Good News - On The Road With Rend Collective
Sorted’s editor Steve Legg caught up with Rend Collective frontman Gareth Gilkeson and asked him about the band, their new album and life on the road.
Gareth, thanks for joining us. Tell us about how the band was formed.
The band was formed actually, first of all in a community. We started in 2002 as a gathering called Rend, which I pastored, and Chris [Llewellyn] led worship at. It was very much focused on community, authenticity, just trying to create a space for people in their 20s and 30s, who we had noticed were leaving church and we wanted to have a place where they could experience God in a way that made sense to them. That’s where Rend came out of. We actually didn’t write any of our own songs for seven years, and then after about seven years we started writing our own stuff, which is kind of crazy but kind of fun to think that. Our focus was on the community and the kingdom of God before it was art. I think, in the Church, ministry and art need to go hand in hand and it’s been a real crazy ride we never imagined, actually. Touring the world, just being a worship band, leading everywhere. It feels so privileged, but it still blows your mind sometimes.
I’ve been speaking and performing at your church, Bangor Elim, for nearly 30 years. It’s an amazing place with incredible people. Have they been cheering you on from the beginning?
Yes, Bangor Elim is where Rend started, we were in the sports hall there. It’s amazing we go back every year and do a hometown gig at the church.
How much has their support and encouragement meant to you?
They’ve been right behind us. I think this year we did four nights in a row, but they’ve been so supportive and just a big part of what we do, so we love them.
What was the big break for you?
… You have to remember doors don’t open overnight. All of us have dreams in our hearts but it takes years. I remember praying and praying and praying and it was probably ten years before what I felt like God had put on my heart had actually come to fruition. Martin Smith of Delirious? heard our album, I mean I don’t know how, because I thought it was only our mums that had had heard it. He gave it to Chris Tomlin and Chris Tomlin invited us on a tour of the US and then Martin helped us with shows and leading worship in churches in the UK. That was really the moment for us, of breakthrough.
Travelling the world in a tour bus sounds pretty glamorous, but what is it really like?
Yeah, travelling the world in a tour bus sounds glamorous, but it’s not glamorous at all. I mean, you’ve got a lot of sweaty, smelly bodies in a small, tiny tin can. We also have three kids on the road, Chris has his little baby. … But its community, it’s probably like travelling gypsies, but it’s close quarters [and] there’s something about that that just moves you past being friendly to people and actually being family.
Talk us through a typical day on the road.
A typical day on the road is probably waking up at 6 a.m. with the kids, and the bus still driving at 70 miles an hour to get you to the next place. You get up and watch some kids’ TV shows and try and put some Rice Krispies into their mouths and then once we’ve done that we do have a lot of the day to prepare or to have family time. Because we have a team with us, our crew will go out and set things up, and they’re amazing. So, we’ll do some school with the kids or maybe we’ll go out to a coffee shop, or go play somewhere, maybe find a park, find a swimming pool. Then we’ll do interviews at the place, meet local church leaders and then play the concert. Then be very tired and come back and eat some junk food, and then go to sleep. That’s what a typical day is.
Gareth, you travel with your wife and children, and other band mates. How did band life change when kids came along?
Life on the road did change a lot when the kids came along, mostly because it used to be very simple, you could just do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, within the confines of touring, of course. I think it’s been healthy for the band to have kids because it makes you feel still connected with life rather than disconnected as this weird person living this weird lifestyle … It’s kind of unusual that you feel that you’re still having a normal life. It’s been difficult, certainly up three times in the night pacing the bus trying to put a baby back to bed. But the kids love it. They’re all very socially developed, because they’re with adults a lot, and, you know, it takes a village to raise a child and it’s amazing to see that on the road.
Are there home comforts you take with you to make the experience more pleasurable?
The home comforts that we like to take on the road, no matter where we are, you know, if we’re flying somewhere, or if we’re travelling on a bus, we have one of those hand-grinders so you can grind your own coffee beans and an aeropress so you can make your coffee anywhere you want. And we always have good old Northern Irish tea bags with us, and we sneak in some chocolate. You never know where you’re going to be, and you can’t really trust the chocolate!
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
The biggest lesson we’ve learned probably is that relationships are more important than music or anything, that if you haven’t got that right, there’s just no point in doing it. Conflict isn’t a bad thing, conflict, is healthy, if done with humility.
Tell us about your new album, Good News.
… We’re very excited about it. Basically, there’s so much bad news in the world right now, we felt we had to proclaim the good news of Jesus. Not to diminish the difficulties and struggles that we as a human race are going through right now, but to remind the world there is good news and that good news is Jesus. This is our favourite record we’ve ever made. We’ve written real deep hymns, we’ve written lamentations, because there’s never really any of those in our normal church service[s]. We wanted to proclaim the good news for those who are struggling, we’ve written upbeat songs, and we took two and half years and we really prayed and thought about this seriously. So, we’re excited.
TV, newspapers and the internet are full of bad news. How important is this message of good news to the world we’re living in?
The good news really is something that we need to proclaim. It’s important for the Church right now … with the media focusing on the bad news. It’s important for the Church, now more than ever, to proclaim the true gospel.
‘Gospel’ isn’t actually a religious word. Gospel just means ‘good news’ and we as a Church need to carry the gospel of Jesus
What’s your hope for the new project?
I really hope that this new project will be an encouragement to people through difficult times, it will be something that will just encourage the Church.
Is Belfast or Dublin still your favourite place to play?
I’m just going to say “Yes”, they are our favourite place to play. You know, we very much have a weird identity crisis being Northern Irish. Are we Irish? Are we British? Are we Northern Irish? I guess the answer is “Yes” to all three. We’re playing in Belfast in the biggest arena this May, and I cannot wait. It’s going to be the concert of our lives. We’ve already sold 5,000 tickets, I can’t believe the support of people at home. And then the next night we go down to Dublin and we’re playing in a club down there. I’m so excited to be able to play in both capitals – it means so much to us.
Thanks for your time. What are you most looking forward to this year?
What we’re really looking forward to is this whole Good News Tour. We’re going to do 45 dates in the US, we’re doing over 20 dates in the UK and Northern Ireland, we’re playing in London in Shepherd’s Bush, we’re doing the Big Church Night In, then later on this year we’ll be going to Europe, and I think that’s just real exciting too. We’ll be going to Germany and Holland and lots of different countries in Eastern Europe. It’s going to be a blast. We’re just so privileged [in] what God has put on our hearts and what he has done with us. Really this is such an important time for the Church to be proclaiming good news and we’re excited to be a part of that, and we thank you for supporting us.
Keep On Keepin On - by Violet Wilder
Pharrell Williams may be a man of many contradictions, but through his music and humanitarian work, not to mention the examples he sets every day in his personal life, he has shown us that
just by following your heart you can inspire a generation.
He’s a music mogul, hip-hop legend, film producer, devoted dad and philanthropist, but if Pharrell Williams can teach us anything it’s that in a world of fragile egos and frail successes, sometimes sticking to your truth and values can be the biggest weapon in your armoury. Having blazed an unprecedented trail of success through the last two decades, he has remained gracious, hardworking and true. Well, perhaps with just a touch of that hip-hop swagger, but who could begrudge him that?
Still, despite his giddying highs, Williams’ career has not been without its low points. There was a period between his solo album In My Mind and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky when he wasn’t just irrelevant, he was nonexistent, and it is through sheer hard graft and mental resilience that he has rebuilt his empire – day by day, beat by beat.
“A lot of it is a gift, but without discipline you’re never going to get anywhere. I’m lucky in that I’ve always felt free to do what I wanted and the few times I’ve been in situations where I’ve been obliged to work within constraints imposed by others I’ve decided to quit those projects,” says Williams, frankly.
