Change your life 2005: Part 2


Make a million

Make a million

Nick Bell, 20, Newcastle upon Tyne

I get frustrated with people who sit around and don't do much, and then say they're bored. The ideas that I have aren't necessarily new or groundbreaking; it's a question of perseverance and determination. Once you get into it and you have the mindset of not taking no for an answer, it's easier. Ideas are the easiest bit though - it's implementing them that's hard.

I own 50 per cent of a company called Zero Plus, which installs audio-visual equipment, and we've recently set-up a tanning company called Coco Beach. Zero Plus is turning over £3.5 million a year, and Coco Beach has exceeded its £250,000 first-year, turnover target.

My inspiration, and I sometimes wish it was somebody more imaginative, is Richard Branson. I saw his autobiography, Losing my Virginity - I think it was the word "virginity" that caught my eye - and flicked through it as a token gesture thinking it would shut my mum up. Then I really got into it.

I won't be going into early retirement because I haven't made enough money yet. Even when I do I will still constantly have ideas; I'm the worst person for sitting still, as my girlfriend will tell you. If we go to the cinema I get restless and have to go and get some popcorn. At work, I'm rarely sat at my desk; I'm always wandering around talking on my mobile and annoying everyone in the office.

I bet about 99 per cent of people in the UK say things like, "Wouldn't it be good if..." or have a childhood dream they'd love to realise. If I speak to my friends and they say, "I've got this idea", I always tell them to just go for it; it has never really crossed my mind not to. * DP

For information on starting your own business, visit www.princes-trust.org.uk

Be clean and serene

Jane Harwood, 34, London

Alcoholism is more than the amount of alcohol you consume: it's a state of emotional bankruptcy. This time last year I couldn't generate joy or the desire to feel joy - I was dead inside. As an artist, my life was chaos. I was meeting exciting men, taking coke and drinking. I thought everyone had the same relationship to alcohol - the first drink makes the second hit home; by the third you forget what you're saying, and then you wake up next to a stranger. The first time it happened it was shocking, then I swept it under the carpet.

When my dad died four years ago, I cut down, but I'd still wake up next to strangers. I'd blame antidepressants, or the ecstasy I took, or mixing coke with alcohol. Honestly, the one constant was alcohol. On 4 January last year, I met friends for a drink. Two people I didn't like much went on to a late-night bar and I went too. Suddenly I had a moment of clarity. I hated these people, so I wasn't there for anything other than alcohol. I went home and stopped drinking.

The first seven months were hard because it was difficult to accept I was an alcoholic. I couldn't understand: apart from monthly binges I only drank half a bottle of wine a night. But it's a state of mind. An alcoholic is always trying to live on the edge.

I spent life looking for a quick fix, and I went into AA for a quick fix. After 11 months of sobriety, I don't feel disappointed that it's not. I'm healthy, and the 12 steps have given me the ability to be present in the world, not lamenting the past or feeling anxious about the future. I always felt I needed to battle, which was exhausting. Now I don't need to get pissed because I'm not living like that. Work's better and my friendships are better; when I think back to who I was this time last year, I'm staggered by the progress, and the extent to which a human can change. I'm looking forward to everything now. * CDH

Alcoholics Anonymous, tel: 08457 697 555, or go to www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk

Get divorced

Linda Poulson, 61, Solihull

My husband left me seven years ago, and we divorced last year. We had been together for 10 years, and married for eight of them.

When the marriage ended I was in total shock; I was suddenly faced with a future I had never imagined, and dreams disappeared overnight. I went through a bad period for 18 months, and then found the Divorce Recovery Workshop. The defining moment of the weekend was when we watched a video and the presenter said, "Divorce is something you can go through, or grow through." I came out of that weekend with hope, and the knowledge that I'd be happy again.

One of the sessions was about people starting new workshops of their own. I came away thinking, "I could never do that!" And yet, as it turns out, in May I attended the first workshop and by October I was running my own. The me of seven years ago and the me of today are like chalk and cheese. I've done TV, radio, documentaries, magazine features and I run a national phoneline for the workshop.

Some people are amazed at the difference in me. When you're suddenly left on your own you realise that society is geared up to "twos", and you've got to find a new social life. It can be so isolating when you think you're the only person with your particular problem. When you've done the workshop you find a new circle of friends who stay with you.

We are all, as individuals, responsible for our own happiness; in a marriage you can think it's down to the other person but it's all down to you. Out of marriage, I have finally taken responsibility for my own happiness. * DP

For more information on the Divorce Recovery Workshop, go to www.drw.org.uk

Trace your family

Angela Buchan, 48, Ayrshire

I now know my parents separated when my mother was pregnant with me. It was 1955 and my two-year-old brother was ill - it was too much for her. She kept my brother, put me in a children's home, and I never saw her again.

