Children uprooted by conflict can find themselves alone, without family and in grave danger. No child should be alone. Many of the children I met in Iraq had been forced to flee their homes, risking their lives on dangerous journeys and have been exposed to unimaginable horrors. Wind forward a few years and the world is still facing an unprecedented refugee crisis and we must do more to protect the extraordinary number of children who have been torn from their homes by violent conflict.’

He talked of one girl he met, Mirna, who told him how her family slept in a disused, half-constructed shopping precinct for over a year, with sentiments that lose no relevance today. ‘The community donated food, clothes and supplies to her family and really came together to welcome displaced people,’ he said. ‘This act of humanity should be replicated everywhere, especially on our own doorsteps. It’s up to us to tell our friends, our neighbours and our governments that refugees are welcome.’

Such humanitarian endeavours – among many others – have not gone unnoticed. Indeed, McGregor earned his OBE for services to drama and charity (another dual role), and in 2016 he received the BAFTA Britannia Humanitarian Award, which is presented to a BAFTA colleague ‘who has used the art form of the moving image or their position in the entertainment industry to create positive social change, and actively shine a light on important humanitarian issues.’

And as for his services to drama, McGregor forges ahead. He’s building on his pre-pandemic successes such as Christopher Robin, Doctor Sleep and The Birthday Cake with parts in next year’s Pinocchio (a darker version of the children’s fairy tale – co-directed by surreal-horror auteur Guillermo del Toro and animation expert Mark Gustafson – voicing Cricket); and then the five-part TV serial Halston – playing the titular American fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick who rose to international fame in the 1970s, as he ‘leverages his single, invented name into a worldwide fashion empire that’s synonymous with luxury, sex, status and fame, literally defining the era.’

Whatever McGregor’s future holds, it’s bound to be more adventurous than before, and always aimed at satisfying his childlike hunger for wonder.

‘As a child I was a big dreamer,’ he smiles. ‘I loved imagining myself as part of fantastic stories and that sensation is still part of me.’

It’s Jess Business

Somehow it seemed appropriate for Jesse Lingard to score the last goal of Manchester United’s 2019-20 season and for it to be the goal that confirmed their win over Leicester City, the achievement of a third place finish – the best since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson – and also confirmed their place in this season’s UEFA Champions League. It was a happy ending for a frustrating season for Lingard. The arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January and the emergence of Mason Greenwood as a first team starter had seen him slip down the pecking order.

While Jesse has been a Manchester United player since he was in school, it was not until he was 23 that he made his league debut, having had loan spells at Leicester City, Birmingham City, Brighton and Hove Albion and Derby County. In 2010-11, he was part of the Manchester United team which won the FA Youth Cup, playing alongside Paul Pogba, in his first spell with the club. Lingard then made 11 appearances for England at under 21 level. Despite that success, as often happens at big clubs, he struggled for game time, not making his first appearance in the Premier League for another four years.

By the end of the 2019-20 season he had played 133 Premier League games for the club, scoring 18 goals. But with 86 starts and 47 games off the bench in five seasons, he has found himself established as a valuable squad player but struggling to start more than half United’s games. However, there were some wonderful highlights in those seasons. He scored the winning goal in United’s 2016 FA Cup final victory over Crystal Palace in extra time – but only joined the game after 90 minutes. Nonetheless it was a memorable goal with a great strike from outside the penalty area. In 2017 he started and scored in the EFL Cup final as United beat Southampton 3-2. In the same season, he helped the club to win the UEFA Europa League but only after coming off the bench, late in the game.

His England games included the 2018 World Cup in Russia when England lost in the semi-finals. Lingard started five of England’s seven games. The only one where he did not feature was the final group game when England had already qualified for the knock-out stages and made wholesale changes to rest key players. He scored for England against Panama. That World Cup was undoubtedly the highlight of his England career. Ironically, he found it easier to get a starting place for England than for his club. England manager, Gareth Southgate said of him: ‘He’s a positive player, he really links the play well and looks a real threat. He’s got a strong mentality. He’s an exciting player.’

Working harder

Lingard has been quick to take responsibility for his situation, writing on his Instagram account: ‘I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. This season has been difficult for so many reasons. I lost who I was as a player and person, but I never wanted to give up, I knew who I really was on and off the pitch and knew that having been there before, I could get there again. This meant working harder than I’d ever done before and trusting in those around me that they knew how to best help me achieve that. I know the fans have been frustrated, but in all this time my love for this club and everyone connected to it has never left me. This team, this club is my family and I will continue to keep working harder than ever to help this team achieve its goal.’