“I’m very precise when it comes to knowing what I want to do creatively. I can’t work according to parameters laid down by other people – that just doesn’t work for me. I need to follow my own instincts and I’ve learned that that is always going to take me where I want to go as an artist.”
His success certainly seems to be a combination of hard graft and luck, as a look into his childhood reveals humble, though not troubled beginnings. Born in Virginia Beach, Virginia in 1974, he is the eldest of three sons to Pharaoh Williams, a handyman, and his wife, Carolyn, a teacher. “I’m no rapper; I’m, like, a suburban kid,” declared Williams once to Time magazine.
Exhibiting an early interest in music, his grandmother suggested he join the school band, a move that would not only teach him how to read music and nurture discipline within his craft, but also lead to an introduction to future The Neptunes and N.E.R.D. collaborator, Chad Hugo. Who knew that these two aspiring young musicians – Williams, a drummer and Hugo, a tenor saxophonist – would meet at a seventh-grade summer band camp and graduate from playing jazz standards to producing some of the biggest hits of the 21st century, like Britney’s ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ and Snoop Dogg’s ‘Beautiful’?
His rise to fame may not be the most redemptive in hip-hop’s great mythology (think Eminem’s triumphant 8 Mile), but it has captured the imagination of Fox, which is developing his story into a movie musical called Atlantis. The film, which will be co-produced by Williams, is a natural continuation from his recent foray into film production on Fox’s hit Hidden Figures, for which he wrote several songs in addition to supervising the soundtrack.
Telling the story of three brilliant black female mathematicians who worked for NASA during the 1960s, Williams explains why this is one historical tale that absolutely deserved to be told. “I had a connection to that story that I didn’t find out about until after I read the script. When I spoke to my mother about the story, she told me that I had actually met Katherine Johnson (one of the three women whose story is dramatised in Hidden Figures) when I was a kid. I just went, ‘Whoa!’” reveals the expressive 44-year-old.
“But I had no idea at the time that she was working at that time at the Langley Research Center and I was so glad that my mother reminded me of how our family friend had been the first African-American woman to make a major contribution to NASA and the US space programme in the 60s. I was very proud to help get the film made and tell her story and that of the two other black women – Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – who were also pioneers in an era where segregation was still in effect and blacks had to struggle for their place in society.”
So does this mean the film is a declaration to Williams’ status as a feminist? “I think women deserve to be recognised as equal participants in society,” he says. “Women still have a long way to go in finding their place. But I’m so glad that this film has been able to point out that there are so many talented women out there and especially those who have made important contributions to mathematics and engineering.”
While Williams could be considered an unlikely women’s lib hero with songs like ‘Lapdance’ and ‘Baby Doll’ in his canon – not to mention his highly controversial collaboration with Robin Thicke on Blurred Lines, with its contentious lyrics and equally questionable video starring a near-naked Emily Ratajkowski – perhaps one ought to be careful when trying to attach labels to the impressive polymath. After all, his music also has some incredibly positive messages, like the exuberant, gospel-inflected ‘Happy’.
Try to put Williams in a box and you will fail, and there is no better example of this than with his faith. “On paper I’m a Christian, but really, I’m a Universalist,” said Williams in a previous interview with GQ Style. “Do I think that Christianity is the only way? No. I think the only route for everything is their connection to God. There’s religious dogma that gets involved, something for the greater good and sometimes for not so great reasons. But they give you a way, a vehicle to get to God.”
Argue that there is no ‘universe’, however, and Williams’ tolerance seems to falter. “How do you see all the stars and think there’s nothing else out there? It’s so incredibly arrogant and pompous. It’s amazing that there are people who really believe that. It’s unbelievable,” he told Stylist magazine in 2014.
He added, “Every person who doubts is another person unconverted to better ways of thinking. So, with no conversation there’s no conversion. With no conversion, there’s no conviction. And with no conviction, there’s only confusion ... if you don’t believe there is a change that is due to you then you will never, ever find it. Change won’t come and tap you on the shoulder. You have to be open for change.”
In 2015, the super-producer lent his vocals and musical talents to a track called ‘123 Victory Remix’ with gospel musician Kirk Franklin. As part of the song’s promotion, they appeared together in an interview on the Beats 1 radio show, the OTHERtone. Like with his broad approach to music, he exhibits a desire to promote faith through breaking it wide open and making it accessible to all. Far from a form of blasphemy, this notion of replacing ‘God’ with ‘universe’ is an attempt at making faith inclusive by not alienating those who are made uncomfortable with the traditional facets of organised religion.
“I don’t think the Church gives enough credence to science. On a scientific level, there are departments in your brain for everything that you think,” Williams says. “All of your thoughts come from your brain and there’s a part where it falls under religion. And certain people just don’t have that.” But despite his liberal approach to belief, he makes clear that he does not see ‘God’ as a dirty word, adding: “Now I know that there’s power in that word. I’ve experienced it. I’ve seen it.
“Everyone has their journey and not everyone is going to believe, but I think it’s really important to get us to understand, because if you have a difference of opinion I think it’s smarter for you to understand your difference of opinion than to not know at all. I think the easiest way for us to get to know each other is to share each other’s beliefs and our differences and get to know them and understand them.”
On his own journey, Williams has grown both as an artist and as a man. In January, the multiple Grammy winner and his wife, Helen Lasichanh announced the arrival of triplets – names and genders undisclosed – to join their eight-year-old son, Rocket. The Williams unit is the epitome of the perfect American family, but the ‘Frontin’’ singer isn’t too proud to admit that he had to be honest to himself about the kind of man the model and designer (who was in another relationship) initially needed, as she made clear that his playboy behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated.
“I hurt her a lot in the very beginning once she was free and was available, because I had given her all of this attention but I wasn’t ready to, like, let go [of his life as a bachelor],” he told Oprah in 2014. “I looked at my life and I was like, ‘Man, I could keep doing this for another ten years, is that what I want to do?’ And so I made a decision.”
Parenting has brought out a gentler side of the star too, and he beams at the mention of his brood, saying as a father he is “tender and strict” and encourages his son to “discover for himself who he wants to be and what he would like to do in life”. Indeed, on 2010’s Despicable Me soundtrack, Williams snuck in a tribute to his eldest son with the track ‘Rocket’s Theme’.
Famously fascinated with space, one might assume his son is named in honour of his dad’s astral adulation – and perhaps muse at the possible names of his other children – but Williams is more than happy to clear the matter up. “We named our son Rocket for 1,000 reasons, but one of the big reasons was to name him after a man-made machine that is meant to soar,” he says with a grin. “But it was also a way of paying tribute to Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’ and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’. They are two of my favourite musicians.”
He also takes his role model status quite seriously; he doesn’t drink or do drugs and as a philanthropist is involved in many projects, including building a $35m afterschool centre in his hometown Virginia Beach, along with his From One Hand To AnOTHER Inc. foundation which strives to provide educational tools and motivational support for underprivileged kids. “I’m not a huge activist, but I try to be a participant and play my little part,” he says with a shrug.
“Our species needs to work harder to make the world a better place. We should all condemn hatred and prejudice and those who promote it. I don’t think that there’s any reason for anyone to inflict harm on anyone else. I want to help create a society where we can all support each other and love each other.”
This is no empty rhetoric; Williams is a man of his word, understanding that change comes not just from what we say, but from what we do with our lives. Some might say the pursuit of art is selfish, indulgently spending hours in the studio and building up your own brand, but take one look online at all the home videos of people dancing and clapping joyously in tribute to his song ‘Happy’ and it’s clear that by marching to the beat of his own drum, the once wide-eyed dreamer has used his talent most wisely.
“Music brings people together. It is a force that touches people in a completely open way that reaches people wherever they are and at any time,” he concludes, adding: “And I am deeply grateful that I am able to make music that reaches out to people all over the world.”
