John-Paul Flintoff opens students’ eyes in our first ever Northern Ireland talk

15 January 2016

This Wednesday John-Paul Flintoff, author of “Comp: A Survivor’s Tale” and journalist with The Sunday Times, delivered Speakers for Schools first talk in Northern Ireland, hosted Methodist College in Belfast. He opened his talk by telling the 120 or so assembled students about his passion for art in his secondary school and how the assertion that it would be a field in which he would struggle to “make it” by a teacher pushed him towards his other great passion for creative writing.

John-Paul then took the students through the myriad jobs and roles he has held, by way of showing that the experiences he gained while working as a bin man, an executive PA, a taxi driver, a gardener, an ice-cream salesman, a hairdresser, an assistant undertaker and a rat catcher and how these and helped inform the person he is today and enriched his creative path.

Photo of Journalist John-Paul Flintoff with students from Methodist College

As Mollie from the 4th year said: “Many in the audience seemed confused as if having as many jobs as John-Paul had was something unheard of. And in a sense, it was. He was proving to us impressionable young students that your dreams are flexible, but only if you allow them to be.”

Using his eclectic employment history as a springboard he asked the students to open up about paths they wished to take in life, even if they currently felt these were unrealistic, telling the students his mantra “Allow people to say no, but allow yourself to ask.” The talk wrapped up with the message that the students should not worry times are less than perfect and it’s ok not to know exactly where you’re going and what you want to do. A message which seemed to reassure, as well as inspire, the cohort.

See Mollie’s full write up below for a glimpse into how talks can get students thinking about their futures…


“On Wednesday 13th January many students were informed of a talk being held at Whitla Hall. Some cheered, excited to get out of class while others huffed at missing their work. The only reaction that didn’t occur was how much this talk would help us. I asked who we were seeing and discovered it was John Paul Flintoff. I, along with many other students, recognised the name from his previous TED talks.

Beginning his talk to Methodist students, Flintoff spoke casually about his passion for art in his secondary school. Flintoff told us the tale in which he questioned one of his art teachers about his future, to which his teacher’s response was “Art is very hard.”

Affected by the pressure that most students can relate to, this translated to John Flintoff as, “You’re not going to make it.” He was disheartened; believing his passion forpainting wasn’t enough, he set down his palette and opted for another of his favourite subjects: English.

Flintoff enjoyed creative writing, thus prompting him to become a journalist. He spoke modestly to the students observing him about his rise in the journalism industry and the ego boost he received weekly from having his face in the papers. He shared his excitement with the crowd at meeting celebrities and the dismay he felt when an interviewee stated that he “felt betrayed” after reading an article Flintoff completed about him.

Flintoff told us that the excitement ultimately wore off. Replacing it was another passion; one for telling the untold. Flintoff developed a curiosity for all those people in the world who have such disastrous events in their life, yet their stories remain in the shadows. Bored by the menial conversations with well-rehearsed celebrities, he dived into this new passion with fervour.

Many in the audience seemed confused, as if having as many jobs as John Flintoff was something unheard of. And in a sense, it was. He was proving to us impressionable young students that your dreams are flexible, but only if you allow them to be.

Flintoff started to explain to the audience about his many jobs. He spoke with an intensity about his greediness, his desire to experience all the world has to offer. So, unlike many of us, he didn’t cower in leaving the security of his jobs. Flintoff relished it. Gazing at the pupils, he asked us all to think of a job which we would cherish. A few students shared their ideas, suggesting jobs they believed to be unrealistic such as, ‘Barrister’, ‘Ski-Instructor’, and ‘Photographer.’

Flintoff then asked a pertinent question, one in which many of us never dare to think about.

“What makes them unrealistic?”

Earlier, Flintoff confessed that he was enthralled by the small things. He disclosed to us students that while he was on stage, he could read us and see whether we were interested or bored while he was speaking. I didn’t understand that thrill then, but as he asked that question, I understood.

Confusion marred many pupils’ faces. I realised then that we had been programmed to think our dreams where unattainable. But we didn’t know exactly why they were that way.

John Flintoff simply stared at the audience, seemingly empathising with this reaction. Once, he had believed his goals were unreachable. He stated that we pupils could change our destiny at that very moment in small ways. A simple phone call to the Court, wondering if a pupil could help out for a day or sending photos into a photography contest to spread your name, would be a step towards a dream-come-true.

Flintoff’s mantra was “Allow people to say no, but allow yourself to ask.”

The message John Flintoff told us today was surprisingly helpful. He informed us that our dreams are available to us if we allow ourselves to go for them instead of being held back by what is expected of us. Many of the students left feeling a lot more inspired than they did when they entered the Whitla Hall.

Flintoff demonstrated to the students today that he is, in the truest sense, a storyteller. He spun us a story, filled it with a few quotes that stuck with us and left us with a sense of satisfaction, like when turning the final page of a book.

His talk was lively, informative and taught us to be curious about ourselves, and to keep on going. Flintoff’s speech may have been filled with anecdotes about his life and perseverance when times are horrid but he also taught us that it is okay to not know where you are going or what you want to do.

Mostly he taught us that “What you are, is exactly right.”

– Mollie, 4th Form, Methodist College


Image of Journalist John-Paul Flintoff speaking with students from Methodist College, Belfast

Our thanks to Methodist College and John-Paul Flintoff for making our first Speakers for Schools talk in Northern Ireland such a resounding success!