Alice Thomson

2023 - What I wish I knew when I was young. The art and science of growing up

Loss and adversity are part of the human condition, but an imperfect past isn’t always an indicator of what’s to come.

Is there a pattern? Why is it that often the people with the hardest beginnings in life—children who experience displacement, disease, financial ruin, abandonment or bereavement—become the most successful adults? And is there something to learn from those people, who perhaps have the strongest sense of what matters most?

Of Britain’s 55 prime ministers, 25 lost one or both of their parents as a child and 69 per cent suffered some form of serious childhood trauma. From the acclaimed podcast Past Imperfect, Alice Thomson together with her co-host Rachel Sylvester spoke to some such prime ministers, as well as pioneers and poets, CEOs and chefs, actors and archbishops, sports stars and Nobel prize-winning scientists. How did Richard Branson overcome severe dyslexia? How did Daphne Park, born in lonely rural Tanzania, become one of Britain’s top spies? How was diver Tom Daley driven on to win an Olympic gold medal by being bullied at school and his father’s early death?

Bringing together psychological research with scores of intimate, fascinating interviews, yhe resulting narrative is full of hope and might help us all towards a better understanding of resilience, motivation, perspective and courage.