Growing Up With God - by Karen Anne Overton
Life in the spotlight hasn’t always been easy for Nick Jonas. While the music industry is tough and unrelenting, and the acting world makes every participant fair game for discussion and critique, it’s arguably been the pressures of playing the impeccably behaved Christian kid that have weighed heaviest.
But with a new album due and gradual big screen acclaim coming his way, the charming 25-year-old has proven that with hard work, conscience and a little faith, it is possible to live your truth in the public eye.
He isis not the first former Disney alumnus to shirk off his innocent mouse ears and take on a sexy, provocative persona, and he certainly won’t be the last, but the transformation of Nick Jonas from dimple-cheeked boy-bander to muscle-bound leading man is more staggering than most. And the American’s coming of age is particularly noticeable given that the handsome 25-year-old has achieved the ultimate goal of balancing a chart-topping career with a bubbling Tinseltown presence. It’s a potential minefield for some, but Jonas is living the dream. “I hope I never reach a point in my life where I have to choose between music and acting,” he begins. “Giving up music would suck – it’s been my life, but acting is new territory for me that I love, and being forced to quit either isn’t something I want to contemplate.”
And why should he be forced to choose? After all, one glance at Jonas’ career tells us his talent has always been broad and unassuming. Having started landing roles on Broadway at the age of seven, he wrote his first song at ten and two years later was releasing his debut album on Columbia Records. Such an early gift for the arts is rare, and even more remarkable is his ability to survive the snake pit of showbiz as he continues to evolve.
“For me it’s always felt like a natural progression. I’ve never been forced to pursue a certain route and that’s why I’ve always enjoyed the experience. If you don’t enjoy it, how are you expected to give 100 per cent?” he questions.
“After all, being busy is being happy.”
Indeed, the ‘Jealous’ crooner is at full speed right now. There’s an upcoming album and accompanying tour, and following on from a rousing performance in the recent Jumanji revisit, Welcome to the Jungle, Jonas will play the villain in Chaos Walking, due out in March 2019. Based on the young adult science fiction series of the same name by Patrick Ness, the film is set in a dystopian world. It is a world in which creatures can hear one another’s thoughts. It’s the first of three movies in a trilogy, and could provide another significant stepping stone for Jonas, with distributors Lionsgate hoping the film will equal or even better the success it had with The Hunger Games series.
Accordingly, Jonas offers humility when asked how he feels about landing a role which will see him star opposite Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland, arguably two of the biggest stars on the planet right now. “In each role, I feel like I’ve been given the opportunity to showcase more of what I’m about,” he says.
“The film is based on a series of books, so it could maybe turn into something big. And my character is someone very different from those I’ve played in the past – he leans more on anger and aggression, and that’s new for me.
“I’m really not a nice guy in this, and that’s the fun side of the job, exploring a new side to myself and my acting,” he adds with a flash of sinister glee.
The notion of the once baby-faced star portraying evil intent is certainly an interesting one, though Jonas knows all too well the complexities of ‘public persona’, having been through the media wringer… such is the plight of finding success so young when one’s sense of self is yet to develop, and then being required to become a man under the constant scrutiny of the press. And given the many dichotomies in his life, it is remarkable he has maintained such clarity and personal dignity.
The son of a former Assembly of God minister, Jonas and his brothers Kevin Jnr, 30, Joe, 28, and Frankie, 17, were raised in New Jersey. Their day-to-day world was rooted in rules and religion, and they were expected to be the epitome of perfectly behaved Christian children. “Religion was a major part of our upbringing and, given that my father was a pastor, we had to exemplify publicly everything that he was about. So there was a lot of scrutiny from the very start, and I guess I have always lived with that level of attention.
“But with that came a lot of comfort and companionship,” he continues. “The church is the widest family you can have, and there were always so many good people around, so that feeling of protection was very real.”
Regardless, in other ways it was an upbringing that was sheltered, given the brothers were home-schooled by their mother, Denise (a former sign language teacher, and singer). And yet, it is this cloistered environment that seems have fostered an abundance of musicality among the Jonas clan, with their father an enthusiastic musician and songwriter who regularly performed Christian songs he had composed.
It was Nick, though, who exhibited real promise as a performer, and he landed a showbiz manager aged just six when he was scouted in a barbershop while his mother was getting her hair cut. Soon, the precocious youngster was appearing regularly on Broadway in roles such as Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol, Chip in Beauty and the Beast and Gavroche in Les Misérables. It was while starring in Beauty that Jonas penned his first song with his father, titled ‘Joy to the World (A Christmas Prayer)’. Later released to Christian radio through INO Records (a Tennessee label which specialised in Christian songs), the single caught the ears of execs at Columbia who furnished the promising youngster with his first major label record deal.
While signed with the label, Jonas decided to enlist brothers Kevin and Joe to form a band, the Jonas Brothers. Their trio of musical talent and wholesome handsomeness made them an instant hit with young fans, and garnered appearances on numerous Disney soundtracks, accompanied by a relentless touring schedule. By 2007 the band had switched to Hollywood Records where they would make their acting debut on the Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana, and so formally began a stellar rise to global acclaim.
“It’s clear it was a passion for faith and song that put us on the path and I’ll always be grateful for that,” says Jonas. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a gift from God, but he certainly had a very obvious role in pushing us in a certain direction!”
From the outside, life under Mickey Mouse’s colourful umbrella looks as delightful as any Disney fairy tale. And yet, it is not unusual for stars to burn out quickly once the reality of industry pressure begins to hit home. Miley Cyrus, Debby Ryan, Demi Lovato and Lindsay Lohan are all former Disney sweethearts who have either struggled with addictions or had brushes with the law, as they struggle to forge an identity outside of their squeaky-clean on-screen personas.
For the Jonas trio, this struggle was more of a creative one as they stared across a chasm between the very different identities of being a product of a major brand, and standing as credible artists. Following the release of their fourth studio album, Lines, Vines and Trying Times, the band decided to spend a period apart to focus on solo projects, and despite a brief reunion, eventually called it quits in 2013. For the youngest of the three, the reality of no longer having the security of his brothers and the support of a major record label was difficult to come to terms with.
“I genuinely believed, at 21 years old, I was done. I had so much anxiety and it wasn’t a great time for me,” confesses Jonas. “Thankfully it didn’t last long – I snapped myself out of the funk and pushed myself. I had to ask myself what I wanted to achieve, where I wanted to go with music, and with acting; and once I’d done that, suddenly the obstacles seemed less intimidating to overcome.”
Alongside the artistic angst, there was also the personal scrutiny relating to the performer’s decision to renounce his purity ring which had symbolised a pledge to remain a virgin until marriage. The rings had become such an enormous part of the Jonas Brothers’ identity as a brand (Kevin married in 2009, while Nick and Joe made the joint decision to ditch their chastity bands) that eyebrows were raised when these so-called pledges were abandoned, leading fans to wonder if the religious angle had been just a marketing ploy all along. Jonas insists that it wasn’t, nor was it a consequence of being unable to resist the scores of beautiful women who’d begun to knock on his dressing room door… though his relationship with fellow Disney star Selena Gomez certainly had sway over his decision.
“It was a deeply personal move and was rooted in my ability to reflect clearly on childhood beliefs, having had enough time away from it to foster my own understanding and interpretation of faith.
“A long time before it was a commitment that was asked of us by someone at the church, but we were too young then to understand what was being asked, and we hadn’t learned enough about faith or ourselves to decide if that was the way we wanted to celebrate religion.
“So I think when you make your own choices and fall in love, you are entitled, as a man, to be OK with your own choices.”
