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Words of wisdom: advice from dads

26 May 2016

Readers and celebrities share inspiring words of wisdom passed down by their fathers.

Son getting advice from father
Readers and well-known names share the advice their fathers gave them

Don’t be greedy, see the best in people and please, please don’t become a model. To celebrate Father’s Day on June 19, a mix of readers and well-known names share some of the most memorable pieces of advice their dads ever gave them.

Chris Packham, 55

TV naturalist

One day, I was enthusiastically telling my father, Colin, how I’d learnt at school all about Columbus discovering America. He waited patiently until I’d finished, then told me that it wasn’t actually Columbus but a Viking, Leif Erikson, who’d done it – 500 years earlier. ‘Always challenge convention,’ he would tell me – and he was absolutely right.

I don’t believe anything until I’ve got good scientific proof, and I’m open to evidence that might prove things differently. My father, an engineer, also gave me a thirst for knowledge, which is a wonderful thing. He taught me to read by starting at A in our encyclopedias, finishing at Z – then going back to the beginning. He always enjoyed new ideas – although he has stuck stubbornly to a love of brass bands all his life…

Chris’s memoir, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar, is out now (Ebury, £20)

Read our interview with Chris Packham

Andrew Marr, 56

Journalist and TV presenter

Over the years, I’ve worried about having too little money – then been proud of earning a lot. But my father, Donald, has always counselled, ‘You’ve only got one stomach’.

He worked in investment trusts but never paid himself that much, unlike other people in the financial sector – he felt that there was only so much a man needs.

His other piece of advice is: ‘There’s a cure for everything except a swollen head’.

The time to be careful is when you look in the mirror and think you’re clever. My father is the least conceited man I know.

Andrew’s novel Children of the Master is out in paperback now (Fourth Estate, £8.99)

Dennis Young, 53

A mechanic from Nottingham

My dad, Noel, was quite a shy man, but after three or four pints of Shipstone’s he would either talk about politics: ‘Never vote for the Conservatives’, or neckwear: ‘Always buy a decent tie’.

He had one of the best collections of ties I’ve ever seen; bright, silken beauties, often with hand-printed designs. And he was obsessed about how they used to sit against his shirt. When I became a punk, he let me borrow an electric purple one with a yellow butterfly, which I wore over a Damned T-shirt. I kept it when he died, but it got lost.

I still look for it. If I’m out and see some bloke wearing a similar one, I slow down and take a look. I’d pay big money for that tie!

Gaby Roslin, 51

TV presenter

‘Follow your dreams, Gaby. But don’t hurt anyone in the process.’ Words my dad, Clive, lived by, then handed to me. As a child I saw how happy his career as a radio presenter made him – despite his parents wanting him to be a lawyer – and also the respect he had for those around him.

This year is my 30th anniversary in the business and I remain totally conscious of how important others have been to my success. So if, say, I bump into the guy who’s schlepped props in and out of my shows for years, there are always big hugs and I’ll ask him about his grandchildren. He matters to me. Why wouldn’t I? It’s the way that my dad, who I’m still incredibly close to, raised me.

Gaby co-presents The Saturday Show on Channel 5.

Anthony Padgett, 53

A physiotherapist from London

Thanks to some classic young-bloke-with-a-job logic, I decided my first car wasn’t to be a Fiesta, but an Alfa Romeo – an Italian sports car. I took out a loan I couldn’t really afford and bought… a rubbish car!

I hated the thought of having to tell my dad, but I think he kind of guessed what had happened and said, ‘Don’t be afraid to admit that you’ve been a pillock.’ He drove the Alfa to the scrap heap, gave me his old car and made sure I paid off every penny of the loan, which took three long years.

It is OK to admit that you need help when you’ve made a mistake. When I’ve been a pillock, I still try to hold my hand up.

Dr John Cooper Clarke, 67


When I told my dad, George, that I fancied being a poet, he said, ‘Leave it to the experts, son. You need to have been to Eton’. Then, one day, he called me into the living room and said, ‘Look at this’. It was Pam Ayres on Opportunity Knocks. He watched her winning, week after week, and kept insisting that I watch it with him. Because of Dad’s encouragement, Pam became the final piece in my poetic jigsaw.

It pleased him no end when I made a living from poetry. Apart from when I did a benefit gig. ‘Anybody’ll employ you if you’re going to work for nowt. I don’t mind you being a bloody poet, but make sure you get paid.’ Dr John is on tour until July and the CD/DVD/book anthology, Anthologia, is out now.

For more details, see

Madelaine McLaughlin, 51

A semi-retired teacher from Gloucester

My late dad, Tony, was a school teacher and he had a wonderful connection with kids.

He would tell me about trees and history during walks in the country, and point out constellations at night. But perhaps the best advice he gave me was ‘Don’t mix your drinks’.

