Lenny Henry

Just before lunch, Lenny Henry spoke at the ChangeBoard future talent event. He brought the house down with a mixture of humour and passion, the like of which I’ve rarely seen and heard at a conference. Here are just a few snippets, notes I captured in between the laughter and the tears…

Lenny’s family came to the UK expecting streets paved with gold. What they got was factories, soot, and racial abuse. Lenny recalls his Mum being followed down the street while someone asked where her tail was.

During school, Lenny got into a daily fight with another kid named David Price. Eventually Lenny made a joke of it – something about instead of rolling around on the floor maybe we should just go out on a date – get married..? People laughed, the situation diffused, the fights stopped. There were several times in the talk where the power of humour was highlighted.

Lenny failed his 11+ exams. When he left school, took a factory job – driven to practice and rehearse his comedy to avoid the boredom repetition and smell and whine of machinery.

A winning appearance on New Faces brought Lenny to wider public attention, and he spoke about subsequently going go the BBC and seeing almost no other black faces.

Whilst on tour with Cannon and Ball, Lenny returned to further education, revising for O levels, studying world war poetry. Lenny found further education transformational. He felt fortunate that he could afford it, and now despairs for kids and the debts they incur to learn.

Can I do it? Play Othello? Yes – said the director, you can. Hard work produced a great performance and Lenny won the Evening Standard Outstanding Newcomer acting award….at the age of 50. The power of a yes.

Lenny called out the lack of racial diversity in the room. He told us of recent times in the media, where figures show that for every BAME person who lost their job, two white people were employed. This is partly why Lenny Henry continues his campaigning in the media for greater diversity, inclusion, and representation.

Diversity in the boardrooms – that’s where change starts.

If you think you can’t change it yourself? Apply pressure to those who can.

It’s easy to spot the places and people taking diversity, inclusion, and representation more seriously. They put real jobs, and money behind it!

It’s a Girl Thing

The Olympics are here, and what a weekend it’s been. On Saturday around a gazillion people gathered on some narrow Surrey lanes and various parts of London to watch the men’s cycling road race. Despite Team GB not being able to deliver Mark Cavendish to The Mall for his trademark sprint finish the day out was fantastic. As you can see from the picture above it was a huge party and everyone seemed pleased to be a part of The Olympics and British cycling. Road racing can be great fun to watch and you get right up close to the action. The rush of air as the peloton flies by is really invigorating.

Bradley Wiggins tows Mark Cavendish around the Box Hill loop

On Sunday we went back to the Surrey lanes to watch the women’s race. When I say we, I don’t mean the gazillion people who took to the roads on Saturday, I mean….well by comparison, hardly anyone.

Where is everybody? Much smaller crowds for the Women's Olympic Cycling Road Race

Even the cycling club I belong to which encourages cycling for all and had done a super job building a huge gantry to house around 250 people on Saturday, could barely fill a tiny gazebo on Sunday. It wasn’t just Surrey where there was a big difference. Courtesy of Mervyn Dinnen, here are two views of the men’s race and women’s race going through Fulham which show pretty clearly the difference in crowd sizes. Some might argue that the women’s race was shorter which meant they came past our vantage point twice compared to nine passes by the men on Saturday, but the racing was just as exciting and of course GB went on to secure its first 2012 Olympic medal courtesy of the women’s cycling team and Lizzie Armitstead. The pic below shows Lizzie on the left of the picture looking cool and calm as the peloton rushes past us.

Lizzie Armitstead racing through the Surrey Lanes, Women's Olympic Cycling Road Race - London 2012

OK so this year we have our first ever British winner of the Tour de France in Bradley Wiggins, and Mark Cavendish is the current cycling world champion, but my heart sinks when I hear men saying stuff like ‘Nah, I’m not going to the women’s race tomorrow, it’s not as important as the men’s’. Doesn’t say much for inclusion and diversity, does it? That reaction and the lack of interest in the women’s race felt misogynistic, and it is certainly misguided. After the race, Armitstead said ‘The sexism I have encountered in my career can get quite overwhelming and very frustrating’.

Lest we forget, Nicole Cooke first won the women’s Tour de France back in 2006 and has a list of cycling achievements most professional men can only dream about. Emma Pooley is an outstanding climber who can also count world time trial champion among her many successes, and Lucy Martin is a bright future prospect. Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. Lizzie Armistead, silver medal winning Team GB cyclist.

Those of us who turned out to support the cycling team yesterday witnessed the British riders on their way to Team GB’s first medal of the London 2012 Olympic Games. That felt pretty important to me, here come the girls.