Looking for inspiration is like waiting for a bus – nothing for ages and then all at once, and in the most unlikely of places. I was doing something particularly uninspiring at the PC a couple of years ago and decided to put on an episode of Desert Island Discs in the background. It wasn’t something I listened to on a regular basis but I’d heard trailers and thought it might be interesting background noise for what I was doing. Scrolling down the list of Castaways, I was surprised by how many names were unknown to me. It hadn’t occurred to me that so many Castaways would not be ‘celebrities’, in the traditional sense of the word. Yes – you have Stephen Fry, Julie Walters, Clare Balding, Alice Walker … but, just in the lists from 2013 onwards for instance, there is the campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera, the cardiologist Jane Somerville, Easyjet Chief Executive Carolyn McCall, Clinical Psychologist Tanya Byron, Professor of Computer Science, Dame Wendy Hall … the list goes on, names that don’t immediately spring to mind when we’re thinking of people, particularly women, who have made their mark.
I love it now. Of course it’s a heady combination – someone’s eight favourite pieces of music set to the backdrop of their life … or the other way around, depending on how you look at it. But pick one Castaway and listen for 45 minutes and you’ll be treated to 45 minutes of one person’s passion, motivation, inspiration and dedication. It doesn’t matter if they write best-selling children’s stories or were instrumental in guiding a spacecraft to land on a comet – in the beginning … they were inspired; in the beginning … they all had a passion for something, and in the beginning … they all had to find their way.
For many, that ‘way’ hasn’t been easy. Some have suffered personal tragedy, including life-threatening illness. Some have suffered setbacks to their dreams; others have had to make painful decisions that would later define them. Some have lost the very people that shared their passions, and for many, family life, both early and later, has had a profound impact on their perceived success. And it’s through a set of questions crafted so cleverly that they sound almost off-the-cuff that you learn all of this. In fact, you might learn something so incisive, profound, eye-opening that you’re only just processing it as a Beatles track, or a Beethoven piece, or a piece of Hip-hop kicks in. And that in itself is like being given a pass to the VIP party, for what can be more revealing than those eight favourite tracks?
Now, as I scroll through the Castaways, I deliberately choose names I’ve never heard of. As a modelling exercise, it can’t be beaten. If you want to really get behind someone’s success (or failure) what better than to hear the passion, the experience, the trials, the joys behind it. If you want to know what makes someone tick, after all, then listen to them tell you about it.