Is what I do who I am?

The past week has seen some high profile resignations and sackings.  First it was Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab.  The former Justice Minister had been under investigation for many months after a number of ‘bullying’ allegations had been made against him from various departments where he had been in charge.  Mr Raab was forced to resign after 2 of those complaints were upheld by Adam Tolley KC.  

Overnight, gone was the ministerial car and the civil servants that organise and facilitate the life of a minster.  From now on he would have to find his own way to the TV studios…if he was indeed asked again for his opinion on the great matters of state anytime soon.

The second was Tucker Carlson.  Carlson was one of the highest paid presenters on Fox News USA.  His 8pm show had some of the highest ratings on cable news and those ratings brought in millions of advertising dollars.  Last Friday evening he said his usual goodbye and looked forward to catching up again with his audience the following Monday at 8pm.  On Monday morning it was announced that Carlson and Fox had agreed to part ways. 

Carlson who had for many years set the agenda for political discussion in America had been replaced.

Losing his TV platform didn’t silence Carlson completely.  In the past losing a TV show could do that but not anymore. Within hours he was able to tweet his point of view to his 6.4 million followers. But as the weeks go by will people start to forget about him, will he become less relevant?

The subject of losing a job became the topic of conversation for me and Johnny Tudor this week on ‘The Mal & Johnny Show’ podcast.  Sad to say the life of an entertainer and singer is always set against the backdrop of disappointment, rejection and looking for a new job.  We go for an audition or send in a tape.  We wait to hear if people like what we do.  Most often they don’t reply.  Then you get a gig and it lasts for as long as it lasts and then you start the process all over again.

Every time you face rejection you can tell yourself its nothing to do with you. But when what you do is so intrinsically linked with who you are then its really difficult not to take professional setbacks personally.

To be honest, how did I get the radio gig in the first place looking like this?

This is especially true the first time it happens.  I can still remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when being told the bosses wanted to make changes to freshen up the schedules and those plans didn’t include me.  Of course I had seen it happen to other broadcasters, but I was different.  Things were going well, and the ratings were good and…and I didn’t see it coming.

There are a couple of things you notice pretty quickly.  Firstly they stop paying you.  In a freelance world when the contract ends so does the cash.  There’s no redundancy or help to find a new job.  People do commiserate but they usually say things like ‘well you’ve had a gone run’.  That good run in the past had led you to plan a life based on that income and that status.  All of a sudden when the good run ends life becomes really, really difficult.

Secondly, the phone calls and emails stop.  Once, you were indispensable with even holiday requests questioned.  Then…nothing.

Of course, managers and bosses have their own agenda and will be judged by the decisions they make. They have to weigh up the pros and cons and see how they can make things better.

Sometimes that has nothing to do with the decisions they make. 

Johnny Tudor told me the story that he had been booked to play a lead in a West End musical called ‘Cindy’ which was based on the story of Cinderella.  Before going into London the show had a month or so in an ‘out of town’ theatre in Southend.

After a few weeks the show was looking good and Johnny’s dance routines really made the production sparkle. The phone call telling Johnny the producer was going to have to let him go came out of nowhere.  Johnny couldn’t understand it.  The team were all behind him and the magic between him and his co-star was plain for all to see.

It soon became clear that the real reason for having to ‘let Johnny go’ was that the show looked like it would be a big West End hit. The producer wanted his partner to take the ‘Johnny’ role.  Thankfully, after some high level negotiations and the fact that the replacement for Johnny couldn’t actually dance got Johnny reinstated.

As we swapped stories you could still hear the twinges of pain beneath the laughter.  Over the years Johnny and I have developed coping mechanisms which have been learnt the hard way. Through dark nights of the soul which you never, ever forget.

The thing is so much of who we are is wrapped up in what we do.  Its one of those questions you ask when you meet someone for the first time. In our cases what we do is at the heart of who Johnny and I are.  We love making music or shows or writing or podcasts.  Sometimes we work with a massive team and a big organisation.  Sometimes we do the show ourselves.  Are we lucky, blessed or obsessed?

There are some jobs you can’t keep on doing on your own, like being a professional footballer. This week the Liverpool star Trent Alexander-Arnold has drawn attention to the world of kids and football academies. It is estimated that over 1.5 million kids play organised football in England and Wales. Almost every night of the week these kids can watch multi-millionaires on TV live out their dreams in some of the finest Stadiums in the world.

They can follow the Dubai holidaying, Rolls Royce driving, designer watch wearing life styles of their idols and dream that one day that will be them.  The reality is that at any one time only 180 of that 1.5 million will make it as a Premier League professional.  That 0.012%.

Trent went through that system.  He joined the Liverpool academy at the age of 6 and has achieved his goal. But for every Trent there are hundreds of thousands of kids who don’t. Those kids and their families are given amazing opportunities to strive to be the best.  They are coached and supported to help achieve their dreams right up until the moment they have the touch on the shoulder to be told that’s it…they aren’t being kept on; their dreams are over.

Some kids decide they will continue and move to a club in the lower league to continue to pursue their dreams.  Some give up the dream of being a pro and go back to just playing football for fun.  Others just can’t cope with the disappointment and they turn to drink or drugs or even suicide.

In conjunction with the Professional Footballers Association Trent is setting up ‘The After Academy’ to help former Academy players find a way forward. Help to find new job opportunities and to support them through some of the most difficult times of their young lives. 

This is something I know Swansea City have been very keen to address for a number of years.  They have been working with an organisation called ‘Beyond The White Line’ to help academy players plan for their future, whether that’s in and out of the game. Hopefully more clubs will see this as a ‘duty of care’ to their youngsters.

It’s now too late for me and Johnny.  He’s planning for a show next month in Dinas Powys and I’m planning how to celebrate 50 years of making records. We carry our pain and hide it behind a painted smile.  We are blessed to still be able to live out our dreams.  Oh, and don’t worry too much about Dominic Raab and Tucker Carlson.  After a short time of reflection I’m sure they’ll be just fine.

Celebratory Concert 3rd October 2023

Tickets now on sale https://www.swanseagrand.co.uk/MalPope50th

1 thought on “Is what I do who I am?”

  1. Interesting read today Mal & yes I know what you mean as I am struggling with a similar situation myself. Congratulations on the half century by the way, you have given your best & done a great & continual job. I think you are far from ending the use of your talents & skills so just keep on rolling. You are right when you illustrate the change from what you do to who you are (& thats not a mistake). I have mentioned to many people about to retire do have a follow-on plan or interest to occupy your time skills & mind be it Golf, woodwork, art, DIY whatever. A friend of mine with an executive job took retirement while his wife was still working. He would do the domestic stuff but what happens is the post comes in its opened & answered. Then over time one isn’t pushed so read the junk mail or start searching the net etc. Then its luchtime so make a snack etc. and so it goes. Later his wife returns asking the normal question had a good day love, then she might suggest be good if you could dig over the flowerbed. He hated gardening so over time this stimulated emotions of guilt as nothing really positive was beeing achieved theough his day. It ended up he needed professional mental help before he lost the plot. Being a freelance obviously has its benefits but also this type of pitfall too. We have all heard of writers block etc. which in itself must be very draining & concerning, especially when one depends on flair & inspiration for ones day-to-day living. If its any consolation I have always, & like so many admired & valued your innovative work like; Cappacino Girls & always wondered why its not on the big show circuit. So I expect to see you entertaining us for decades to come. With very best wishes Rob & G…

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