The irony of publicising chaste intentions, it seems, is that you end up drawing even more attention to your sex life, with something as sacred as one’s virginity becoming public property. Like when he appeared on The Wendy Williams Show in 2015, and the outspoken presenter asked Nick if he was still a virgin. But rather than become defensive, or speak ill of his upbringing, he simply shrugged the question off, displaying the kind of true maturity that has nothing to do with a person’s sexual activity.
“Any journey into religion should be a deeply personal experience, and I will always stand by that. God means different things to every single person on the planet, and so he should.
“I know there is a lot of public opinion out there but nothing to me matters outside of my own relationships. I’ve asked that I am not judged and, in turn, I won’t judge.”
And his stance has worked. In 2014, Jonas scored his first Billboard number one with simmering pop hit ‘Jealous’. Managing to finally relinquish his teen heart-throb persona, the shirtless, toned star rides a motorbike while singing in a Justin Timberlake-esque falsetto. Having spent the last few years dabbling in Hollywood, Jonas will almost certainly hope to emulate that previous success with his upcoming album. After all, he admits that while acting is enjoyable, it pales in comparison to performing.
“Honesty, if I had to choose between the two I will say performing on stage – there’s nothing like it. You get an immediate response, it’s instant satisfaction, and that energy feels very gratifying. That’s really special to me.”
He also insists that a jetsetting career can’t get in the way of the thing he values most, his family. And though “there’s a crazy amount of travelling right now”, Jonas always cherishes coming home. “It’s nice to come back to the family fold and recharge your batteries with the ones who know you best,” he says, warmly.
“Home will always be where I’m loved and accepted for who I am, no matter what I do, and that for me will always be my family. My family is my home.”
So, it seems that despite his daring new persona, Jonas hasn’t really strayed too far from his roots.
“I go to the gym, not every day, but most days. It’s not about how often you go to the gym, for me anyway, it’s about the food you eat and the amount of good sleep you get.
“Getting to bed at a reasonable hour before midnight is so important; I would always substitute an hour of sleep over an hour in the gym, given the choice.”
The true mark of adulthood, however, is being able to revel in your own achievements without comparing yourself to others. So, considering the fact he and brother Joe both have have rocking bodies, as well as successful singing careers, surely a little sibling rivalry must flare up occasionally?
“We are definitely competitive but not in music or the entertainment industry stuff. It’s more like games and sports – we’ve always been that way,” he says with a laugh. “I used to be intensely competitive, a really sore loser, but now it doesn’t matter so much to me.
“I’m learning to chill. It’s just a game, get over it.”
Not On Our Watch - by Krish Kandiah
They gather in a dimly lit basement. Some of the men are in suits, others in overalls, young men and old, black, white, Asian and Hispanic. They stand in a circle as a clean-shaven, blond-haired man welcomes them and explains why they have assembled.
It is nearly 20 years old now and Brad Pitt has a few more wrinkles on his face but Fight Club is still one of the most challenging films I have ever seen. It wrestles with male identity in a way that few other films have managed. It depicts the internal fight that many 21st-century men feel as they work out what it means to live in a culture dominated mainly by conscription to consumerism, careerism and competitive sport.
I share the dissatisfaction Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler, has with shallow, empty ideas of manhood. But I cannot share his longing for war. I have seen first-hand the terrible impact of war on the streets of Kosovo and the refugee camps of Lebanon. I still feel my mother’s pain of growing up with a Military Cross medal where she should have had a dad. We certainly don’t need another war, but I have discovered a fight worth having. Right on our doorsteps there is injustice taking place, a crime against humanity that needs someone to stand against it. We don’t have to travel to the Middle East to find a conflict worth getting stuck into. We do not require automatic rifles or camouflage gear. We just need men who will step up to the fight.
On the news recently I watched men – emergency services and ordinary townsfolk – pulling a dusty, crying child from the rubble of a building that had collapsed in Syria. It struck me that we need recruits right here in the UK to pull children out of the rubble of collapsed families. Every town and city needs help, as a child needs rescuing roughly every 20 minutes. It might be a young boy whose home has finally imploded under the barrage of domestic violence. It may be a toddler whose family has collapsed because of the influence of drugs. It may be a teenager fleeing terror in Syria discovered months later on the back of a lorry at the M40 services. Whatever the tragedy that has brought these children to the attention of the care services, they desperately need the safety and security of a home – for a while or even for good. More than that they need people to fight for them – for their voice to be heard, and their lives to be rebuilt.
My parents taught me to fight back. I was growing up the only brown boy amid an ocean of white children as far as the eye could see. When I was backed into a corner, provoked day after day with racist language, discriminated against and bullied, my parents encouraged me to fight back. Not with my fists. That would have been too easy. But with words, and with tenacity, and with fierce love, intellect and a sense of humour.
Perhaps this was why I enjoyed Fight Club so much. The film tapped into the collective angst of many men bored with their lives and looking for something more. The film is right – there is a need for a revolution, but this revolution of advocacy and hospitality is far more demanding and challenging than a bare-knuckle fight or a rocket-propelled grenade. It takes little effort, training or bravery to pull a trigger, and the anger, chaos and disaster unleashed in a second can take a lifetime to repair. To fight for peace, for justice and for healing takes a great deal more effort. Perhaps this is the war for our times.
I have been told that most men don’t care about fostering and adoption. I’ve met scores of women who tell me that they would love to foster or adopt but that their husbands aren’t interested. Speaking in churches around the country, in seminars about fostering and adoption, men are usually outnumbered by the women several times over. The vestiges of the last few centuries have left the skewed impression that childcare is women’s business. But fostering and adoption is far more than just childcare. It is about fighting for the rights of victims. Often it is about fighting for children who have been damaged by indifferent men, by angry men. I will never forget one child who came to our home because his mum had arrived in a women’s refuge needing urgent facial reconstructive surgery. While the medics fought to save her outward appearance, we fought to heal the boy’s invisible wounds.
What I do know from my visits to churches around the country is that most Christian men I know have a desire to be godly. They are striving, albeit often with frustration, to emulate God’s character. One way that God describes himself is as a Father to the fatherless and a protector of widows and orphans (see Psalm 68:5). God, the creator of the universe, ties his very identity with nurturing and protecting the vulnerable. God defines his fatherhood not in terms of biological function but in terms of caring for someone else’s children. God steps up and takes responsibility for missing fathers in order to fight for the protection and well-being of children in need. What if the machismo rubbish that says fostering and adoption is just for women may actually be undermining our manhood? To be a godly man must surely mean aligning ourselves with the Fatherhood of our God – protector of widows and orphans.
There are days I get down that most men don’t care about the needs of looked-after children. But perhaps we don’t need most men for this fight. I believe what we need is a few good men. Men who will not settle for being the middle children of history, men who recognise that we are not little boys content to play with toys and obsess about getting our needs met. Men who are willing to be the grown-ups and look out for children who can’t look after themselves. Men who can pull themselves away from the sport on TV, the repetitive video games or their attachment to their careers and be willing to take a risk in the lives of others. Men who want to be like Jesus, suffering the little children to come to them. Men who recognise that whatever they do for the least, the last and the lost, they do for Jesus and for his cause.
I already know a few good men like this. Like the Fight Club we too come from all sorts of backgrounds, although we don’t usually meet in darkened basements. I know a foster dad who is an airline pilot, another who is a world expert in nuclear fusion, another who teaches German in a local school, another who was captain of Liverpool Football Club, another who left his career so his family could care for more children, another who is a bishop in the Church of England, another who designs and builds tug boats, another who is a member of The Magic Circle. There is always plenty to talk about and often there are new war wounds to show off. Some are battling sleep deprivation, others a system starved of resources. Some are navigating the minefield of special educational needs. Others are building peace with birth families on the verge of self-destruction. One is beaming with news that his foster child has graduated from university, another that his adopted son has recently learned how to ride a bike. This is our fight club, we will fight for the rights of these children, fiercely protecting them from further harm, giving unrelentingly of our best to ensure that these children plucked from the rubble will have a much better future. New recruits are always welcome – why not consider joining our fight club?
