I will be the first to admit that both my knowledge and interest in golf is limited at best but last weekend I was captured by the story of Yorkshireman Danny Willett’s success in one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world. In the same week Tom Jones’ wife sadly died of cancer, she passed in her LA home with millionaire husband and music legend Tom Jones at her side. Both Sir Tom and Lady Linda were raised by welsh miners and these two stories although clearly unrelated got me thinking of how success can spurn from humble beginnings.
After intensive research into the life of Lord Alan Sugar (listening to a 5 second snippet of any interview he’s ever done ever!) I discovered that he too was a self-made man from a working class background. He would sell electrical goods from the back of a van, chip Sky boxes and even do that trick where you put half a house brick into the u-bend of the toilet to reduce water bills. He was often found on Tottenham Court Road selling fags he’d bought back from holiday and home brewed beer he’d bathed in himself. But Lord Sugar, Sir Tom Jones, Danny Willett, what do they all have in common? Talent. Undeniable, un-coachable natural ability. Practice and dedication are vital to success in any field, the 10,000 hours of practice theory is often banded around as a formula to skill mastery but I also think there is value in harnessing special individuals.
At my school there was a boy called Sean Glover but I have changed his name for confidentiality reasons to Michael Wileman who had an unbelievable ability to throw objects long distances. Cricket balls, tennis balls, oranges, rubbers, my school bag, anything, he was a natural. I would often spend the long walk to retrieve my belongings dreaming that one day I could claim to have been bullied by an Olympian, I also vowed that if he made it only as far as the Commonwealth Games I wouldn’t mention it. My great uncle competed in the Commonwealth Games as the sole representative for the Isle of Man by virtue of living on the Isle of Man and having a passport. He competed in every single event in the 1954 games and returned home a hero but also exhausted having been decimated in the team events.
But Michael was a troubled soul, I got the impression that his home life wasn’t a happy one, I would often see him in the evening staring into the canal, skimming stones and reflecting on life. Unfortunately his throwing arm was so strong the stones were reaching beyond the canal and hitting the greenhouses behind it, he would laugh and run off but in a way that said “I just want to be loved.”
Michael had a gift, right from infant school, but his talent was never harnessed properly, he could have achieved great things, he could have moved into the sporting arena, or the military. With his strength he could easily launch a grenade at a group of unarmed Iraqi civilians from up to 80 yards away, his potential was clear for anyone with half a brain to see. But the system failed Michael, instead of being encouraged to practice and take up discuss or shot put he was told that he should focus on his school work. Now he’s wasting away in an office scraping together his savings to pay off a second house in the south of France. Michael could have been one Britain greatest ever male Javelin thrower like Steve Backley or Fatima Whitbread but instead he is condemned to a life in middle management.
Sure he still throws things recreationally, I often wonder if when his dog is retrieving his stick from two fields away whether it has the same thoughts as I did back in those school days when I would be collecting my bag. Unlikely as dogs although intelligent by animal standards have very little concept of the Olympics and certainly wouldn’t have heard of the Commonwealth games. It hurts me to see such a waste of talent, sure he has a beautiful wife and children but I can’t help wondering if he is truly happy. I bumped into Michael recently at a Charity boxing evening and I asked him about it, he played the whole thing down, true modesty. He was with his wife Marie, an on-call GP who clearly worshipped him. Mid-way through the evening she was called to an emergency, an elderly patient had gone into cardiac arrest and she was forced to miss the cheese course. The Stilton was delightful and the variety of crackers were a real treat but unfortunately the old boy didn’t pull through. As Marie was leaving she realised that she had forgotten her car keys, she turned back but Michael was already on his feet and tossed the keys accurately into her hand. For a second Michael was transported back to those school days, his eyes widened and for a moment, he was young again. Marie stared back across the table at her husband, she was reminded of his great talent and how he had sacrificed his dreams for her, they both looked content and stared lovingly for five beautifully uninterrupted seconds. It was a magical five seconds which ultimately could have saved an elderly man’s life. Michael returned slowly to his seat. As he unknowingly ate the wax on a bit of Brie he reflected on his life and the decisions he’d made. He smiled to himself as he spat the chewed up wax into his hand, a dairy based metaphor for his life.
As I walked home I reasoned that no matter how much natural ability a person may have, without committing fully to their pursuit of greatness it is unlikely they will succeed. Without giving yourself 100% to something, it just won’t work. Unless of course you are based in the Isle of Man where standards of sporting and musical achievement are extremely low.