When you watch the endless parade of celebrities down the red carpet this awards season, it’s easy to assume they’ve all had fame and fortune handed to them on a plate – blessed with the right genes, born into acting or filmmaking dynasties.
Likewise, it’s tempting to assume the country’s leading literary stars are from the kind of wealthy academic backgrounds where a place at Oxbridge is a rite of passage.
But while it’s certainly true that a great deal of the world’s most celebrated talents have had a helpful start in life, it is by no means a pre-requisite for success.
For many, there was no meal ticket. In fact, for many it was the hardship and challenges of their humble beginnings that turned out to be the very driving force behind the realization of their dreams.
And these are the successful people that provide us with the greatest inspiration – those who have achieved success despite their circumstances not because of them, those people who, through determination and tenacity, have overcome adversity to reach their goals against all odds.
And it’s not hard to see why given that this idea forms the backbone of most of the films we watch and novels we read. Imagine if Nemo never strayed from Malin or if the Wicked Witch of the West gave Dorothy a lift back to Kansas on her broomstick at the beginning of the film.
So next time you feel like giving up on your dreams because great things never happen to people like you, take a look at these stories of successful people who hit rock bottom before soaring to the top of their game.
He may be one of the country’s most highly regarded actors but Michael Caine’s career has had twists and turns to rival any of his best-loved characters. The ‘Alfie’ star began as a stage hand, which led to a few walk-on parts but things soon took a dark turn when he walked out on his marriage and fatherhood at 22. “I walked out of the marriage and Pat took Dominique back to her parents in Sheffield. They were marvelous and brought her up. The marriage breakdown was entirely my fault. I was too young and immature to take on the poverty and personal and professional failure. “I collapsed like a house of cards. I was out of work, had no money and was forced, at the age of 23, to return to the council prefab where I’d lived with my mum and dad and rely on their generosity again.”
After leading Britain and its allies to victory in the second world war, Winston Churchill went on to become Prime Minister at the grand old age of 62 but his early years were not always so victorious. The politician, who was given a state funeral in 1965, failed the entrance exam for the Royal Military College (twice). He then hit a rocky patch in his political career (known as his ‘wilderness years’) between 1929 and 1939, during which time he was estranged from his political party over ideological disagreements. He famously said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
Who’d have guessed the British scientist who laid the foundations of the theory of evolution and changed the way we view the natural world, started out as a school drop-out? An average student, the scientist showed no interest in academia – perhaps not helped by the fact he was dyslexic. After dropping out of medical school Darwin’s father once said: “You care for nothing but shooting dogs and catching rats and you will be nothing but a disgrace to yourself and all of your family.” Slight error of judgement there.
The slightly bonkers comedy actor might appear to have a permanent grin on his face but his life hasn’t always been a bundle of laughs. After his father lost his job when Carrey was 14, money became so tight they ended up living in a VW van on a relative’s lawn. This served only to spur Carrey on in his quest for fame. At 16, he left school to focus on his comedy career. He spoke out on Oprah about how he used visualization techniques to help him achieve his eventual success.
Vincent Van Gogh
Despite being one of the world’s best known and most highly acclaimed painters, poor van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. But this did not deter him from pursuing his passion – the prolific artist painted no less than 900 works. Even if only posthumously, his talent was realized eventually.
Top literary author, Jeanette Winterson was not exactly encouraged with her writing abilities. Growing up in a home bereft of love and literature, the adopted lesbian daughter of a God-fearing Pentecostal tyrant (who believed sex was evil and all books, apart from the Bible, were sinful), Jeanette could have allowed her dreams to dissipate. Instead, she left home and moved into her clapped-out car, where she slept by night, devoting her days to the library. This led to her attaining a place at Oxford to read English Literature – and the rest is history.
Whether you love them or hate them, the mark The Beatles have made on the history of pop music is indisputable. But not everybody saw their potential. When the fab four were just starting out, the first record company they approached rejected them on the grounds that “we don’t like their sound and guitar music is on its way out”.
Great acting credentials, stunning good looks… It’s easy to assume that the beautiful Emily Blunt has floated gracefully through life with good fortune falling at her feet. But the ‘Devil Wears Prada’ star was cursed with a debilitating stutter as a child. It was a teacher who finally she suggested she try acting as a way to conquer her speech impediment. She said in a newswire article: “I did have a bad stuttering problem as a child. I’d try to push the words out, but it was frustrating. My parents took me to speech coaches and relaxation coaches. It didn’t work. Then one of my teachers at school had a brilliant idea and said, ‘Why don’t you speak in an accent in our school play?’ “I distanced myself from me through this character, and it was so freeing that my stuttering stopped when I was onstage. It was really a miracle.”
J K Rowling
Perhaps the most famous example of success achieved against all odds, is J K Rowling, best-selling author and the brains behind the Harry Potter phenomenon. Rowling was penniless, severely depressed after going through a divorce and attempting to raise a child single-handedly while working and writing. We guess you could say the hard work paid off.
The moral of this story, in the words of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, is don’t give up…