George enjoys a new lease of life back home after the heady days...
Life has been a rollercoaster for George Stothard, who has experienced the hedonistic delights of London and Dubai, sandwiched between an upbringing and dramatic return to Grantham.
He recalls tea and toast at home with Tony Benn, seeing Alastair Campbell in a hotel corridor in his boxers and appearing on television doing his John Major impression whilst wearing an American football outfit.
He’s also met Boy George, Graham Norton, Matt Lucas, as well as former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, among many other household names.
Now, back in Grantham, the 42-year-old realises life is about simpler things – family, a walk with the dog and a sausage roll from Watkins.
But it’s back home where he recently made a fresh waves, as the bearded, checked-shirt-wearing “shouty” Brexiteer seen on the Grantham edition of the BBC Question Time programme, receiving much abuse on social media from pro-Remain “Twitter trolls” afterwards.
Not that he minds that too much. Too much has happened, so much has changed, so it’s all just part of life for a Granthamian with a remarkable story to tell.
George has his own writing business, which has offices in London and Dubai, and helps corporate companies and governments communicate.
It’s a talent he believes started out as a child at Earlesfield County Primary School when he wrote a story called ‘Jumbo Jet Disaster.’
George spent his first few years on the Earlesfield Estate describing life there as “pretty good” getting fizzy drinks from the “pop man” in the summer and spending time with an old lady, Mrs Froggett, who had “beautiful cats.”
His mum, Norma, was Scottish and worked hard, bringing up four boys under six, with jobs including lollipop lady on Dysart Road, receptionist at the Travelodge and barmaid at a local pub.
His mum and stepdad worked night and day and taught him the value of hard work.
George realised he wanted to explore, especially creatively, leading to writing and acting, something he picked up at St Hugh’s School, inspired by a sports teacher, Mr Davis, who directed drama in the evenings.
The teenager realised he wanted to act, so he took drama among his A levels at Melton Mowbray College.
He recalled: “It’s a funny thing when you come from a family of builders and joiners – there’s no template for becoming an actor.”
This led to a degree in theatre, film and television studies at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which with hindsight proved a wise choice, as the course also covered politics, literature and society.
He landed a place at the leading Mountview Theatre School in London, whose patron is Judi Dench. But the fees were £10,000 a year and George was penniless, so he sent pictures of himself to charities. The Grantham Journal ran a story about his ambitions and plans and a blind man contacted his mum and gave her £3,000 of fivers stuffed in two bags.
George said: “I always felt guilty about that old man because it never worked out for me as an actor. The truth is, I just wasn’t good enough.”
Thus, despite appearing in a film with Honor Blackman and a national tour of Alice in Wonderland; flat broke, he started in financial PR, as “general dogsbody” including fetching the sandwiches, before moving into recruitment as a headhunter.
From his working class parents and background George decided he “hated Thatcher” and was “Labour inside out” at this stage of his life.
He joined Earls Court Labour Party, became secretary, and stood in the 2002 council elections. That year, George went to Labour’s Blackpool conference and gave a speech on housing, saying: “how awful it was for Thatcher to sell off council houses.”
He said: “The irony was, I hadn’t really considered how my own family had benefited from that policy. My family had bought our council house in the late 80s and so, as Thatcher intended, it gave us the security a family seeks and long term equity in a property.”
It was the start of a political journey, one that has made George a Conservative today, warning of: “An entitlement culture where people take things for granted.”
“It’s like anti-capitalist warriors smashing up McDonalds with Nike trainers on their feet,” he said.
But after meeting the top politicians of the time and celebrities at London nightclubs a decade ago, another surprising journey followed...to Dubai.
“Dubai was flying, PR firms were calling us desperate for people, so my boss asked if I fancied moving there to set up an office,” he said.
“Dubai was great for single guys out for a good time and is safe for wealthy families with an outstanding quality of life but the glitzy plastic fantastic life wasn’t for me.
“The pay was good, I cleared my debts and I lived in a nice place and drove a really cool Jeep. I did the dune bashing, the sky diving, the desert camping and, of course, I bought my fair share of booze from dodgy men up the coast. The place was very, very good to me and I will always be grateful.”
In 2012, George set up his own business, the Writing Shop, winning clients across the UAE and then Africa, the Middle East, Switzerland and the UK.
“It’s funny how it can take decades to go full circle to get back to where you started. It took me 30 years to realise what was in front of me from that first story about a plane disaster. I was always a writer.”
“The writing I do personally now includes executive speeches for CEOs, senior industry leaders or politicians, annual reports, news opinion pieces for business leaders and a lot of websites. The team is great – a real mix of creative types who write ad copy and taglines and corporate types like me, ex-journalists and communications practicioners.”
However, fuelled by a hectic lifestyle, which included presenting a radio show, and the “huge booze culture” of Dubai, drinking too much and staying out too late, too often, George had “a breakdown.” He returned home to Grantham in 2014, and was cared for by his youngest brother, Martin, who runs Gastech Plumbing, and wife Jill.
“Getting back to my roots and getting off the rollercoaster was something that just had to happen,” George recalled.
So he sold his flat in London, bought a little house in Grantham, and now flits between London, Dubai and Grantham, where: “I have found myself again.”
Then there was that political journey, caused by a changed world. Despite being born into a Labour family and being a party member for 20 years, George learnt you have to question everything.
“Corbyn’s Labour seeks to make enterprise practically impossible, let alone desirable. People who run businesses take risks – with their own money and their family’s security. That’s how business is. And those that succeed, they are the ones that create the jobs that everybody else wants and needs.
“The terrible thing about today’s world is the lack of respect – and in fact the hatred and jealousy – that people have for other people who run businesses.”
And there is Brexit, which Question Time viewers noticed, saw him demand the replacement of Theresa May with a Brexiteer prime minister.
George explained: “Sovereignty is the most important, followed by the importance of protecting the liberal values of freedom and liberty that we have come to take so much for granted. I have lived in some parts of the world where that liberty doesn’t exist, in countries without democracy or some of the most basic human rights.”
George believes Europe is facing a crisis – ”not of terrorism but of values” – one that led German Chancellor Angela Merkel to make the “massive mistake” of allowing a million undocumented migrants into her country.
“If Brexit can help us in any way to escape the horror of those values, then it’s a decision well-made. Of course, Brexit is an incredibly exciting opportunity for us to take advantage of the fact that 90 per cent of global growth over the past decade has been outside the EU.
“I have seen that excitement first hand during my time in the Middle East. Staying in the EU is a matter of fear – and I am really happy to see we have embraced opportunity.”
George adds his future is: “wide open,” but he feels: “bloody lucky I get to do what I love.”
He continued: “Grantham has been hit really, really hard by globalisation, by the death of manufacturing and the sad demise of the high street. But there’s life and love and bloody good humour in Grantham and I’m really chuffed to be back.”