Not On My Watch - by Nathan Blackaby
Let me start this by taking you back in time, it’s 1999, almost 2000, and I am in a blue Ford Escort 1.2L with four of my mates. We are on a mission, the summer night air is feeding into an electric atmosphere in the car as we motor towards our promised land. The designated driver is doing his job, looking cool and cruising us to our venue for an amazing night out.
The soundman in front is keeping a heady mix of pumping tunes going from the tape player and occasionally dropping the volume so one of us can share our unrealistic expectations for the night; oh, it was so good.
We cruised into Chelmsford in Essex, and boy, did we look the business, like five absolute bosses. The smell of Cool Water mixed with Joop must have been noxious to anyone who walked past us, but we didn’t care, this night was made for us. I had gone for my usually combination, smart jeans, Ellesse Boots (with the tag) and a check Ben Sherman shirt (tea towel design.) A few guys were sporting the Timberland®s and others went with slip-on shoes; either way, we were dressed to impress.
The walk from the car was still supercharged with expectations, with a few of us finishing off our pre-club drinks. As we turned the corner to take our final approach to the front doors of Dukes, the club where our dreams would be realised, we saw him.
This wasn’t a man like any you have seen; this was a man mountain and this brute, hewn from granite had, over a few occasions, proved to be our group’s single, impassable nemesis.
The nightclub had a mixture of doormen, but this guy was huge. He refused to look away; once his locked his eyes onto yours there was just one thing you could do, glance away and quickly, normally to the ground.
Some nights he would step aside, having done the stare down of course, and the warm lights, the pumping tunes welcomed us in. But that wasn’t the case tonight.
“Evening, lads,” he bellowed with an almost sinister pause for effect. “Got any ID?”
Now, I need to be honest here. We looked it, dressed like it and acted like it, but the truth was, we were not all 18. ID therefore was a major issue, and one we were willing to gamble on; remember, this evening was planned and talked about for weeks, and each moment was imagined to the minutest of details.
“No ID, lads, you’re not coming in, not on my watch.”
We had nothing. This colossus, this beast of a man had in a heartbeat blocked our plans. His words clung to us as we turned on our heels and retreated into the shadows with all the other wanderers with no ID – “not on my watch”.
Now, having indulged myself with one of the memories that even now, as a group of mates who have been together for more than 30 years, we still remember – what’s the point? What has “not on my watch” got to do with anything? And what has this got to do with Christian Vision for Men and Father’s Day?
Well, in 2017 we sat at a table with Home for Good, a charity that we admire immensely and cheer on whenever we can, and we started to dream about a message in 2018 for Father’s Day. That message was born from a desire to see children and young people in the UK have the opportunity to know good and decent father role models, both biological and non-biological ones.
I remember reading a statistic a few years ago that talked about the loss of fathers in society in the UK, with 2,000,000 fatherless homes and whole communities where fatherhood has been silently eroded. Children who have never known their dad and a good and caring father figure. As I write this I am choked to think it; this stuff really matters.
This stuff matters and calls to our morality, and for me, it calls at a spiritual level too.
As biological fathers, we can have and be an incredible force for good in the lives of our children. This is certainly not an easy thing to do, however. As a father to three children I am continually feeling exhausted, frustrated or wondering if I am even doing this whole parenting bit right. Will my children one day look back at dear old dad and think, “Let’s not do it the way he did it?” I don’t think it will be that bad, to be honest, but that doesn’t stop that fear from running around in my head.
What is interesting here is when we scale this up even more and suggest that as men we can be father figures to any and all children in life. They don’t need to be your children for you to find yourself in a father figure role.
I spent a year working in an orphanage in Brazil and the experience was one of the most humbling times in my life. Three, four and five children sometimes, all from the same family, permanently living in the orphanage. Children aged from one day to 18 years looking for a father figure to shape them, explain things and model stuff.
On one occasion, my wife and I took a load of the 16-year-old kids to a competition; they won everything because they had been fighting their whole lives, unlike the other kids who lived in the gloss and veneer of a polished world. What stood out for me was that as these young boys and girls got up to get their trophy, their eyes buzzed the room for my wife and me. That moment of: “How did I do?” “Did I do good?”
I said that this impacts not just my morality but spirituality too. As a Christian man I follow Jesus, and I believe that part of that journey to follow Him means I look to act and be more like him. That doesn’t mean I am now the male version of Mother Teresa, but I do want to take seriously the idea that while it is my watch, I can’t eradicate world hunger, but I can be a father.
If that’s to my biological children, then on my watch I will do everything I can. If that’s to the fatherless around me, I will do all I can. I am willing to count the cost, in time, in money and in energy and even pain. We can make a choice, like that beast of a man at the nightclub; we can choose to say “not on my watch”.
We can make the choice to see where father figures are needed, and get involved. We can be advocates of charities like Home for Good and all that they believe in. We can support this stuff by showing up, by choosing to foster, by choosing to adopt, by supporting families who foster/adopt, by getting involved in youth church/Sunday school etc. Maybe even by giving our dosh. We can support this stuff by being part of a culture change on our own doorsteps.
Is it time you said “not on my watch”?
Geoff Hurst - by Stuart Weir
One Saturday in July 1966, Geoff Hurst put the ball in the net three times and people still ask him about it. OK, it was the World Cup Final and Hurst’s three goals helped England win the World Cup for the one and only time. The moment has been immortalised in Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary as Hurst scored for the third time, “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over [Hurst scores]. It is now.” Fifty-two years on, I wondered if Hurst found it strange that he was still remembered for that one game of football: “The short answer is yes,” he replied. “As I said to someone the other day, ‘It’s a weird kind of fame that you’re known for something that happened 50 years ago.’ I am still pleasantly surprised that from time to time people stop me in the street, want to talk to me or shake [my] hand. Or have a selfie with [me] – the modern way, not autographs anymore. I find it amusing and entertaining that people still want to talk to me.” While winning the World Cup was a team effort built on the brilliant goalkeeping of Gordon Banks, the leadership of Bobby Moore and the different skills of the Charlton brothers, the fact remains that Hurst’s three goals made him the match winner, and he is remembered as such. “It is, as you say, remarkable looking back 50 years. But it was a fairly big thing and a fairly special thing and that we haven’t done it since makes it more special. And of course, the hat-trick on top of everything else, which hasn’t been achieved since and is unlikely to be.
“I think the England team scored 11 goals,” he continues, “in all the matches to win it. Spain won it in 2010 scoring just eight goals. We’re not seeing a 4-2 anymore. It’s more the 1-1s, the penalties, 2-1. So it’s becoming more difficult for anyone to consider scoring three. Of course if you go back to 1958, the Frenchman, Just Fontaine – he scored 13 goals alone. That is more on his own than we scored to win it in ’66.”
He added that his father once told him that the time to worry would be when no one recognised him or wanted to speak to him. What he particularly enjoys is when people share their memories with him of how his big day impacted them. “Most times when I do a function, there will be someone in the group with a story to tell. Last week it was a guy whose 14th birthday was on the day [of the 1966 World Cup final] and his father took him to see the World Cup final. And I said, what an amazing birthday present that was.”
Then there was a woman to whose wedding Hurst was an (unwelcome?) guest: “I met a woman who got married on the day. As the vicar was trying to wed this woman to her new husband, the service was continually interrupted with interjections of scores from the game at Wembley. ‘Do you take this man to be…’ the vicar was asking. ‘Hang on a minute, Germany have equalised.’ That was highly amusing. It shows just how significant the day was, which you are not aware of at the time.”
