The Do lectures can change your life


Do header This is a super-late blog post but I do have an excuse. Lame as it may seem, I just didn’t know where to start and, given that the title of the lecture series is ‘Do’, it’s about the feeblest excuse imaginable. Nevertheless, here it is.

For those who’ve never heard of them (and that’s plenty of people) the Do Lectures take place every year in September on a campsite just outside Cardigan in West Wales called Fforest. They were set up by David Hieatt, co founder of mail order clothing brand Howies and they are now in their third year. The lectures are all about ideas for change, sometimes on a small scale and sometimes on a huge scale. The truth is, it’s really a collection of very interesting people who split into two categories; those who have big ideas for change and those who are simply leading very interesting and inspirational lives.

Attendance numbers are capped at 80, which is partly based around the capacity of the site itself (with all the lecturers, family members etc. there are probably about 120 onsite) and partly to maintain an intimate focus for the event. 24 lectures take place over 4 days and the majority of lecturers stay on site for the duration – living, eating, cooking and very often boozing with the attendees.

I decided to go with my book club friend Ian Street who works for the Local Authority and we were both lucky enough to be accepted after answering the 10 (really good) questions that constitute the entry criteria. 20 tickets are released every 2 months in the lead up to the event so it was by no means a done deal that we would both get in.

We’ve known about the lectures since they started, so we knew they would be good, but it’s quite possible that they could be one of those rarest of things – a genuinely life-changing event. I’m very wary of false epiphanies and those who know me will vouch for my natural cynicism (which I’m trying to diminish). However, a good few shifts in thinking happened to both Ian and I over the 4 days which, given the time lapse between the event and this blog post, appear to have taken root permanently. I won’t witter on about this now because it will doubtless become evident in posts later on.

Speakers ranged from lecture-circuit giants like Tim Berners-Lee (fantastically geeky and refreshingly humble inventor of the Web) and Steve Allen (flavour-of-the-epoque author of ‘Getting things Done’) to personal achievers like Ed Stafford (the only guy to survive walking the entire length of the Amazon) and Daniel Seddiqui (who had 50 jobs in 50 American States in as many months). There were also a smattering of fantastic nutcases who brought a rich dose of levity to an otherwise potentially intimidating array of brainboxes and high achievers.

However, for me the stories of individuals who were simply compelled to get on and do something about a problem they just couldn’t live with were the most affecting. It was difficult to choose my top 3, but the time lapse has helped with the emergence of the ones who I simply can’t get out of my head. Here they are:

Maggie Doyne

Maggie Moments into Maggie’s lecture, you could hear a pin drop. At the ripe age of 23, Maggie told a story of how at 18 her life lacked real meaning (who worries about that at 18?!) and she decided, to go backpacking around the world. She finished up in Nepal where she witnessed the horrendous plight of refugee children who were living rough on the streets. Maggie could barely contain her emotions whilst she spoke about one particular 6 year-old who made it impossible for her to walk away without doing something. Maggie stood on stage, the same innocence in her face as we saw in the pictures of the children, and the audience were totally spellbound by every word, every gesture. Her implied message was as powerful as any we heard over the whole 4 days – sometimes, you’ve just got to do something. Maggie built a home for as many children as she could and now has the Kopila Valley Children’s Home and School which houses and teaches 230 children. I have never felt more privileged to be in the immediate orbit of another human being. Have a look: 

Watch the lecture here

This is her web site:

Euan Semple

Euan I’ve been waiting for someone to help me get to the real meaning of social networking and this guy finally did it for me. Some intellectuals generously help us make sense of the world and enjoy our lives and Euan is definitely one of those. He was funny, fascinating, humble and above all, human. I think it would be a waste of time trying to explain the themes that the former Head of Communication at the BBC explored, but I recommend you have a look at his lecture.

Watch the lecture here

Steve Edge

Steve 2 My top 3 wouldn’t be complete without one of the nutcases and it was a toss-up between Steve and another guy who I give special mention to at the end. Steve arrived onsite at the end of the first day and drew glances of bemused interest from the off. Picture the scene; everybody wearing variations on the theme of ‘outdoor’, with a predominance of green and the odd Howies-style touch of discreet colour, usually via jazzy outdoorsy shoes or perhaps a woolly jumper. All of us looking worthy and wholly appropriate for the light layer of early Autumn mud beneath our feet. 

Up pops Steve in gold shoes, deep pink velvet trousers, open double cuffs and a sumptuously upholstered three-quarter length coat. There he stands, in the mud, chatting away with a pint of Scruttock’s Old Dirigible or whatever brain-trammelling ale it was, in his artistic-looking, piano player’s hand. Looking at him, I felt the lecture could go either way.  In the end, it went exactly the right way – the life story of a dyslexic boy who lived with a chimpanzee, went to work on a horse, stood in for the actress’s legs in the snake scene in ‘Temple of Doom’ and was inspired by the death of his beloved auntie to wear his Sunday Best every day.

Solid gold, and a wonderful, loving person face to face.

Watch the lecture here

Alex Haw

Alex Finally, special mention goes to Alex Haw: Artist, Architect and Director of Atmos. He confessed to thinking that his slot was going to be considerably longer than his 25 minute allotted time. Instead of shortening his presentation, he chose to rattle through his slides (clearly designed for little short of a half-day seminar) at such a speed that the sheer ridiculousness of it raised howls of laughter, not least from the host David Hieatt who kept looking around tittering like a naughty schoolboy. However, unlike Vivienne Westwood on Wogan, Alex took the whole thing in good spirit and relished the entertainment he was providing. Any doubts I might have had about his being offended by the laughs were completely dispelled by a story he told my mate Ian while we were having dinner. He said he’d been invited to speak at a super-credible event in Sydney. Immediately after his speech he asked the host what they thought. They said that it was the worst speech they’d ever heard and futhermore, they were having a barbecue later on and he wasn’t invited. He was laughing his head off as he told the story.

His work is great though, so I’d look at the work and take my word for it on the lecture.

Here’s his web site:

I can’t recommend this lecture series/experience highly enough. There were a few things that didn’t sit quite right for me – the fairly conventional auction on Sunday and Andy Middleton’s slightly awkward segues from funny guy to Mr. Earnest. But it’s a genuinely important thing and still in its infancy. I promise to keep this blog up to date with some of the things it has inspired me to do.

Hide comments >
comments powered by Disqus