When I was four, my father found me. He brought me up with my stepmother, who died when I was 16. That's when I started to look for my mother. I left home, got together with someone, and moved to Scotland. I lost touch with my father; the longer it went, the harder it was to resume contact. My controlling husband didn't help. After 22 years of marriage I left him, and continued the search; this time for my father and my brother too. I wrote to the Salvation Army (SA) and it took them nearly three years - probably because they were looking for two such common names: Jim and John Smith.

They found out that my mother died six years ago, which was sad. I've seen one photo, and I've definitely got her big nose. It's a work in progress: I know she was called Kathleen Wheddon and had family near Finsbury Park, so there's lots to find out. In 2004, though, they found my father and brother. My dad was in Devon. I was ecstatic. We wrote letters to each other through the SA and then I phoned him. I was nervous, really hoping he wouldn't reject me. I said, "Hello, Dad it's me." He said, "Good God, is that you Angela?"

This summer, I drove with my partner through the night to get to Devon. I didn't tell Dad we were coming. When he saw me he was chuffed to pieces. I spent four days with him and his wife. He's 79 and still the same - never one for accepting responsibility, but that's just his way.

Now I phone him every week to say hello. He's dry-witted and fun. It feels like no time has passed, but unfortunately it has.

I would emphatically tell anyone to do it. Take the first step: it's amazing how much can happen. It makes you think maybe I do belong after all. CDH

Salvation Army Family Tracing Service, tel: 0845 634 4747; www.salvationarmy.org.uk/familytracing

Do voluntary work overseas

David Robinson, 44, Bangkok

I was 35 in 1995 when I moved from Sydney to London. That's quite a move, but I promised myself that at some point I'd take a year off. I'd been working hard for the Australian TV broadcaster SBS, and a year of enjoying good food and wine in the south of France or Italy had its appeal. But when the time came I felt that it was too self-indulgent. I had no dependents, so the opportunity was there to do something more worthwhile. It turned out to be the start of a fantastic adventure.

Through my new job at ITN I met the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which was set up to further the cause of the world's poor. I mentioned my plans and he told me about a similar organisation ActionAid, and soon afterwards I gave them a call. I had in mind some kind of humanitarian, hands-on work, but the skills I had from my career matched their needs. They asked if I'd be prepared to move to Bangkok to be their communications co-ordinator. I'd thought of going somewhere remote, but in truth those places scared me. So, with a certain nervousness, I said yes. The city suits me. Bangkok is well connected; friends from Australia pass through.

ActionAid is a massive charity, and I help its people talk to each other, and to the media, in 11 countries across Asia. Having worked for international news companies, I thought I had a good understanding of the world. I am, however, astonished by my new insights. I have travelled across Asia, from the hills of Afghanistan to the mountains of Nepal. I have learnt so much about how the world works, in ways I can't begin to explain.

I like it here in Bangkok - the people, the culture, the food - and with the charity covering my basic living costs and my flat in London rented out, one year turned into two, and I've just signed up for a third. At first I worried about how I'd get my career back, how I'd get into media again, but now I'd say to people, "Don't worry about it." The truth is you don't know what you'll want to do by the time you finish. I think I'll do the next year, then stay in Asia. Other than that, who knows? * CB

To make a donation to ActionAid, tel: 01460 238 023 or go to www.actionaid.org. To find out more about overseas charity work, tel: 020 8780 7200 or go to www.vso.org.uk

Learn to sing

Rhys Meirion, 38, Ruthin, North Wales

Back in September 1993, I became head teacher at a school in Wales. I was only 26 and had to make changes. Rugby had to go - I didn't have time to train - and as head couldn't be seen drunk and singing in the streets after a game. My father suggested I tried singing. I enjoyed singalongs, I play the piano, and music is my main subject at school, so I thought I'd give it a go. I went to a voice coach who thought I had the makings of a good tenor solo and soon I started winning competitions and singing in local concerts. In 1996, I won the National Eisteddfod.

After that, I knew I wanted to turn professional. But with a three-month-old son, giving up a safe income is difficult. Still, my wife knew I'd be miserable if I didn't go for it, so I took the next step and moved to London in 1997 to study at the Guildhall. The competition for places was tough - there were only 12 places available for hundreds of post-graduates - but the next thing I knew I was commuting to London every Sunday night, and back to Wales every Friday.

The course lasted two years, with two more spent at the English National Opera (ENO). It was hard work and I had a lot of catching up to do, but it paid off. In the first six months of the course I was offered Edmondo in Manon Lescaut for Glyndebourne, and a contract with the ENO soon followed. Things were happening back in Wales, too: by this time I had three kids.

I've just left the ENO to go freelance, and this year we're going to Australia as a family for six months, and I'll be singing at the Sydney Opera House for the first time. It's taken 10 years to get here, but it's worth it. It's my dream and I feel it's part of my culture, part of being Welsh. * CB

To contact the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, tel: 020 7628 2571 or go to www.gsmd.ac.uk

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