So, it’s unusual for me to post twice in a day. But I’m at work and catching up on news. At first, I had to wonder if it was a joke, but apparently not – The Times have indeed voted Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, as their Briton of the Year. He’s apparently “a game changing politician”.If I’m playing chess and I throw the board across the room (quite likely, I suck at chess), I’ve changed the game, but I don’t deserve a grand master title. Mr Farage may have changed politics, but hardly in the best sense of the phrase.
This game changer has set up an account off-shore, taking advantage of tax loopholes, and harming the country he claims to be so passionate an advocate off. He’s constantly defended controversial comments by his party members, recently dismissing an episode of quite blatant homophobia as “the sort of language that men of his age use”. My great-grandmother grew up in an age where “working like a n*****” was a perfectly acceptable phrase, but no-one’s arguing that it’s appropriate for use now. He was called out on his comments that “you would be concerned if a Romanian moved next door” – and when asked what the difference would be between a Romanian and a German (his wife is German), refused to elaborate, simply saying “you know what the difference is”. Recently, he claimed that immigration was responsible for his late arrival to a conference, because it had made the M4 less navigable.
Claiming this guy as the Briton of the Year because of his influence seems ridiculous – like claiming Herod as Children’s Worker of the Year for his influence on baby care in Bethlehem. It’s insane. And it’s more infuriating when there are so many wonderful people in Britain so much more deserving of recognition that won’t get it. That in mind, here’s my alternative, personal list of heroes of the year, in no particular order.
Jenny is a dear friend, who is fighting breast cancer at an incredibly young age (she’s younger than I am), and has a son not yet 2. Despite having an incredibly difficult year, Jenny continues to inspire her friends with her love and care for them, as well as for her determination to get as much out of life as possible.
2. Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola is the first female leader of Scotland, taking over after Alex Salmond. Taking over in the wake of the referendum is not an easy task, but she’s already proved her worth, pledging to take forward not only issues of independence but issues of equal pay and nuclear weapons.
3. Alex Salmond
And whilst we’re on the subject of the referendum, if you want a game changer, how about Alex Salmond, who masterminded one of the biggest campaigns since the Act of Union. No, he didn’t win, but he did raise awareness and bring a prominence to issues simply not seen before. And he managed all of it without being racist!
4. Nicola Grinstead
No, she may not be a name you’ve heard of, unless you’re a Guide. Nicola combines her (frankly insane) job as Deputy Divisional operations manager for Imperial Healthcare with the chair of the World Board of the biggest organisation for girls and women in the world, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. On top of this, she finds time to be a Brownie leader. Either she’s got a time turner, or she’s one of the most inspirational, passionate women I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. I’m inclined to suspect the latter.
When I first met Holly, I was warned she might not talk much. Growing up with speech and language difficulties and learning difficulties, Holly’s not always had the easiest of times. However, she’s developed into a brilliant Brownie leader (she keeps me organised, which takes a lot!), and not only that, has achieved a huge amount in her sport, Judo, winning gold in the Special Olympics European Summer games and being selected for the World Games in 2015.
6. Grace Jones
Grace is 15, and yet she’s already showing herself as someone who really does live up to her name. The Croydon based lass is working with multinational food manufacturer, Unilever, to campaign against food waste and food poverty in Britain. She’s even in the process of setting up a foodbank in her local area, Coulsden, recognising the reality that so many Britains face, whilst campaigning and working towards a future where foodbanks become obsolete. At 15, I was panicking over my maths GCSE. To have such an influence at such a young age is surely much more worthy of recognition than Mr Farage?
7. The female English Artistic Gymnastics team for the Commonwealth Games
Claudia Frangapane, Ruby Harrold and Hannah Whelan had already supported their team to win Gold at the Commonwealth Games for the Women’s Artistic team event, when they then went to compete in the individual all round finals. After a thrilling competition, the English girls did it loud and proud, winning Gold, Silver and Bronze respectively. Not to leave the boys out, they also performed amazingly!
8. Harriet Lamb
Is the CEO of Fairtraid. Her work literally saves and improves millions of lives each year worldwide. Need I say more?
9. Krystle Lai
We’ve heard the amazing stories of Ian Crozier, the doctor who caught Ebola whilst caring for patients – and went back to Africa to carry on helping. Sadly for the purpose of my list, he’s American. So a shout out to one of my former schoolmates, the amazing Krystle Lai, who is a communications and behavioural change expert in Sierra Leone, combatting the disease through simple messages communicated effectively, like the Handwashing Flash Mob she organised recently to spread the message of the importance of hand washing in the fight against Ebola. That’s not taking into account her other important research on behalf of several NGO’s, which has influenced crucial policy change.
The world fell in love with this incredible man in 2014. Whilst fighting incurable cancer, Stephen raised £5 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Most people would be content with concentrating on themselves whilst dying – he looked towards the other teenagers suffering with cancer, and improved their world even whilst getting ready to leave his own.
So there you go – there’s a list to start with. Somehow though, I can’t see anyone on it being recognised in quite the same way. It seems we love to celebrate the ridiculous and controversial, and yet the good and beautiful go unrecognised. Nigel Farage does not give me hope for the future of the UK. Thankfully, the people above, and thousands more, do. Here’s to those who really do change the game – and make it better.