There are stories of the England squad going out shopping or for a walk on the morning of the final – a far cry from the fortresses in which the 2018 England team will live during this year’s World Cup. Hurst enjoys explaining how ‘normal’ his life was: “People are amazed when I say that after the World Cup final I went home and cut the grass and cleaned my car. People probably thought we were on a month’s celebrations enjoying ourselves. It was 30th July and I think clubs started training a week later and we were playing Chelsea in two weeks. So there was no time to sit back, enjoy it and relax.”
Why, I wondered, had England never managed to repeat the success? He warmed to the question: “I think we were close. In 1996, in the Euros, I think we had a very good team and were close. Had we won that then we wouldn’t be talking in these terms. But that said we didn’t win it. It’s very difficult to say why and I can only make a number of assumptions. You could talk about the players today having closer relationships with the clubs and clubs not wanting to release the players. The players with the top clubs might feel now that the Champions’ League is bigger than playing for their country, which I totally disagree with. I think sometimes we’ve had a poor selection of managers, and how they’ve gone about things.”
From questioning the choice of manager, and the approach of some managers, he used Steven Gerrard as an example: “Take the selection of Steven Gerrard, one of the best players we have had in the country for 10 or 15 years and an outstanding player for club and country. But when he played for England on many occasions – and he said this himself – he did not play in his best position, which is fundamentally flawed. You must play your best players for England in their best position.”He also referred to a TV programme in which Rio Ferdinand, and Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, spoke about their experience of playing for England and being careful where they sat at meal times when they were with England, not wanting to give away any club secrets to teammates who would soon become rivals in club football. Hurst clearly found that attitude hard to understand: “No question, one [of] the key things for any World Cup team being successful is the teamwork and camaraderie in the camp. I still think that a strong part of being successful for that month [is] that the team is together. It’s boring. You are away from your wives and you need to get on with each other.”
Geoff Hurst has been there and done it and 50 years on he still talks a lot of sense.
Next issue – which modern players impress Geoff Hurst.
Car S.O.S - by Martin Leggatt
Premiering on National Geographic with a special guest appearance in the opening episode from actor James Nesbitt (Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, Cold Feet), this new season of Car S.O.S is not to be missed.
Featuring some of the most difficult car makeovers Fuzz and Tim have ever encountered and heartbreaking real-life stories that devastate the entire crew, including the sad death of a contributor at the time of filming their episode, the sixth instalment of this much-loved series is a heart-warming, inspirational roller coaster ride of emotions.
Presenters Tim and Fuzz travel to Ballygowan in Northern Ireland to take on what turns out to be the worst car they have ever encountered. The 1959 MGA Roadster, left rusting for more than 40 years, belongs to former engineer Billy. His family life was turned upside down when his son John and daughter-in-law Lynette were tragically killed in South Africa on their honeymoon in 2014. The story made headline news around the world and it was Billy who had to hold the family together. Tim and Fuzz enlist the help of family friend James Nesbitt to return the MGA to this most deserving of owners. James took some time out to answer some questions about how he came to be involved in the project.
How did you come on board for this episode of Car S.O.S?
Billy’s brother, Ian, works in my facilities company in Northern Ireland. He contacted me and asked if I would get involved. I wasn’t initially sure what the format would be, but the moment I arrived on Saturday, I could sense this was something special. The car has undergone an extraordinary transformation from scrap to this absolutely stunning MGA.
It’s an amazing story, isn’t it?
Absolutely. This is the anniversary of the darkest time in Billy’s life. So, there is an enormous amount of sensitivity today. As much as this is something that will give him a great lift, it’s also very poignant that he was going to restore this car with his son John. It’s a very, very human story.
How did Billy’s family set up this restoration?
Billy’s daughter Kathryn started the ball rolling on this project because she saw that the family could have fallen apart after John’s death. She knew that Billy has been the glue that has held his family together and that he truly deserves this moment.
The commitment of the S.O.S team is something to behold, isn’t it?
Definitely. This is the first properly new built MGA in 60 years. Last night it wouldn’t start, so they kept working on it into the wee small hours. The team are utterly committed and moved by this story. This is a very inclusive and accessible and human story about real people. I think audiences will be very affected by it.
Was the MGA difficult to drive?
Yes. I was nervous. But I thought, “If I’m going to crash a car, this is the time to do it. There are plenty of people from Car S.O.S here who could fix it!” Also, I passed my test in a Lada, and if you can drive a Lada, you can drive anything!
Presumably you have driven a great variety of cars in your job?
Yes. I’ve driven a huge number of cars in my acting career. I’ve raced round any number of corners. I’ve even driven a speedboat. On Lucky Man, I had to drive a speedboat at 4 a.m. towards the Thames Barrier. I was completely out of control. If you look at my face in those scenes, you can see I look utterly terrified. That was genuine!
You have donated your fee for Car S.O.S to charity, haven’t you?
Yes. When they told me that would be a fee, it made perfect sense to donate it to WAVE Trauma Centre [the grass-roots, cross-community, voluntary organisation which supports people bereaved, injured or traumatised as a result of violence in Northern Ireland, of which James is Patron]. I’m privileged to be involved with WAVE. Its work is ongoing. In the same way that the healing in Billy’s family is ongoing, so the healing in Northern Ireland is ongoing. New cases keep coming up, and WAVE are constantly counselling new people. Every year more and more people feel able to talk about the trauma.
Finally, how do you think viewers will respond to the reveal at the end of this episode Car S.O.S?
Seeing Billy’s reaction today when the restored car was revealed, you couldn’t help but be moved – and I’m sure audiences will feel the same. We live in cynical times, but that felt like a very pure and true moment. There are so many TV programmes these days where the reality feels forced. But just occasionally, we see moments like this where we sense the impact it has on someone and feel that out of darkness rays of hope can come.
MG MGA 1955–62
A stylish, fast, fifties Roadster
About the car…
The MGA’s styling was both aerodynamic and beautiful. For many, it’s the prettiest MG ever made and technically, it had also moved on considerably from the T-type Midgets. Power was by the twin-carburettor B-series engine; it had independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering; and even the first 1.5-litre ‘A’ could top 100mph. It was initially offered with the 1489cc four-cylinder B-Series OHV engine in 68bhp form, but this was uprated to 1.6-litres in May 1959 for the Mk2 facelift. Harry Weslake designed the new twin cam cylinder head for the B-series engine – and the net gain was improved breathing and more top-end power. With a maximum speed of more than 110mph, they were a great deal of fun – and because they looked almost the same as the standard car, the twin cams had a certain Q-car appeal. Nowadays a good MGA will fetch £40,000 plus and it’s a definite investment as the car’s value is going up and up.
MG MGA 1959 Belfast, NI
This once-stylish roadster car has been sitting in a barn for almost 40 years. It is now one of the worst cars that Car SOS has ever seen. However, it’s probably going to make one of the best transformations and definitely best storylines. Owner Billy has had a dream of driving his beloved MGA since he was in his 20s. He’s had many attempts at starting the restoration, but each time the car has beaten him. It’s been one step forward and two steps back, leaving the MGA in a terrible mess. Then when a family tragedy struck, the car was abandoned for good, a reminder of what could have been.