Still only 27, Jesse Lingard still has a lot to give whether at Old Trafford or elsewhere.


Q: You are active on social media, why is that?

I like to be interactive with fans and it’s good to have an opportunity to give back sometimes. I like to give fans an insight into what I get up to off the field.

Q: Going back to the successful 2011 Manchester United Youth team you were in, who would you say was the best player in that team?

Ravel Morrison. He was very technically gifted – and naturally had great dribbling and shooting ability. Also Paul Pogba. I have been playing with Paul since he was 16 – he was good at that age but has been maturing year by year, but you could see even then what a good player he would turn out to be. Of course, he has gone on to win many trophies including the World Cup. [Morrison never played for the Man U first team and has been at nine other clubs without fulfilling his potential].

Q: How do you assess the 2019-20 season?

It’s been a bit different and I haven’t been playing as much as I would like but I know what I have to do to get my confidence back. I have been working hard and I am waiting for the opportunity.

Q: Was lockdown difficult?

The fitness coach gave us a programme to do during lockdown, both in the gym and a bit of running outside. When we were back in training, we had some really intense sessions, so we were ready to go when lockdown lifted. And it was great to be back with the boys. During lockdown I kept busy. I like to read and also watch Netflix – Money Heist. I kept on top of my diet and I’ve been having my pistachios* for my snacks, as they give you a lot more energy and they aid recovery.

I always have motivation to keep fit. I could go for a run and do stuff in my home gym. Having recovery days are also important so that you don’t overwork. I was very motivated because I wanted to come out of lockdown the strongest and fittest I could be.

Q: Is there a fitness exercise that you hate?

I don’t think so. I like to work my upper body, core and my legs. There’s a lot you can do just using your own body weight. I don’t think there’s anything I try to avoid!

Q: When you come on as a sub, do you feel more pressure to prove yourself?

I think you need to be ready in all circumstances, whether you’re starting or off the bench. As a sub, you can always make an impact on a game whether you get five minutes or 25 minutes. It’s just about you being ready to make an impact and help the team at the end of the day.

Q: Is the current team the best team since Fergie retired?

It’s definitely up there. There been a number of transition periods over the years but we’re definitely moving in the right direction. We’ve been playing well and are full of confidence so I think the only way is up!

Q: How far are Manchester United from challenging for the Premier League title?

Not that far. We’ve been working hard and each season growing as a team, getting used to the way the manager wants us to play and the way we want to play. It’s about growing as a team and I think we’re going in the right direction at the moment.

Q: Which other Premier League clubs impress you?

We don’t really think about other teams. We focus on ourselves from what we need to do. We know what we need to do to get the job done.

Q: Would you like to see Jaydon Sancho in a United shirt?

Jaydon is a brilliant player. I’ve seen his qualities for England and I think he could be a great addition to any team.

Q: How good is Mason Greenwood?

He’s been brilliant ever since he started training with the first team. He’s done exceptionally well. And even though he’s so young, he’s taken responsibility and brought the goals and assists in. He’s been a really good addition to the team. He’s been banging goals in since he was very young. The manager has seen his talent and put him in the team. Now for him, it’s about working hard, staying humble and keeping his feet on the ground. I think he will do that because he’s always been a humble guy but with confidence as well. The way he’s been playing recently he’s been helping the team and scoring goals. That’s all he can keep doing and I wasn't surprised that England called him up.

Q: What you want to achieve in your football career and afterwards?

I go to work every day with a smile on my face because I am happy playing football. I do not worry too much about the future. It is important to play with confidence and take what I do in training into games, being patient and waiting for my opportunity.

Q: Having been at United since you were about seven, could you ever see yourself playing for another club?

I love the club and I love going to work and as I said, I go with a smile every day.

Q: Is it difficult coping with pressure?

Football is football and there is always going to be pressure. We know what we have to do and we don’t think of anything else. It’s just about going into a game and getting the three points.

Q: What do you eat for breakfast?

Two slices of toast, scrambled eggs, beans and avocado, perhaps.

Q: What were you eating during lockdown?

Chicken and pasta with broccoli and potatoes. Fish some days. I think chicken, pasta and broccoli would be my go-to meal!

Q: What is your favourite goal?

