Yesterday at a Prize Giving at a local Comprehensive School I asked the children, students and parents if they thought the prize winners had mainly won prizes because of their genes, and who their parents were, or because of the effort and the enthusiasm they had put into their studies. By a wide margin the audience told me the prize winners had done so through their own hard work. It had been a long hot evening of speeches, with many prizes. I kept my remarks short, conscious that people had homes they wanted to return to, seeing the audience had reached the point where the chairs seemed hard and the air too warm.
I said something along the following lines:
â€œYou too can live your dreams. In this age of watching celebrity on TV, when the best performers in the world of sport, drama and song can be in our living rooms and bedrooms at the touch of a button, it is all too easy to think the successful are born with different genes. People think Johnny Wilkinson was such a good kicker of the rugby ball because he was born with that skill, or they believe Ronaldo can show poetry with a soccer ball because his parents so endowed him. They ignore the hours of practise both put in as youngsters before fame beckoned, when their friends were spending more time watching TV or engaging in a more active social life.
Somewhere in a hall like this is sitting a 15 or 16 year old who will lift a gold medal at the London Olympics. It is unlikely to be someone here tonight, because the best in the world today are so good, and make such a sacrifice. But it could be someone here tonight, if one of you really really wanted to be the best in the world at something which requires youthful muscles and hunger to be the fastest.
There may be many parents here tonight who have long given up on their dream. They may not be able to see their way past the mortgage payments and the school run. My message to you is the same. In a few years you will have no more school run. Eventually the mortgage will be repaid. Sometimes it pays to be brave, to say I am not going to just dream my dream, or let my dream fade into the cynicism of middle age â€“ I am going to seize the moment and advance my dream. You might surprise yourself at what you can do, if you really really want to . Tomorrow you could make that first step to what you have always wanted to do – so why delay, why not start today?
If you do start to live your dream you will find in some ways it is so much better than the dream itself. Yes, there will be the rebuffs and the rejections, the days, weeks or months when it does not work. There will be times when you are not good enough, and other times when you may be good enough but others do not recognise it. There will be times when you are living your dream when it becomes a nightmare and you will wonder why you ever dreamt it. You will need to be your own best critic, constantly striving to do better and to learn more each day. If you want to be good, strive to be the best.
I always dreamt of one day representing people in Parliament. It took me 14 years to get there from the time I first became a Councillor, with many rebuffs on the way. Each time I wondered if it would be worth it. It was. Every day I walk into the magnificent Victorian building at Westminster and see our history in the murals, paintings and statues, I know it was worth it. Every time I make a speech, I am humbled by the thought of some of the great speeches that changed the nation, and inspired by the thought I too can make my contribution to our democratic traditions. Even though I am a well known critic of how Parliament is run and handled by the present government, I never doubt its importance to our liberties, and the need for those who believe to make it better. In a way the defects of the present mount a greater challenge to my generation to do something to sort it, so we can pass it on with greater lustre.
And when I manage to fit in a game of cricket and play well below the standard I would like to, I remember the great saying â€“ my luck at sport always improves, the more I practise. You will find it difficult to live more than one dream!â€