The Brontës showed us that there is nothing wrong with ambition - Christa Ackroyd
If you are lucky (and I have always considered myself lucky) you simply fill your time with other things, things you never thought you would be doing, things that make your soul sing every bit as your career ever did, if like me you were lucky enough to have had one which was beyond your wildest expectations.To think that someone from a comprehensive school in Bradford would one day be talking to you now having interviewed Prime Ministers, Princes and Presidents, even with my vivid imagination I could never have envisaged that. But that was then, and this is now. And my life is as full of possibilities as it ever was. I never have been busier and perhaps more importantly I have never been happier.
Today, as you read this, I am helping out at my 'adopted’ nephew’s Christmas fayre in Scotland. You know what I mean when I say adopted.. the children of good friends who call you Aunty and who are every bit as precious as any blood relative. I will be surrounded by young people who have their whole life in front of them. Most will not even have begun to formulate their plans for the future .. but for each and everyone of them I wish them one thing, ambition.
Ambition is for many a dirty word. When we describe someone as being ambitious it is not usually meant as a compliment. In America ambition is worn as a badge of honour. Here it is often seen as another word for brash, for being over confident or having pie in the sky expectations of what you may achieve. And so many people never follow their true path for fear they will be laughed at or considered a dreamer. And that is wrong. There is no such thing as being over ambitious.Another thing that thwarts ambition is that for many it is seen as being all about money, when instead it is about finding something that makes your soul sing. I know this. I am following one of mine right now.
When I was ten years old I didn’t understand ambition. I don’t mind admitting I felt a bit rootless and uncertain about my place in the world. Adopted at ten days old it started to play on my mind that not only did I not know who I was but I had no idea how I would fit in. All that I thought about, no matter that my parents were the best a child could have, was that someone had given me away. And so my intuitive father took me on a trip, just him and me to Haworth. There he stood me in front of The Parsonage and told me the story of three girls from Bradford who were told they would never become writers because of who they were. And did. From that moment I was hooked. Three sisters who because of their background and the times they lived in were considered unsuitable for the world of literature and became the best selling authors of their day. And still are. But more important for me was their message that life may not be fair, it may not always be equal, but if we never give up, never give in, our ambitions can be realised. What’s more they were Bradford girls, growing up in difficult times in a one parent family without means, but with a passion they would allow no one to thwart. And that little trip has stayed with me forever. From that day I never looked back.
At school my English teacher told me I would never be a journalist. I don’t know why. I just think he considered me over ambitious. But because of that story told to me by my wise father instead of giving in it spurred me on. Years later when I was being interviewed to become the first woman to run a radio newsroom and was asked how I would cope having a family and a career I swallowed my laughter and told them not to concern themselves with that. I was the best person, man or woman, for the job. Which I got.
And so my life continued. Lucky yes, but sometimes you have to make your own luck. Self belief is not conceit. Hard work to be the best that you can be is always the required ingredient. But so too is ambition. When I walked across Blackfriars Bridge in London to the head office of Express newspapers after being asked to meet the editor I swear I nearly turned tail and ran. That I was offered and wrote, The Jean Rook Column, with my name at the top for a decade when the fact that my mum had stopped everything to read what her heroine had written and sparked my ambition to be a journalist, was not lost on me. But for a second I did wonder whether I was being over ambitious. Instead I remembered that day with dad and the words he told me .. ‘you can be anything Christa.’ And so like Charlotte I wrote, because I simply had to.
As a teenager I dreamt I would be living in a little house on the Main Street in Haworth to be near to the house where the sisters endeavoured against the odds. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I could be part of a plan to turn the little humble house in Thornton where they were born into a place where their story could inspire other young Christas to follow their dreams. But I am. The solicitors have been instructed and soon that little house will belong to the community and children will be invited in to walk in the footsteps of greatness and believe in themselves, just as my father told me I should. We still need your help fundraising for the Bronte birthplace to restore and open it in time for Bradford City of Culture 2025. But it will happen thanks to the ambitions of a small group of people who will make it happen and of course huge support from the public.
In that little house there will be an Ambition Wall, upon which young people can write their hopes and dreams, no matter how wild they may seem to others. They will be able to stand by the fireplace besides which the most incredible feminist authors our area has ever produced were born and be inspired, as I was, by their story. And I am humbled that with ambition that dream is well on the way to being achieved.
Ambition is everything. Dreamers are to be celebrated not told to live in the real world. The world is the world you create in your mind and make a reality with love, help, support and yes a little luck along the way. But as I have found, ambition isn’t only for the young. It should always be our guide in life no matter how long we live. So thankyou dad. Without you the story of three Bradford girls would never have resonated so strongly. And because of you I get to share it with others through that little house in Thornton and dedicate my time to making sure that everyone follows their passion and reaches their full potential. If just one child stands in that birthplace of greatness and believes they can be who they are meant to be no matter where they come from, then your legacy, your belief in me lives on. I leave you withone thought from perhaps the lesser known sister, Anne Bronte. ‘He that dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.’