Can I have three? My first goal for Manchester United (November 2015 against West Brom). The winning goal in the FA Cup Final 2016. Scoring for England against Panama in the 2018 World Cup?

Q: Your goal celebrations are well known – imaginary flute, Milly Rock, JL. Are they spontaneous or do you plan them in advance?

All my family are dancers so dancing comes natural to me. Marcus (Rashford) came up with the idea of making the letters JL with my fingers.

Black in Blue?

What does it mean to be a black copper in the Metropolitan police?

By Ali Hull

With our news bulletins so often being dominated by street violence, one person you often hear being interviewed as an expert is Leroy Logan, who now runs his own security consultancy. But for thirty years, he was a policeman at the heart of the Met – described at the Macpherson Inquiry as ‘institutionally racist’ – an inquiry that he took part in. A committed Christian, he was also one of the founders of the Black Police Association, and his book about his life, Closing Ranks – my life as a Cop, is out now. His story is also the focus of an episode of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series on the BBC, and film star John Boyega plays him. His career was distinguished, and he worked long and hard to change race relations on the streets of London, being made an MBE in 2000. But it was never plain sailing, not even from the beginning…

Early days

When Leroy Logan joined the Met in the early 1980s, he did so despite the misgivings of his own family and indeed his own heart. As a black man living in London, he had been aware of heavy-handed policing from his schooldays. As he says, ‘More than once, I was stopped by the police – in front of my school, in my school uniform and with my trumpet case in my hand. My dad saw this happen once at the school entrance, and he got really upset with the officers. As a lorry driver, he was always being stopped already, and he didn’t like the way the police talked to him. He was always respectful when talking to others, but the police weren’t.’

Worse was to come, however: Leroy’s father was beaten up by two policemen, not long before Leroy joined the police, and unfortunately, his father found out his intentions not from Leroy himself, but from the Met. They were checking up on the background of their new recruit, and had gone to his parents’ home to do so. It was not the way Leroy had planned to tell his father of his career change. Having a promising career in science in front of him, Leroy had been working in an area that pleased his father. Joining the Met was definitely not a step in the right direction. And it was one he had doubts about as well. Yet, in 1983, he found himself at Hendon training college, with a new intake of rookie recruits, learning how to be a policeman.

Why had he joined? Not least because he knew police officers who were not racist, who were genuinely there to help the public. As he recalls, two off-duty police officers who used the same gym at the Royal Free Hospital, where he worked, had helped him to change his mind. ‘I would also see them in the pool, and we would occasionally chat in the bar … Meeting these two helped me see the human side of police officers. They talked about regular things like everyone else; they even offered to take me on some “drive-arounds” in the back of their car. The drive-arounds were fun. The guys were really nice and easy-going, although part of me did think, “This is Hampstead; police officers here won’t be dealing with the sort of aggravation they would have somewhere like Hackney.” I started to feel that this was some kind of calling that I had to follow through. I did more research, and in September 1982, I submitted an application to join the Metropolitan Police.

The good, the bad and the ugly

That contrast runs throughout his career and throughout the book – powerful friends and powerful enemies. The friends are sometimes from the BAME community, but there are many who are not: people who recognised Leroy’s gifting and wanted to work alongside him. However, he had more than his fair share of opposition, and the book deals quite fully with a blatant attempt to discredit him. Nor was his case at all unique.

Leroy was also involved in one of the highest profile cases of murder in London, that of Damilola Taylor, the ten-year-old boy killed on his way home from school. Initially, the enquiry got nowhere – the local community were afraid to open their doors. It was only when, as a deliberate policy, police officers of a similar racial background were sent out that the doors started to open, and the information flooded in. As Leroy explains, trying to find common ground when talking to people is crucial.

Describing his days in the police, he says ‘Whenever I encountered someone of African-Caribbean origin, they would talk to me in their native tongue or some form of creole. Even though I would not immediately understand what they were saying, I realized they felt more comfortable with me than with my white counterparts. This was in total contrast to when I joined the Met in the early 1980s, when communicating with the public in languages other than English was frowned upon. If a white colleague caught you doing so, he or she would indicate, verbally or by gestures, that it was a no-no. Black and minority ethnic officers, however, quickly recognized the importance of communicating with the public at all levels and in as many languages as possible, and the benefits this brought to our work.

Unfortunately, some of our white counterparts failed to recognize – or would simply never acknowledge – these benefits, despite the empirical evidence and objective business cases that have proven it, in both public and private organizations. I knew from very early on that a more reflective organization, using its languages and cultural intelligence in an operational setting, would be a great asset.’

