I hate elephants in the room, don’t you ? So this week I thought I would address one which may come between us if I don’t, my sacking by the BBC. Not to go over old ground. Dad always used to tell me: ‘Never look back... It’s not the direction you are travelling in’. Good advice, Dad. Not always easy. But before we go any further, it wasn’t a tragedy. It’s not, as Mum would say, ‘the end of the world’. Having been a journalist for 40 years I have seen too much tragedy to ever call it that.
I have interviewed people whose world really has ended. People who have lost loved ones in the most terrible circumstances, through murder, through horrific events or through terrible illness when good people were taken too soon, sometimes before their lives had hardly begun. People who have lost children, children who have lost parents, friends who have lost friends, partners who have lost partners. And their strength, often their determination to turn tragedy into a passion to help others remains my inspiration. I have met the very best of people, and witnessed the deeds of very worst. So when I ‘left’ the BBC it was tough but certainly not tragic. It was a job, albeit one I loved.
What really hurt was being branded a cheat. That was the only thing that made me cry. That it took five years before a judge declared me to be honest and said he wished to stress I had never been a cheat is all good. During that time I have had great joy with family especially three beautiful granddaughters, the time to spend with Mum, whose passing I talked about last week and time for friends often ignored in my oh-so-busy important schedule. Time in which to take stock and come out of it hopefully a better person.
You see I despise cheating. Another lesson drummed into me by my police officer father. I can hear him now. “If you cheat, Christa, you only cheat yourself. It’s you who has to live with it.”
Only I did cheat once. It was in a maths exam. Well when I say I did, I planned to. I was rubbish at maths, still am. It was in the days when chewing gum was supposed to help you concentrate so we were allowed to take it in, along with our pencil case and protractors. So I carefully unwrapped a stick of Wrigley’s and wrote a formula/equation on one side before replacing it in the packet. Wrong, and I knew it. Once inside the exam room I was so wracked with guilt I shoved the whole lot in my mouth without even glancing at the undecipherable solution and chewed my way to failure. It was I think the worst mark ever given in a maths exam. I could hardly write my name I felt so dishonest. And it was right that I failed spectacularly.
Just a few weeks ago I watched on TV my old buddy and Facebook friend Darren Lehman cry as he resigned as coach of the Australian cricket team. I had felt not a jot of sympathy for the three players who stupidly had cheated in front of the TV cameras and blubbed their way through a carefully-crafted apology hoping to save their careers. But Darren had been cleared. That he resigned because he had been at the helm of that win-at-all-costs culture made me applaud him for his honesty and reminded me what a top bloke he was. He didn’t have to, but believed he did.
Cheating in sport is well documented. But taking drugs doesn’t only make you stronger physically, it gives you an air of invincibility. My good friend Johnny Nelson once nearly lost his world boxing title to a cheat. He looked into the face of his opponent later found to have taken drugs and he was dead behind the eyes. I remember him saying ‘Christa, it was like hitting a fridge’. But who remembers his opponent’s name? Not me, whereas Johnny remains a legend in Yorkshire and in boxing.
Dad used to say to me honesty is everything. Also that truth wins in the end.I believe that, though sometimes it’s a long time coming. Look at the family of Stephen Lawrence this week. Years, decades passed before they finally got the truth, but in doing so they changed our laws and our lives for the better.
And so, like my parents and grandparents, I will play games with my grandchildren and let them win, but never cheat. I will also utter that phrase, just tell us the truth, we won’t be cross – though often we are. It’s one of life’s most important lessons, I am sure you agree.
There, it’s done now. I like to think the elephant has left the room.