There is not a surface or panel on this car that is not in need of replacing, the bodywork is in a shocking state, there is no interior, the engine hasn’t been turned over for almost half a century. In short, this car is a bag of nails. Were the story not so strong and the family not so likeable, this car would normally be a no as it’s well beyond economic repair. It’ll need to be a complete re-shell and reconditioned engine
Life always got in the way of ex-soldier, ex-engineer and car fanatic Billy Rodgers’s dream of driving his MGA. Father of three and part of a large and very close family, his own life went on hold when he had to take over his father’s failing business after an accident. He then joined the army to help make ends meet, but finally as his eldest son, John came of age the two of them decided to make the MGA a joint project, although that plan was postponed as John needed to restore his Land Rover first… and then got engaged. At the wedding, John promised his dad in his speech that when he got back from his honeymoon in South Africa the MGA would at last take priority. Tragically, John never returned from his honeymoon as both he and his wife drowned under mysterious circumstances. It was a story the hit the news headlines in 2014. In the words of Billy’s daughter, Kathryn: “Billy took the brunt of the news and had to inform the family, liaise with the police, the foreign office and funeral directors. He was calm, collected and strong while everyone broke down around him. No father should ever have to bury his son, or his daughter-in-law. It is a burden we all carry with us every day. Sadly we don’t have the ability to make his dream come true, but you do. You aren’t our last hope, you are our only hope, so please help us make this happen. From the Rodgers family.”
Sorted Issue 63
A fantastic edition featuring an interview with Russell Brand, Kelsey Grammer , Jon Burton and many more. Plus 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.
From Bricks to Screen - by Jim Lockey
Jon Burton and his team at TT games have worked on video games from licensed franchises for many years. They have worked with film properties, and mascot video game characters like Sonic the Hedgehog and Crash Bandicoot. It would be fair to say that TT was another run of the mill middle tier developer, that was until 2005 when they released Lego® Star Wars: The Video Game.
This title was another licensed game, only this one had two parents to please – both LEGO® and the Star Wars people. Despite the restrictions, TT games managed to infuse the game with original ideas; unique, lovable humour; and fresh gameplay mechanics that more-or-less singlehandedly revitalised couch co-op. Lego® Star Wars was a fan favourite and critical darling that has spawned sequels and what feels like a genre unto itself, as each year another intellectual property gets the Lego® video game treatment.
Jon Burton was the creative director on that first Lego® Star Wars game, has since gone on to direct many other games in the series, and act as executive producer on The Lego® Movie - perhaps one of the best family films of recent times.
We sat down with Jon to talk about his success, his passions and his vision for making experiences people of any age can fall in love with.
Did you play with LEGO® as a child and do you like LEGO®?
Yes, and yes. Our family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up so we didn’t have many toys, but we did have a big box of random LEGO® and that’s what I played with the most. I vividly remember trying to make an X-wing fighter, and a car that had windscreen wipers that moved when you pushed it along.
Many of the LEGO® games encourage playing collaboratively with friends or family. Did you envision that they would have such generational appeal or was it a surprise?
The plan from the start was to have ‘drop-in, drop-out’ gameplay so people could join in with your game or leave at any time. The idea was that parents could help kids get past sections they were struggling with without having to wrestle the joypad from them. That meant the kids still felt in control in the game while the parent helped with a section. The parent could then drop out and go and get on with chores or whatever else, if needed. Of course, in reality what ended up happening was the kids joining in to help their parents!
How does the huge success of the LEGO® games affect you when taking on the next project?
Well, each game is a hard act to follow for sure, but for me I’m always interested in creating new and interesting things, whether that’s movies, games, tech or whatever. So, the success of LEGO® is only a positive thing to me.
Is there a message or principle that guides the style of the games and films that you make?
I certainly never wanted to tackle games for adults. I hated the thought that a game I had made might influence someone to do something illegal or violent etc. So, I stuck to games for kids. With the films, I have two aims; for you to either leave the theatre having seen something you’d never seen before (awe/amazement) or to leave thinking about something you hadn’t thought of before. And a redemptive story where possible.
How do you know when an idea doesn’t fit the vision, and does your Christian faith play a part in the process?
My Christian faith absolutely plays a part. There have been many projects I’ve turned down because they didn’t ‘feel’ right. I believe you know what’s right in your gut – that God can speak to us that way – so I always trust my gut. If I can’t get comfortable with something it’s usually because it’s the wrong thing to do.
Despite being licensed games, the LEGO® series feels distinct; it has a clear identity through its humour and animation style that is unique to itself. How much does the team bring of themselves to a project like Lego Star Wars, or Lego Marvel’s Avengers?
I think the licence and the LEGO® minifigures give a nice structure to each game. They are immovable objects, if you like. Which means that everything else can be played with within those constraints, and indeed needs to be, to express what’s different about our games. So, we pretty much let the team run with everything and nothing is off the table. When I design a game I have the broad strokes of what the mechanics and layout of the levels should be, and I fill in a few areas where I think a certain thing might be cool, but beyond that the team is free to express whatever they feel is the right direction for the humour and animation and so on.
Star Wars, Batman, Marvel, Lord of the Rings – your work on the Lego games has allowed you to work with some of popular culture’s best known franchises. What was your favourite IP to work on?
I really enjoyed the Portal and Dr Who sections of LEGO® Dimensions. Peter Capaldi gave me and my kids a tour of the Tardis when we visited the Dr Who set – I love my job!
Is there a story or franchise out there that you’d like to make into a LEGO® game?
Star Trek would be cool.
When working with a well-known and loved franchise, how do you balance the trademark LEGO® humour and references with authenticity to the source material?
All our teams fall in love with the franchises we work on. It’s so important they live and breathe them. And then the humour just flows. When you love something, you know how to respect it, so the humour is always additive not destructive to the franchise. And because we need to have so many secrets hidden in our games, we dig deep into the franchises to find all the little touches that only true fans would ever notice – because we become true fans (if we’re not already!)
The Lego Movie, wow! As an executive producer, how much did the LEGO® video games inform the film?
I spent quite a bit of time with the directors, explaining how we’d tackled the humour and animation in LEGO® games, because that was really the starting point for the movie. I think they went too far with the humour at first and had to pull back when LEGO® didn’t like it, so a lot of time was me giving notes on the script to try and keep them within the bounds of what I’d learned LEGO® would accept. But they certainly managed to make the humour a lot more edgy than in the games, which I think was fantastic. The directors are extremely funny and talented guys.
Making video games and Hollywood movies is a huge undertaking. What advice would you have for readers who themselves have a project ahead of them, or a big life event?
I think to stick to your vision of what you are trying to achieve. One of two things can happen if you do – you either achieve your vision, which means you will likely have a successful future, confident in your ability to execute on your vision, or you won’t, which means you probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you compromise your vision, or try to execute someone else’s idea of what it should be, you will always be second guessing what the right decisions should be, which will probably lead to stress and failure. So, don’t compromise your vision, and surround yourself with people who believe in you and will help you achieve it.
Do you feel pressure to make the LEGO® games more combat-orientated, or make the humour more adult to conform with other popular titles?
Finally, it takes loads of people to build a game – it’s like making a blockbuster film. Does your faith influence how you lead a team?
I like to lead by example, doing every hour I can to make the best possible experience. But I often lose sight of the fact that people have lives and family. I find it very hard to compromise or understand that other people value other things differently to me. It’s a lifelong lesson. I’ve recently discovered that I have high functioning autism, ADHD and dyslexia, which goes some way to explaining why I’ve struggled in this area, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. I believe that there are always things God wants us to change and work on, and my goal is to listen and try to change, even if humanly I fail most of the time.
A Test of Grammer - by Ian Faulconbridge
He may be able to recognise some of his own neuroses in his most famous character’s fusty mannerisms, but off-screen Kelsey Grammer’s life has been one of near-constant turmoil, heartache and rebellion. And yet, in accepting his faults, opening himself up to faith and looking beyond the next work project, you sense the 62-year-old is emerging out the other side a better man, as Sorted discovers.
When Kelsey Grammer’s uptight psychiatrist character from hit bar-based sitcom Cheers was chosen as the star of a spin-off from the successful original series, even he was a little surprised. But the runaway ratings of the subsequent Frasier – in which Grammer played the eponymous former bit-part now made front and centre – vindicated the choice to give the egotistical intellectual his own show.
And with several Emmy Awards safely stowed away in the bedside table as a result of his portrayal of Dr Frasier Crane, Grammer’s career post-Frasier has definitively been built off the back of this overeducated and meticulous character.