This Affinity Policing policy, as it was known, was very effective. It also suffered from the austerity cuts that followed from the economic crash of 2008.

Bringing the story up to date

Leroy’s book inevitably leaves the Met on his retirement, but he is still in touch with that world, and what he can see is not encouraging, he says. We asked him about what is happening now, in the era of Black Lives Matter.

Q: Since you left the Met, has the situation for black officers got better or worse?

I can’t discount the possibility it has got worse. A disproportionate number of senior BAME officers are under investigation, those at superintendent level.

Q: So you are saying the Met is actively searching for evidence that these officers have done something wrong, rather than waiting to see whether complaints are made?

Yes. If a white officer commits an administrative oversight, they will be corrected inhouse. When I was accused of doing so, I was subjected to a formal investigation, and trial by media, because it was leaked to them. I was totally exonerated, and was able to show that white officers had been dealt with in a completely different way. That’s why they had to pay me compensation. In fact, I discovered, because I had kept good records, that I hadn’t drawn over a year’s worth of expenses, and that the Met actually owed me £2000!
Q: Why do you think things are getting worse?

We have had ten years of austerity and its aftermath, and all the independent oversight of the police, on issues of racial equality and diversity, that followed on from the Macpherson inquiry, has gone. Now the chiefs of police are marking their own homework. The Met has gone backwards, and it now looks and feels as it did before the Macpherson Inquiry. Officers are very heavy-handed with the BAME community. For instance, there is the case of a nurse, Neomi Bennett, stopped by the police in 2019.

She was approached by officers and had previous experience of police being heavy-handed. She felt really frightened, and so she wouldn’t get out of the car. She was bullied into it – you can see the video on YouTube – and then handcuffed. She and the car were searched, and nothing was found, but she was still arrested for obstruction. What obstruction? And she was detained for 18 hours. A white nurse would not have been treated in the same way. Police officers often seem to forget both the rules and their training when faced with a black person, in a way they would not do with someone who was white.

Q: Are people still joining the Met from the BAME community?

It is retention that is an issue. BAME officers are between four and five times more likely to leave the Met now. We were seeing people progressing, we had our first ever black Chief Constable in Mike Fuller, but it has all stagnated under austerity. And – dare I say the word – Brexit has had an impact. Hate crime went through the roof after the Brexit vote. It is a fact that right-wingers tend to be attracted to the police, and they don’t celebrate diversity, or want to promote it. They feel their time has come. People say the situation is not as bad as it is in America, but we have had our own cases, of people dying in police custody. There was the case, in 2017, of Rashan Charles, who died after the police officer used a chokehold on him – one that they are not supposed to use. He should have been dealt with as a patient, and it was a totally avoidable death. He – like George Floyd – died because he couldn’t breathe. If the officer had stuck to his training, it would not have happened, but police officers forget their training, when faced with someone from the BAME communities, in a way that they don’t when faced with someone white. Tasers are mainly used on black people.

Q: So how this be stopped, if what you are dealing with is ingrained racism?

That’s the problem. If you got rid of all the officers who have learnt prejudice in the home, who are racist themselves, you would have to get rid of half of the force, at least. Racism has gone behind closed doors, but it is still there. And we haven’t got the leadership to deal with rogue officers – the police hierarchy have lost their grip on this. Recently, in a Channel 4 interview, Cressida Dick said that the trust and confidence in the police in the black community was good. That is not true. And by announcing that the Stephen Lawrence police investigation was being stopped, she was handing a Get out of jail free card to the three suspects who have not been charged. She is saying that the police will turn a blind eye to racial attacks.

Q: So what has happened to the recommendations of the Macpherson inquiry, that set out to stop the Met being institutionally racist?

There is a Home Affairs Select committee, charged with looking into this, which met in 2019, but it was stalled, first by the election and then by Covid. We are still waiting for their report. The situation isn’t unique to London – other municipal urban areas have similar problems – Greater Manchester, Merseyside, West Midlands and Nottingham. The same things are being played out as in London. Recently, a man was tasered at a garage in the West Midlands, in front of his three-year-old child, who was left traumatised. Would that have happened, if he had been white?

Politics is now personality driven, not policy driven, and the police are the same. Cressida Dick has a lot of wriggle room, being the first female head of the Met. We need people of substance.

