My nephew David knows about Leadership.  He is an inspiring young man.  In his late teens he quit college and set up his own graphics design business with a friend.  2 years later they sold up and he decided to go it alone whilst travelling the world.  He rocks up wherever he fancies (San Diego, Oslo, Lisbon…) and gets on with building websites and designing stuff for his global client base.  Why wouldn’t you?

I know  a lot of people who wish they’d had the courage to say yes to that sort of thing much earlier in their lives.  Living their dreams and finding out what life has to offer outside the confines of their comfort zone.

He is currently building an online business which, funnily enough, is going to be called “Saying Yes”.  Its aim will be to inspire other (typically younger) people to say yes to opportunities when they come across them.  He’ll do that by posting stories from people who have done just that, in which they’ll describe the moment and the impact it had on them.

He contacted me the other day, and asked me to share my “Yes” example with him.  I wasn’t sure which one to share, as several sprang to mind.  The day I said yes to conducting a private concert for the Queen Mother, when I had never conducted a choir before.  The day I said yes to running a fundraising campaign at school which aimed to raise enough to buy two grand pianos ( I was 16 at the time.  We got our two pianos).

Yours truly at the machine in question

Yours truly at the machine in question

I decided to share the story of the day I said yes to applying for an organ scholarship to Oxford, when in my heart of hearts I didn’t think I stood a hope in hell of winning it.   I was developing as an all round musician, and at the time was having weekly music lessons in piano, organ, clarinet, saxophone and singing. I was too much or a generalist, I felt, and did not have the specialist skills I needed.

I found the organ difficult, especially the baroque repertoire which required precision and meticulous practice.  I am not a precise or meticulous person, and whilst I love Bach’s music, it scares me a bit playing it.  My tendency towards bluff and bravado tends not to pay off with this type of music.

The thing is, the person who suggested this was doable believed in me.  Alastair Sampson taught the organ at Eton, and had the business of helping his pupils to win Oxbridge scholarships down to a fine art.  When he retired they gathered all of his scholarship winning pupils together for a reunion.  There were more than thirty of us, 8 of whom were organ scholars at King’s College Cambridge – the gold medal if you will of these musical Olympics.  He knew how to bring out the best in his pupils, and believed in their potential.  There was no doubt in his mind that we should be doing this, and so I trusted him.

So we agreed my show piece for the audition.  This was “Final” by Cesar Franck.  This was an ambitious choice, because it starts with a three page pedal solo, as you can see in this video.  Playing the organ with just your feet takes some courage:  get it note perfect and you win extra points.  Mess it up and you have got off to the worst possible start.


I put the practice in, to the extent that my legs used to ache at the end of a day, and I even got blisters on a very awkward part of the anatomy.  Organ benches are made of wood.

On the day it went well, much to my relief, and a couple of days later I got the call from Balliol College, Oxford, offering me the scholarship.  No one was more suprised than me, but Alastair of course wasn’t.  He never doubted it.

I learnt a whole lot from that life changing experience.  Most importantly I learnt the effect of having someone believe in your potential.  In my experience most people have far more potential than they realise, and it’s people like Alastair who we need to help unlock it.

Maybe David’s website will help people to see their potental better, by learning from others who have said Yes to challenges at critical moments in their lives.  I hope so.

If you have said Yes to something and you think your story could help inspire others, please let me know and I’ll put you onto David.

Meanwhile, just to show that we can also overcome weaknesses by sheer hard work, here’s an informal video of me playing some Bach in our local church.