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Nicky Marr: What makes Lewis Capaldi a leader for next generation?

By Nicky Marr

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Lewis Capaldi. Picture: Tuomas Vitikainen / Wikimedia Commons
Lewis Capaldi. Picture: Tuomas Vitikainen / Wikimedia Commons

For the past few years I’ve delivered a course to secondary school pupils through the Developing the Young Workforce scheme. The aim is to help S5 and S6 students to ‘market’ themselves to the gatekeepers of the next stages of their lives – those who might give them a college or university place, an apprenticeship, or a job.

In one exercise the students identify people they think of as great leaders: often historical figures, politicians, or sporting personalities, sometimes a grandparent too.

We discuss the leadership skills those people have, before I invite the students to look at their own lives. Which of these qualities do they possess? How does that relate to the career they might follow? And what examples can they give to act as evidence for application forms and job interviews?

A couple of months ago I was working in a Ross-shire school, and a new name was suggested as an inspirational leader – that of Lewis Capaldi.

‘He’s his own person,’ said one, adding, ‘he’s a great role model for mental health issues’.

‘He’s a brilliant singer and he’s funny too.’ said another.

I hope Invergordon Academy’s S6 were watching Glastonbury over the weekend and caught Lewis Capaldi’s set. Because if you saw it too, you’ll know it was one of the most simultaneously heartbreaking and life-affirming performances ever to have graced our screens.

Whether or not you’re a fan of Capaldi’s (and if you’re not, we can’t be friends), his appeal and vocal talent are undeniable, and his songs of heartbreak, love, and the agony of rejection, are the soundtrack for his generation.

And while he sings with the wisdom of someone twice his age, when he speaks to his audience, or in interview, he’s funny, self-deprecating, and just like that lad from next door – the one you might ask to feed your cat when you go on holiday, but you’ll make sure his mum knows to remind him, otherwise who knows what you might come back to.

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All of which makes him undeniably human. And that was what we thought about Capaldi before he opened up about his struggles with Tourette’s syndrome, his mental ill-health, and his panic attacks and anxiety.

Capaldi was always going to be on my watch-list for Glastonbury, so I settled in for a good set, hoping his three-week break from gigging before Worthy Farm was enough for him to have rested and recovered from a spell of particularly poor mental health.

But he struggled. And it was a tough watch, not just because Capaldi’s voice gave out, or because of the increased frequency of his involuntary tics, but because he felt the need to apologise.

Here was a man who clearly thought he had let himself and his fans down. A lesser mortal would have fled the stage, assuming they’d had the courage to turn up at all.

And then he did the bravest thing of all, and showed vulnerability, asking, “I just need you all to sing with me as loud as you can if that’s OK?”

Glastonbury’s thousands-strong crowd did not let him down, taking over the vocal of Someone You Loved, leaving a bemused Capaldi standing alone on centre stage, just drinking it all in.

It was deeply moving; the sort of display of communal spirit that felt like the best of humanity. The message from the crowd was clear: “We love you, we see you, and we’ve got your back.”

Glastonbury 2023 gave us the best line-up I can remember, and beyond music, it reminded us that if we show vulnerability, there will be compassion, and if we ask for help, the world will sing along.

Thank you, Lewis. Rest up. Take all the time you need. We’ll still be here.

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