World Cup Winner and a Whole Lot More

By Stuart Weir


There is more to Phil Vickery than just being an amazing rugby player…


Phil Vickery played rugby for England more than seventy times yet the reason for this feature and for most of the interviews he does is that he played in one particular game – the 2003 World Cup Final. He is one of that select group of England rugby players who are the only ones who can call themselves World Cup winners. Vickery has lived a full and successful life but people still want to take him back to one day 17 years ago.

Building a team


In June 1998 England were defeated 76-0 by Australia in Brisbane, 64-22 and 40-10 by New Zealand and 18-0 by South Africa. The idea that five years later England would win the World Cup seemed laughable. How on earth did the transition occur? ‘It’s a combination of a lot of things’ suggests Vickery. ‘1998 was Clive Woodward’s first tour as England coach. It was a very short tour: one test against Australia, two in New Zealand and finally South Africa. It was called the tour for from hell for a reason. It was blooming tough. It was my first tour and my second cap for England – and Jonny Wilkinson’s first cap.


‘Being brutally honest, looking back, it was one of those moments when you have choices to make. And I’m talking personally, what it did for me. We played the best in the world and I realized that I just was not good enough. And you have a choice to make. You can come home and be a well-known, well-respected, well-paid rugby player, get a few caps for England, have an amazing career and everything would be great. Or you can think “I want to be the best. This tour was embarrassing. I don’t want to be part of this again.” That tour affected me and hurt me and touched a nerve. So from that day onwards, I was determined “That is not good enough. I want to be better than that.”’


Being professional


‘I think the 1999 World Cup was the start of the professional era. I know the game went professional in 1996 but the blueprint for what professional rugby was, started with Clive and the 1999 World Cup and it went on from there. We got knocked out in the quarter-final in 1999  against South Africa with Jannie de Beer’s five dropped goals. And for me, you have to be brave enough to make that decision. I was lucky that I was at a great club, Gloucester, around great players and having great coaches. That was great but I wanted more. I’m very driven – perhaps it goes back to my farming roots and my Cornish roots. You have to be driven because nobody is going to put it on a plate for you. It helped to be identified as a young man by Clive Woodward and Andy Robinson and their commitment to me helped me to understand loyalty. Clive saw the potential in me but realized I wasn’t the finished article. He could see that I was keen and that I wanted to work hard. He was prepared to invest in me. No one knows about the hours I spent with Dave Alred on psychology. That didn’t work for everyone but for me it was very important. It wasn’t just Clive. There were a lot of amazing coaches.’


The 2003 World Cup Final


As I asked him the question, I wondered how many times he had been asked to recall that historic day for English rugby. ‘Even today thinking back to the World Cup final still makes me quite emotional. Of course, it was the occasion, but it’s more the build-up to it – the work, the commitment, the people you were playing with, the relationships and everything leading up to that. The frenzy of the build up. I know I’m the Raging Bull but I’m also an emotional guy. I remember walking out before the game and just seeing white shirts and St George’s Cross flags everywhere: it was as if it was a home game. It was an unbelievable sight to see. It really is the fans who make sport.


‘Often when you play in games, you don’t see things that the spectator sees. The actual game goes so quickly. I remember being so much in control and the missed opportunities like Benny Kay dropping the ball [with the try line open]. We were dominant upfront and dominant in the tackle; we were dominant in defence. But as the game went on and Australia got themselves back into it, it was anybody’s game. Then there were the refereeing decisions at scrum time. We had not conceded one scrum penalty in the tournament and then the referee pinged me for boring in, and did Trevor Woodman for binding on the arm. It was as if the referee could see that we were battering Australia and wanted to de-power our scrum. Fair play to Australia, they kicked the points and were back in it, taking the game into extra time. While I’m an emotional guy, during the game I’m just focused on doing my job and playing the game. We felt so dominant but just not on the score board.’


Vickery captained England in the 2007 World Cup. Clive Woodward had gone, and Brian Ashton was in charge. England looked poor in the early stages of the tournament but went on to reach the final, losing to South Africa. He was twice selected for the British and Irish Lions, 2001 and 2009, playing in five tests.


