I insisted on being
given a wheelbarrow for my fourth birthday. I was always an outdoors kind of person.
For my 5th birthday I
did what any self-respecting five year-old does: hold a penguin party where everyone had to dress up as penguins, including my dad. From a young age I really liked dressing up.
When I was young I
tended to do things a bit differently and this character trait began early. As a child I loved my Lego (kept downstairs far from my bedroom) so much that I made the decision to up sticks and sleep underneath it every night.
I ran a soft drinks bar
from my garage one summer when I was at middle school. I would save up my pocket money, visit the local Gateway to buy fizzy drinks cheaply and sell them to my friends from the bar. I loved getting my teeth into a project!
On discovering the plight
of the tropical rainforests in the late eighties, at my middle school I helped to co-ordinate a fundraising campaign to protect 40 acres of Belizian rainforest. I loved every minute of working for a cause I believed in.
In 1991 I moved from
Newport Pagnell in Milton Keynes to Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire. Being the new kid about town helped to get rid of some of my shyness.
I’d always loved music
and by my mid teens had built up quite a collection of CDs. I created a little business out of it too, listing all the songs in a catalogue and getting friends to select the tracks they wanted on individual mix-tapes that I would record for them. I imaginatively called it BH TAPES and got post headed ‘Dear Mr Tapes’ for years afterwards because of it.
In 1995 I travelled out to
out to Romania with a group of sixth form students and our school. We collected donations from our local community and drove out there. It was my first experience of seeing people in real need.
Channeling my inner Alan
Sugar, I ran the school’s ‘stationery shack’ for half a year – selling discounted stationery and, on the side, things that definitely wouldn’t pass a school’s healthy eating policy. We had queues longer than the official school dinner queue.
I discovered I loved
dancing at a school prom at the Limpley Stoke Hotel at the end of the sixth form. I danced all night and loved every minute.
I became the equivalent
of Head Boy at my secondary school in 1996. I messed up my A-levels that year though, through a combination of all the projects I was involved in and the social and self-esteem effects of really bad acne. It brought me down a peg or two.
In the summer of 1996 I
cycled from John o’Groats to Land’s End in 10 days, alone and unsupported, to raise further funds for Romania. Despite forgetting my walkman and having to sing to myself to make it up the hills, I had discovered a love of challenge and adventure.
I took a year out in 1997
to retake those A-levels, raise funds for a Romanian street children’ centre and travel back out to Romania. The fundraising didn’t go well – I organised a fashion show which never materialised and I lost a lot of my own money. It’s a failure that’s motivated me ever since.
I went to the University of
Durham from 1997 to 2000 and studied a sports degree. The thinking went that if I became a successful sportsperson I could use my fame to change the world. That never happened but in the first year I donated my student loan to help pay for that street children’s centre – I was ridden with a lot of guilt about that fashion show.
With my heart set on
tackling some of the world’s problems, I studied an MA in Development Studies at the University of East Anglia in 2000/01. It followed on after spending a year raising awareness of Fairtrade among schools across Wiltshire, where I learned how to engage large audiences in positive change-making.
I hung around in Norwich
for a few years afterwards, not sure about what to do next. One memorable year I lived on a boat on the Norfolk Broads. It was permanently cold and wet but I loved the adventure.
All the while I continued
to dance myself free whenever I got the chance (often with the help of my A-Team bandana – and paper-chains by the looks of it).
I kept myself afloat
by taking on a variety of random jobs, including working at a convenience store and becoming a baker in a supermarket. This part-time work meant I could focus on what I really cared about and enjoyed…
Which was the Funkathon
– a university campaign to promote Fair Trade in the city. The Fairtrade Funkathon was a 14 night dance and disco marathon during Fairtrade Fortnight designed to produce the biggest ever petition in favour of Fair Trade that the city and university had seen. It was my first glimpse of using dance for the greater good.
After deciding teaching
was the career for me, in 2004/5 I spent a year working as a teacher in Mae La Oon refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border. I was shaken by the inequity of the situation – amazing people were trapped in lives of limbo and I was free to come and go as I pleased.
In 2005/6 I returned
and became a qualified teacher in London. My subject was Citizenship – teaching a combination of politics, law, media, human rights, identity, economics and global issues and helping equip young people with the knowledge, skills and experience to change the world. It was a perfect fit.
During my training year
I organised a 100-mile charity walk through the night with my good friends Ian and Aimee. We raised funds for refugees in the camp and grandly called it ‘Nightstrider’. It reminded me of my love of physical challenge.
I began my first proper
job in 2006 when I began working as a Citizenship teacher at an inner-city comprehensive called Deptford Green School. It was truly exhausting but I loved every minute.
My teaching was rated as
outstanding by Ofsted when they came to inspect the school. In truth this was very lucky – they happened to come to my class during a particularly good 20 minutes featuring a filmed lesson introduction, voting pods, a class simulation of The Weakest Link and lots of ice cream.
