Published 11 Sep 2018
On his driven personality
I am driven, but that’s a personality trait. I have no choice. That’s why when people come up to me and say ‘I want to be an entrepreneur’, like it’s a career choice, I think, ‘No, you don’t! You don’t have a clue!’ I had no money, no home and I had to make it work. And then you just get in a habit of making it work. You can’t develop a different personality trait. I felt I had to do it.
Jeffrey (Osment, author of Dear John: Road To Pelindaba) comes to the conclusion that my driven personality was about proving something to my father who wasn’t there but I wonder if it might have been about proving something to my grandmother who died when I was eleven. Who knows. But [when you experience loss at a young age] you do have a full understanding of mortality very young and that’s what drives you, whereas other people have it in their fifties and sixties. My Nan had brought me up. I loved her very much and she loved me.
On the ‘Tyranny of fun’
When people ask me what motivates me on a bad day, I can’t help but ask why do I have to change my mood? I might want to wallow in it. I might just want to moan. I might like to have a good moan all day until I go to sleep and wake up in a better mood the next day. [Musician] Simon Emmerson calls it the ‘Tyranny of fun’.
On his ‘Entrepreneur's Wound’
I think that someone coined the expression ‘The Entrepreneur’s Wound’ to explain that many entrepreneurs have got something pretty heavy in their background. Mine is pretty straightforward: My Dad left when I was two and my mum really didn’t feel good about that.
I was brought up by three women: my aunt, my mum and my nan, all of whom had what are now called abandonment issues. My nan survived both wars and owned a big grocery business in Dorchester until my grandfather died in his fifties just at the start of World War Two and she had to sell the business. My mum also had polio and diphtheria at one stage. Both times she was in an isolation hospital, with nurses peering through windows at her, then her feelings of getting her life straight were scuppered when her husband, my dad, left her by the time she was 22. I’m not sure why but my aunt became an alcoholic, and in a pact she and her husband committed suicide.
I fell out with my stepfather and ended up homeless at the age of 17, which obviously helped refine my wound. Really I didn’t lift my head up again for ten years as I sorted myself out. Now before you start feeling sorry for me, that really was only a bit of my life and pretty much ignores me meeting my wife at 17 and the marvellous life we have built together.
Still as I said, entrepreneurs can get very obsessional and they can be very passionate. That can manifest itself in many ways but most typically they end up with a business that they love that is also worth an awful lot of money and then they often don’t know what to do with it.
As I said, in my twenties I was fiercely driven - unhealthily so. Around this time I met my first business partner, Liz Weir (a colleague I’d met whilst freelancing at a local hair salon in Poole, UK). We thought we would start up a natural hair and beauty clinic on Poole High Street, and we called it The Herbal Hair and Beauty Clinic. I would do henna parties and she would do beauty treatments. It was a miserable failure! We didn’t have any money and we would have to do three Women’s Institute or Young Wives talks a week just to make enough to get by.
That went on for two years as we hoped, forlornly, that we could build our business. We got paid £5 a night for each talk. The experience was quite good, because by the time we had to talk to our staff about hair and beauty we had had quite a lot of experience.
On starting again at 60
Although I hadn’t known my dad since the age of two, I did still have his name, Constantine, as I never adopted my stepfather's name and I had in a moment of wistfulness made a perfume called Dear John, based on the smell of a jacket he had left behind. I didn’t know him or anything about him, but I did have the huge emptiness, this ‘entrepreneur’s wound’.
Jeff had found a long-lost aunt, my Aunty June, who still lived in my paternal grandmother’s house, and my grandmother’s handbag was still in the loft and these pictures were in the bag. In the loft they had also found an airmail envelope from my father with Pelindaba written on it. Jeffery knew that Pelindaba was the South African nuclear establishment based in Johannesburg because he had been there making industrial films.
We met and had our dinner and he told me what he’d found and told me about my Aunty June. Then he asked me if I would like him to look for my father – well obviously I said ‘Yes I would’, but I was also worried about rejection. As time passed, Jeff followed up the Pelindaba connection. He called up their pension office to see if they had a John Constantine on record. They did and my sister Jo still worked there, and lived with our father.
Anyway, he found him, he also found my sisters and, in case they knew nothing about me, he had conversation with them about Aunty June. My father was deaf so wasn’t able to speak to my Aunty June on the phone. In talking to my sister, Jo, Jeff mentioned me and yes she did know about me and had tried to find me.
What was sort of impressive for me, was that I was 60 and I was weighing up what I was going to do, was I going to continue to build the business further or what? But in talking to my dad, he had worked for the nuclear establishment when they were developing nuclear bombs. During that time he had become an alcoholic. When he retired at 60, he got himself sorted out and gave up alcohol and started his own business.
He had sorted his life out at the age of 60, which I thought was brilliant. So I came back from the trip fully enthused, and started my own life again at 60. I must admit I wondered if meeting my dad would change me… well, cure me, but It didn’t. It did however fill me with hope where there was emptiness before and to an extent that enabled me to make this next step.
Dear John: The Road to Pelindaba will be available online and in retail locations from 24th September, 2018.