Being a Lion was another career highlight: ‘Growing up I remember watching the Lions, especially the ‘89 tour to Australia with Mike Teague, Wade Dooley and all those guys. Just the fact that you can bring people from four nations together to play as one, and genuinely be able to do that, is just the most amazing thing. And not just the players but the fans, who are tribal, coming together as one and travelling halfway across the world to do it. It’s more than about sport. One of my favourite quotes comes from Ian McGeechan: “The Lions are not just about the player; it’s about the person.” The person is as important as the player because if you can’t cope with coming together with people who are normally enemies, and deal with egos, it doesn’t matter how good a rugby player you are. You got to be able to get on with people and be able to sacrifice. You got to be able to listen to a new coach, take on new ideas, shut your mouth and get on with it.’


In retirement Phil Vickery has done some after-dinner speaking, taken on ambassadorial roles and successful business ventures. He has had some great experiences but somehow nothing that quite matches that Saturday in Sydney in 2003.




1 What happens in the scrum? What, as a prop, are you trying to do?


You’re trying to get a shoulder, to get an angle; to get the scrum to go the way you want it to go, so that you can get an attacking advantage. Most of all you’re trying to go forward so that either the number eight can pick up or the scrum-half is moving forward when he picks up. You want an effective, powerful, forward-moving scrummage. The more dominant you are in the scrum, the higher percentage your attacking options or your exit options have of being successful. As a tight head prop, you’re looking at people in front of you who want to hurt you, and you want to hurt them, so it’s physical combat, physical confrontation and it’s a scary place when you are in there with lots of large human beings slamming into each other and you’re in the middle. That’s why I have had three or four spinal operations.


2 What was your best try for England?


The one that I will always remember is the one against Samoa in the group stages of the 2003 World Cup. It was the only game that I didn’t start because they were resting and rotating players. We were in a bit of trouble in that game. And as I like to tell people, I came on and changed the game with my match winning try. It was especially nice because for years I played with Samoans Junior Paramore and Terry Fanolua at Gloucester. One of the most emotional things I’ve ever been involved in was being invited into the changing room by Junior and Terry after the game where they do their prayers and thank yous, which was bloody incredible and a real privilege to have been part of.


3 Who was the best coach you played under?


That’s a bloody difficult one. Clive Woodward, of course, but one of the best coaches I have ever been coached by is Brian Ashton. He’s more a backs coach and an attack coach but definitely one of the best.


4 Best captain you have played under?


Martin Johnson with a hint of Lawrence Dallaglio.


5 You were captain of England in 15 games including the 2007 World Cup? What was your approach to captaincy?


I had my own style, but I always tried to be authentic. Being England captain is not something I ever looked for and not something that I dreamt of, but it is just something that is bestowed on you. As a young man I never thought I’d play for England so to get to a World Cup final in 2007, as England captain, I was a proud man that day. With that comes the pressures, but I was more than able to deal with that. It’s just an amazing thing to be able to say that you were England captain.


6 Tell us about Celebrity Masterchef?


I’ve always been interested in food and was very lucky in 2011 to go on Celebrity Masterchef and win it. I have always loved cooking and I love watching the show. What I did on Masterchef was lamb fillet with butter and fondant potatoes, asparagus, crispy ham, or some smoky bacon in a Madeira sauce. What winning the show has allowed me to do is to promote food and good causes around food and farming, and to show what an amazing country we live and in terms of food production.


7 What is your signature dish?


I’m a classic farmer boy. Ribeye is my favourite steak. So give me a ribeye with salad or potatoes, just a classic, well-cooked ribeye steak. You never go far wrong with a few root vegetables. I’m a nice traditional cook. I also like a really well-made sandwich. I just like nice food and well thought-about food. Of course cooking and technique are important but it’s also where the food came from and understanding a bit about food. Not necessarily being an expert, just thinking a bit about what goes into it.


8 And you now have your own restaurant?


I’m launched my first restaurant in Cheltenham called No3 ( It’s something I wanted to do for a long time and I’ve got a really good team of people. I’m ambitious but I want to start something and build from it.


9 And you have a clothing range?

‘Raging bull’ was my nickname as a rugby player. I started the clothing line when I was still playing. It has a sportswear and the leisurewear side, and I called it ‘Raging bull’. I’m extremely proud of that and passionate about it.


10 What does the Deputy Lieutenant of Gloucestershire do?


Janet Trotter, who was at the time Lieutenant, asked me to be a deputy. You are the representation of the royal family. One of my roles within the county is to find people and organizations who are doing good things and make sure that what they’re doing is not missed – making sure they get recognition, like Queen’s awards, OBEs, MBEs, knighthoods, etc.

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CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 22:  Lions forward Phil Vickery passes the ball during British and Irish Lions training at Bishops school on June 22, 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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