The reality of becoming famous is not something most people would enjoy. When I was younger, I shared a flat in the city of Bristol and above us, on the next floor, were the pop band known as ‘Stackridge’. They were one of a new wave of creative groups in the 1970s and had toured all over England, enjoying a growing following and signing a record deal with a famous label in London. Unfortunately, the money was slow to arrive, and even though they topped the bill and wowed audiences up and down the land, they still couldn’t afford hotel bills. Imagine it: you’ve just left the stage, to wild applause, you’re hot and sweaty but the adrenalin is pumping. You stagger to the bar, down a few drinks, and know this: what you’ve got to look forward to is sleeping in the van with six other people. On mattresses. No lights, no windows, no toilets, no minibar. England in that era didn’t have any chains of cheap hotels like it has now. There were no motels, like there are in America. It was all about sleeping in the van and eating foul food in motorway service areas. The ‘good life’? It was awful. Of course, you may say, that’s just a stage, right? When the fame develops and the money starts to flow in, then you can eat well, dress well, book yourself into a hotel and savour a comfortable night’s sleep. The reality is, for hundreds of erstwhile pop stars, that they never get to that stage. It just never happens.
For sports people, it’s even worse. About the same time as Stackridge were breaking through, I remember reading about one of Britain’s most successful athletes, the swimming star, Sharon Davies. She was still young, but for years had been following the same routine. She woke around 5 and went to the nearest swimming pool for two hours of demanding training. Then she got herself ready and went to school. At the end of the school day, she was back at the swimming pool for another three hours, then it was home and doing her schoolwork, in bed for 9, to get some proper sleep. That’s five hours swimming a day, six days a week. It helped her improve and she eventually went to the Olympics and won a medal for her country. Because Britain has never had world beaters in the sport, it was only a bronze medal, but it was one of the finest achievements our country has ever seen. It was made possible by thirty hours practice a week, year after year, after slogging year. Well, there are plenty of aspiring sports stars in Britain now, but how many of them can face that reality? They look at Wimbledon on the telly and imagine themselves as the person who collects the shield and wins the prize, but are they out there on the tennis court, 30 hours a week? Oh, and one final humiliation. Sharon Davies never had any support from the authorities. Her trainer was her father and the swimming pool she used was the local Public Baths. Not very glamourous. A bit too ‘real’ to be the stuff of fantasy, eh?
But this is reality. The person on the podium collecting the medal has been working towards that day for years, but hard work doesn’t seem to feature in a lot of young people’s daydreams these days. A young cohort of teenagers was recently asked by a British newspaper what career they had in mind. One unworldly young man said he hadn’t decided yet, he couldn’t choose between being a famous footballer or a pop star. As far as football went, he had to admit he wasn’t on any teams and hardly ever played the game. As far as music was concerned, he then confessed that he didn’t play a single musical instrument and had never been complimented on his voice. He had no plans to practice and had never sung in public, not even karaoke. So, we all wonder, what chance does he have of fulfilling the vision?
No, there is only one reality, and that is this; if you’re doing something today that could lead to your ultimate destination, then there is at least a chance, even if only a slim chance, that you will reach your goal. If you are in the swimming pool for five hours a day, then you probably will get a shot of being on the Olympic Squad. If you practice your football skills by kicking a ball round in the street, and then chase a place on your school team and then your local amateur club, then it’s much more likely that a football career could be yours. If you persuade your parents to buy you a guitar, take some books out of the library and start to learn the skills, then there’s every chance your music will develop. If you’re prepared to sleep in a van and eat bad food, then there’s a chance you could be on your way. That’s the basics. If you are doing things today to move you along, then it’s possible that tomorrow you will be where you want to go. In my own case, there’s no question. If you followed me around for 24 hours, there is one thing you would see for sure. No matter where I am and what I’m doing, at some point I always sit down and write for an hour. Usually it’s a bit of a chapter, a small piece towards finishing a new novel. At the end of a year, there’s a new book to be loaded up onto my print-on-demand publisher, Lulu dot com. Am I a famous author? Not at all. But I’m a writer, and every day I prove it. Every day.
And there’s one more thing. Anyone who has ever taken piano lessons knows this: practice can be hell. Repetition and rote is boring and mind-numbing. It’s necessary, but painful. So, if there’s any way of making learning and practising fun, then take it. Whatever it is, sport or creativity, you need to be doing it every day, hour after hour. Well, find a way to enjoy the process. That way, at least the necessity will become bearable. If you want the dream, then you might have to skin your heels, or get blisters on your fingers, or wear out your typewriter. If you can’t enjoy that, then why do it? After all, there’s always someone else, someone coming along behind you, who will be happy to take your place, your future, your dream.