On a particularly memorable day in my early 20’s I stepped into a lift at the BBC, crestfallen at just having lost a contract. By the time the lift reached the ground floor, I had been offered another - much better - job by a generous series producer who also happened to be in the lift.
I, for one, would not have been here today if it hadn’t been for my patrons along life’s way: these special people who noticed me, singled me out, took a risk and cheered me on. Some of them opened doors to undreamt of opportunities, for me develop, find my way and earn my keep. Looking back upon my career, I notice a constancy of interested people - all older and wiser than I - willing to reach out and take me out of my comfort zone.
In the words of Guillaume Apollinaire:
Come to the edge, he said,
They said: we are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
He pushed them…
…and they flew.
Who do you patronise?
Now, many decades later, I still rejoice at the sense of worth these patrons gave me. They trusted what I had to offer and helped pave the road to what was then an unknown destination. Little did I know what a fulfilling adventure the journey would be.
My plea is for all of us to take on the role of ‘patron’ to anyone in need of encouragement. We only need to notice others, and in particular to pay attention to those whose talents are uneven, fragile and who might be unsure of where they’re heading. A tiny crack can let in a lot of light.
More than others, creative minds need to feel encouraged in knowing that there is a place for them; that they too, make up essential fibres in society’s rich and colourful tapestry.
So, let’s all step out of our comfort zones this year and be attentive to simple ways in which we can boost the prospects of others. It may just be a chat about aspirations and hopes; an introduction to an influential friend, or perhaps employ them to fix your computer, do some gardening, build your website or manage another project.
I take heart from the burgeoning of creative entrepreneurial projects that have sprung up in the UK during these recent difficult times. I will patronise their talents whenever I am able, knowing that generosity is a two-way exchange which enriches us all.
(Postscript: I was thrilled to hear the hugely popular singer Sam Smith echo the same sentiment on Radio 4 after I wrote this piece. He would not have been where he is without the generosity of others, he says, and he hopes to do exactly the same to young people starting out.)