Good grief. One of my dreams has actually come true. If I had known, all those years ago, as I sat and watched “Happy Days” and drooled over Fonzie that thirty five years later I would be spending time with Henry Winkler at The Hay Festival, I would never have believed it. OK, he’s not The Fonz anymore, but then again, he never was that persona we all knew and loved. I was surprised to hear that he never wore a leather jacket in real life – only ever on set.
“First News” the children’s newspaper work with him on his “My Way” tour, whereby he tours the country talking to children about his difficulties with dyslexia and his belief that anyone can do anything if they simply try their hardest and I happen to have very good friends who are involved with the campaign. At the Hay Festival I listened to him speak twice, once to a group of children and once to adults with a smattering of children. The response was the same. Total absorption in his story, laughter, tears and an almost evangelical response (and that was just me). Children and adults alike came up to him at the end and told him that he had changed their lives.
So here is my friend Nicky Cox introducing him on stage:-
He talks about his background and what little self esteem he had as a child. How his “very, very, very, very, very, very short German parents had called him “dumme Hund” which means “dumb dog” in German”. He was very bad at maths and science, but very good at “lunch and going home”. He talked about how he got to Hollywood and how he got the part in “Happy Days”. The lean period after it finished because he was typecast and how he got into writing stories for children about his childhood experiences.
“Every single one of you in this room has greatness in you. You are all powerful. You might not know yet what it is that you are going to be great at, but one day it will jump out at you and when it does, you need to grab on to it and give it to the world as your gift. You might be good at tennis, or football, or maths or making things – but this is how the world turns and nobody can tell you what that is but you. Every one of you has something important to contribute to the world”….
…and by this time every single person in the room had grown by two inches and you could seriously hear a pin drop. Every parent was nodding and nudging their children as he reminded us that the most important job we had to do was give our children the confidence to be prepared to try. It made me cry.
He said his parents thought he was lazy and although he tried, he couldn’t get certain things to go into his head. He wasn’t diagnosed as dyslexic until his son was. Imagine spending all those years not knowing what is wrong with you. Not being able to explain why as hard as you try, things just don’t stick in your head in the way they might do for others. His passion is now to get dyslexia talked about as much as possible and he works with a group called “Achievement For all” whereby learning focuses on the individual and not the group as a whole. He tells the audience that each and every child has a different way of learning and that “school should not in any way define who you are”. “It has nothing to do with how brilliant you are, so all you need to do is be prepared to try your hardest and give things a go”. Hank Zipzer came to life when he was introduced to his writing partner. Together they write a book in 3 months all about a dyslexic child and his stories. They have now written 26 books.
He is truly an astonishing man, with time for everyone and a very big heart. What is truly phenomenal about him is that he continues to attract and inspire people from every generation. During my time with him at The Hay Festival it was like being with the Pied Piper. People followed him everywhere. He is one of the most recognised human beings on the planet I suspect AND I GOT TO HANG WITH HIM.
Here he is wandering around the festive, just after his talk:-
BOYS reading books and being inspired:-
One little girl came up and said “I just wanted you to know that it took us four hours to get here, but it was totally worth it”. Here she is giving him a hug – a picture tells a thousand words:-
Me being silly:-
The war edition of First News that has just been released:-