“I like to think that I am so gifted an actor than I can say Frasier is nothing like me at all, but alas, that is not entirely true,” he begins, with typical, semi-sarcasm\. “We do share a love for opera and fine food, although there are very few operas that I outright love. But our essences are the same because both personalities spring from like desires. My desire to do the world some good is shared by Frasier.
“We also share my insecurities,” he adds, “although Frasier is much more open about showing his. I suffer silently alone. We laugh at ourselves with equal jollity and I think we are equally fond of ourselves.”
In spite of Grammer having made his name in two of America’s most cherished situational comedies, off-screen the star’s life has incorporated little of the jovial nature of his famous television creation. In fact, Grammer’s personal life has been blighted by family tragedies. In 1968, his father, Frank was shot and killed outside his own home; then seven years later, younger sister, Karen was abducted from her work before being also being murdered. It was the elder Grammer brother who was required to confirm the identity of her body.
Not only that, but the actor’s two half-brothers also died in tragic circumstances. Stephen and Billy Grammer were scuba diving in 1980, and when Stephen surfaced he found that Billy was nowhere to be seen. Going back underwater to see if he could find his missing brother, Stephen died during an improper ascent, without ever finding out what happened to his brother.
“I don’t know if I ever thought the family was cursed, but I cursed God for a while,” Grammer admits. “I had a great sense of faith, and I did feel betrayed. After my sister died, I felt totally abandoned. I hated being alive, indulged in a great depression and a kind of aggressive approach to the streets at night. I was sort of looking for trouble.”
Grammer’s off-screen problems continued. After descending into alcohol addiction which, somewhat fittingly given the show’s title and setting, continued throughout his appearances on both Cheers and his eponymous sequel, things came to a head when the star drunkenly crashed his car near his California home. It was an event which the philosophical star says “had to happen”. But, as with so many of the more hopeful stories of ended addiction that emanate from the world of entertainment, this near-death experience proved a welcome turning point in Grammer’s fortunes, even if the decision to seek help wasn’t an easy one to make.
“I got to a place where I was out of control,” he nods. “Every day I was asking God to help me stop drinking, and well, he did. In a very rough way. I was driven to alcohol by feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness. When I was going through a bottle of vodka a day, it became too much, and I finally checked in to the Betty Ford clinic in 1996. I was drinking in the morning and praying to God that somehow I’d stop. I wasn’t drinking on the set, but I would certainly show up loose. I poured myself into work a few times, but I just couldn’t cut it.
“I have always loved chaos, but now I look for it in less self-destructing forms. I’ve kicked the habit of looking for drama in my personal life. Being able to accept the remarkable nature of my life is new to me.”
Though Grammer’s relationship with his beliefs has, at times, been pushed to breaking point, there is a sense that in reality his faith was never as close to truly faltering as it may have appeared. Having credited his relationship with God as an anchor throughout the many calamities to have befallen him during his life and career, the actor is sceptical that there are any out there who have not at one time or another turned to a higher power in similar moments of crisis.
“I don’t actually think there’s anyone out there who doesn’t believe in something,” he explains. “I mean, it’s surely not possible to be a full-on atheist, or whatever the term is. And by that, I mean, as humans who have intelligence, and a consciousness, we all know we came from somewhere... and one day, we’ll depart, possibly for the same place, and then who knows?”
Grammer’s staunch espousal of Christian beliefs and the positive effect of religion may seem surprising given the hardships that have unfairly affected his family in particular. But his status as an outspoken champion of Christian Conservatives also marks him out among the majority of his colleagues and contemporaries. A long-time Republican member – who has in the past equivocated traditionally right-wing views on taxes and local government with a softer stance on social issues – Grammer has consistently shunned the expected Hollywood opinion. In 2016, he endorsed former Presidential candidate Ben Carson and, later, if some reports are to be believed, eventual winner, Donald Trump.
“I don’t know if I endorsed him, but I think Conservative views can be rather taboo in this industry,” says Grammer of his political persuasions. “An industry of tolerance, no less. These are my views, and I’ve always been a rebel. It’s been in my nature to rebel and I’ve never been able to share anyone else’s view because they told me to. It’s a tricky stand to take and I’m more than aware of the conceptions that come with it.”
There’s even been talk that Grammer may one day look to a position in the White House himself. But for now, the star is content with sobriety, and the challenges of being a seven-time father… some of which are, he admits, new to him despite his eldest child, Spencer, being born in 1983. His youngest, meanwhile, arrived in 2016, by virtue of his fourth marriage, to former flight attendant Kayte Walsh.
“It’s like night and day,” says Grammer of caring for his multi-aged brood. “The big difference is I’m far more available now as a parent then I was to the older ones. Do I regret that? At the time, I didn’t have a choice, I had to devote most of my time to my career which was starting out in the initial stages.
“Now, it’s entirely different … my work isn’t my main focus anymore, I’ve carved that out and can now enjoy the liberty to pick and choose where and when I work.”
And for the fourth time in his life, Grammer is not alone in facing the various trials that befall all of us, famous or otherwise. Though his current spouse may not have the showbiz heritage that former flames possessed there’s much to suggest that the star is head over heels for the latest Mrs Grammer. And like many, he credits a solid relationship with helping him turn his attentions to the future, rather than his particularly difficult past.
“I don’t think we’re such a courageous couple. I just think that when you fall in love with someone, you take care of them. That’s what you swear to do. She is a constant source of help. For the first time in my life, I really have a partner able to care for me and about me at the same time. My wife is not only beautiful, but she is the most wonderful, delightful, caring creature I have ever met in my life. All the other women I’ve known are nothing in comparison.”
There’s surely no need for Grammer to prove himself in front of the camera, either. The star has amassed Emmys and Golden Globes for his work on Frasier and, later, as the voice of the villainous Sideshow Bob in The Simpsons. He’s even dipped his toe into the world of blockbuster franchise, starring as Hank McCoy, aka Beast, in Bryan Singer’s big budget X-Men series. In more recent years, he has lent his Juilliard-trained baritone to animations and live-actions alike.
This journey from personal grief to worldwide success – by way of an effete psychiatrist – must be regarded as one of the industry’s most bizarre, tragic and at times uplifting, stories. Indeed, Grammer himself seems to credit the turmoil and tribulations of his life off-screen, and the varied achievements that ran parallel on it, with a stronger need for understanding the complexities of life as discussed in religion.
“I just think it’s really naïve and, actually, impossible, to comprehend this life as just a fluke,” he concludes. “That’s disingenuous. It’s impossible. I get completely that people don’t want to subscribe to a certain way of thinking or certain theory, but not believing in God is very different to not believing, full-stop. And I don’t think there are people who just switch off and refuse to contemplate, because that’s what we’re talking about here, contemplation.
“We got here through reproduction, but we weren’t put on this earth at that point – it’s all very deep, but religion in the truest sense of love and security is a wonderful, wonderful thing.”
As for what the future holds, Grammer is sure to be no less of the rebel when it comes to much of what is expected from a member of the entertainment establishment. But the star hopes that his acceptance of things, and the manner in which he has overcome his struggles in order to grow in both self-contentedness and personal faith, will help others who may be experiencing the same kinds of issues. There’s even been a spot of soul-searching on the therapist’s couch for the man best known for playing TV’s most famously bombastic shrink.
“I hope my example has given people courage to live through the lives that they’ve chosen, because at least they’re not as messed up as I am,” he chuckles. “I’m exploring new territory from day to day now, therapy and all that. I’m standing up for myself, which I didn’t know how to do before.
“If you don’t reach beyond where you’re comfortable, you will not grow. So that’s my mission. To grow, to change, to become the best human I’ve been given the equipment to become.”
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