Why James Rhodes is a real inspiration to schoolchildren

PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 October 2014

Pianist James Rhodes only later pursued his childhood dream   Photo by REX

Pianist James Rhodes only later pursued his childhood dream Photo by REX

Copyright (c) 2014 Rex Features. No use without permission.

With hard work and a dream, anything can change says Sharon Canavar

I’ve been thinking about the wonder of youth this month as I was asked to speak to students at a presentation evening at our amazing partner school; St John Fisher here in Harrogate.

Having been asked to speak several weeks ago, I put any thoughts of what wise words I might impart to these young people firmly to the back of my mind and hoped that inspiration might strike whilst soaking up the sun during August. This was unfortunately not to be, with the distractions of family and too many books firmly diverting my attention away from any inspiring theme at all! So with just days to go, I appealed to friends old and new through the magic of social media to ask what they wished they’d known when they were young.

Wisdom, ideas, knowledge and advice came pouring through the ether but there were many common themes, the most common being that that life doesn’t start or end in exam results, nobody ever has ‘I wish I’d read physics’ on their tombstone.

The fact is, few of us at that age are lucky enough to know who we are and what we want, or have the confidence to get it. Exams don’t have to define us as we grow.

Our Artist-in-Residence at the Festival was the pianist James Rhodes. He taught himself to play as a child, inspired by a teacher. School ignited his talent. He went however down the expected traditional path and got a job in the City, ignoring his calling.

A painful past of abuse, rehab and manic depression caught up with him as he prepared to jump from the infamous suicide spot, Beachy Head. He was 32. At 38, everything turned around. He was a best-selling classical pianist after pursuing his childhood dream, and going back to study piano. Now he fronts a Channel 4 show trying to inspire primary school children into music, where there is woeful budget for the subject.

There’s something filmic about his story – a triumph over adversity. It’s his kind of story I wanted to tell.

You have to be true to your talent, once you’ve worked out what it is, and that might not happen till later, but with hard work and a dream anything can change.

School prepares you for many things these days, exam results get better each year, but time and time again, those that are happiest in their jobs are those that have a passion and found a way to make money from it or those that choose to keep learning, keep reading and keep challenging themselves.

As I inch ever closer to 40 - whilst endeavouring to remain a showbiz age of 35 - I pondered what I’d tell my own teenage self, and I think the advice from my parents and grandparents stood me in good stead. Work hard, no job is beneath you, if you fail get up and try again and always do your best. I’m grateful every day for this advice, and this is why I will be imparting this nugget of information to these inspiring young people, hoping to plant the seed that, in all that we do, we should always reach for the most sparkling of stars.

Sharon Canavar is chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals

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