In 2010 I found out
that Oo Nie Kie, one of my best friends from my time working in the refugee camp, had passed away while only in her twenties. I quit my job to set up a charity (LearnBurma) to raise awareness of Burma among young people in the UK. This led to me using dance as a means to symbolise the freedom we have but which is denied to so many worldwide.
In 2011 I began training
to set a world record for the world’s longest dance – part of my plan to use quirky dance feats to raise funds and awareness for Burma. In April of that year I took on the London Marathon, and became the first person to dance every step of it. I danced non-stop for nearly 9 hours, and at the time thought that was a lot.
It was during my training
for the London marathon that I took to wearing a tutu. It was fun, different, silly and helped me stand out. More than that though it was about sending a message of freedom – I was free to wear what I wanted, dance how I wanted and do what I wanted but I wanted to highlight how so many others across the world, through no fault of their own, were not – and get people to do something about it.
Next up was a 72-hour
non-stop dance through the 2011 Glastonbury Festival. Despite the pain, sleep-deprived delusion and plenty of depressing mud, I loved, loved, loved the experience and it taught me that I might just be in with a shot of the big one…
In October that year I
danced the world’s longest ever dance at The Scoop at More London on the banks of the Thames in central London – 5 days, 15 hours of non-stop dancing. 7000 people came along to dance with me and much fun was had (despite the pain and near self-destruction of my body and mind). We raised over £40,000 for LearnBurma.
Less than 10 months
later, my support crew and I stood at the John o’Groats signpost ready to dance across the UK for ‘Dance Britain for Burma’. It was a massively ambitious and challenging project – teams of volunteers rotated each week, living out of a motorhome, to ensure I kept on track to arrive at pre-planned rendez-vous points with groups of dancers throughout Scotland, England and Wales.
Thousands of people
joined me as I danced through the country. I had developed excruciating blisters from the daily slog of dancing almost a marathon a day and it was a massive boost that young and old, students, parents, grandparents, passers-by, shop assistants, chefs… anyone and everyone joined me for a jig in the most random of places across the nation.
95% of the interest
generated was positive and brilliant.
The rest was truly disheartening – lots of people swore at me as I danced past, some threw things at me and I was the target for all manner of homophobic abuse. My sexuality shouldn’t matter and had and should have nothing to do with what I’m doing or wearing but it seemed some people just couldn’t get past it. What was it that threatened them so? I just channeled the ignorance into further fuel for my moves: I was not being cowed and not stopping.
With just 200 miles to
go, my support cyclist and I were run over by a drunk driver in a hit and run. I ended up with life-long hearing loss, tinnitus and a persistent migraine problem and had to put completing the challenge on ice until the next summer.
I resolved to complete
the dance… and with a skeleton support crew of two and through the heatwave of summer 2013 danced 300 miles along the South West Coast Path towards Land’s End. It was tough not only because of dancing, the terrain and the sun – this time I was carrying all of my provisions and kit on my back during each day.
Finally I reached Land’s
End after dancing the full length of Britain from John o’Groats via Edinburgh, Newcastle, York, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Taunton and Plymouth – 1,350 miles of dancing. In total we raised more than £100,000 for a range of charities working to make Burma freer and fairer – including the Burma Campaign UK, Amnesty International, Partner’s Relief and Development and Prospect Burma.
Pretty much straight after
this I was offered the job of leading the Citizenship PGCE at the Institute of Education – the same course I had completed eight years previously. I’d been tutoring and lecturing on the course part-time to keep myself going financially and it was a natural progression to take on the challenge of leadership. It is a daily privilege to do a job I love and work with so many inspiring student teachers.
While battling the
demands of the job I met and fell in love with the amazing Trishna. Also a Citizenship teacher, we clicked right from the beginning and she is my match in every way. Soon we were doing our own global adventuring, settling down in our own home and became engaged to be married.
In 2017 I underwent
surgery for a mystery knee problem that struck suddenly and had me unable to walk. The previous two years had been a string of injury after injury but this was the final straw –
it spurred me into resolving to dance big distances again. Who knows how long we’ll have left to do the things we love?
I decided the time
was now to the challenge of my dreams: to dance every step across the USA. This time would be different – with me pulling everything I needed to keep me alive and prancing free with me, unsupported. I began dancing the streets of London in preparation.
At the end of the year
I found out I’d been nominated for a New Year Honour. I received a British Empire Medal (BEM) for ‘services to dance and charity’. It means I can put the letters BEM after my name, which, given my first name, turns me into the male version of BAMBAM from the Flintstones.
In March 2018 I will
get to write the next chapter of this story as I begin my dance across the USA, following the legendary Route 66 from LA to Chicago, and then on to New York City. Here goes nothing!