We were having our first ale together, when I was about 18, and he gave me an X-rated, Technicolor explanation of what would happen if I didn’t heed his words. I never have mixed my drinks and, you know what, I never get a hangover!

Kelly Hoppen, 56

Designer and businesswoman

I lost my dad, Seymour, when I was 16, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget his humour and his generosity, or the smell of Johnson’s baby powder. He always told me that was his beauty secret! I miss having him by my side… for advice, a ranting partner or just a cuddle when things aren’t going my way.

Just after I got my first bank account, I went overdrawn and couldn’t quite work out how. Dad sat me down and explained that, once a cheque is written, even though it may take two weeks for someone to cash it, you have to imagine it has already gone from your account! It was possibly the best piece of advice anyone has ever given me. Here I am, 40 years into business and I have never forgotten it.

Wendy Adams, 60

Works with people with mental health issues in Ilkeston, Derbyshire

My father is a Jehovah’s Witness. He’s never tried to force his religion on me, but the way I’ve seen him cope with life has often made me wish I had his faith.

He and Mum got divorced when I was little and he wasn’t allowed to see much of me. Then, when he remarried, he lost another daughter to cancer. Yet all he’s ever done is look for the positives in situations and people. ‘Before you shout at someone, put yourself in their shoes,’ he once explained – they might be going through something bad, too. Those words have stayed with me.

Dad’s 86 now, but still does the door-to-door work and still sees the best in every day.

Jo Wood, 61

Model and businesswoman

My father was strict, just wanting the best for me, so when I announced I intended to be a model, he went crazy: ‘It’s the same as being a prostitute – selling your body for money’.

In that instant, I told myself, ‘I’m going to prove him wrong’. I fought and struggled…

I was determined to make it, so I didn’t have to go home with my tail between my legs. Thanks for the terrible advice, Dad, it worked a treat!

Susan Guinivan, 54

A civil servant from Birmingham

Dad was born in rural Ireland and not really wanted by his parents, so he came to England to work on the railways and roads.

No one would have blamed him for being bitter about how life had turned out, but he spent every day laughing, joking and making people happy. ‘Susan,’ he told me, ‘you’ve got to stop worrying about all the things you want and start appreciating all the things you’ve got.’

That could be a moral for modern times.

Harry Enfield, 55


‘No speech should be more than five minutes long,’ my dad, Edward [a writer and former civil servant], told me. ‘Less is more.’ I’ve always followed that in my comedy writing. No one wants to hear anyone blathering on for longer than that.

Gary Holt, 51

A builder from Derby

When I started coming back from school with a few bruises and black eyes, my dad Tom, now 73, took me to one side and said, ‘You’ve got to give as good as you get’. I don’t know if he actually meant I needed to start throwing punches (I took up karate for a while), but his advice must have lodged itself somewhere in my brain.

I run my own business now and you can’t do that unless you’re willing to stand up and stop others taking advantage of you. I have a feeling that a lot of my success is down to those nine, simple words.

Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards, 52

British ski-jumper

I spent a lot of my youth travelling while training to be a downhill skier - and later a ski jumper - and I never had much money.

My father said to me, ‘Always make friends with a chef and you’ll never go hungry.’ He had done National Service, so it was advice that had served him well. It has proved invaluable for me, too.

While I was training in Switzerland, I befriended two brothers who owned a hotel. One of them ran it; the other was the chef. I’d do odd jobs for them and, in exchange, they’d feed me or give me tins of food I could heat up. I’ve always been useless at cooking although it is something I’d like to get better at.

I’ll definitely pass on my father’s advice to my daughters, you never know when it might make all the difference.

Arianna Huffington, 65

Writer and founder of The Huffington Post

Late in his life, my father taught me a lesson – not by sitting down and by giving me advice - but in a subtler way that had even more of an impact.

In his seventies, he began to lose his eyesight until - and this, he said, was his greatest regret - he could no longer tell his two granddaughters apart. He had survived a German concentration camp, years of financial hardship, divorce, and myriad disappointments. He had a brilliant intellect and the soul of a poet, but also an erratic temper and a love affair with gambling and drinking.

When his diabetes led to macular degeneration and he was unable to read or write, he was devastated. These had been the great passions he thought would occupy his later years.

Instead, he was forced to turn inward. And, as my sister put it, ‘Inside him was a neglected garden that had not been watered or weeded for a long, long time, with a gate to his heart firmly closed. If we could read the sign on the gate, it would probably say “No entry— explosive materials inside.”’

There were brief moments when he would let his guard down and let the gate open a little, but then it would promptly close shut. It took something as tragic as losing his eyesight before he could start tending his inner garden. In this way, he taught me the importance of bringing myself back to that place of stillness, imperturbability, and loving – until it becomes second nature to return quickly to what is our true nature.

The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington is out now (WH Allen, £16.99)

By Danny Scott, Caroline Hutton and Daphne Lockyer


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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