Ian Wright on being a mentor

Sharing his personal experiences, former professional footballer and TV and radio personality Ian Wright discusses the mentors that have helped shaped his life

Citizenship is central to Barclaycard’s values. Working in partnership with organisations like The Prince’s Trust, we encourage our colleagues to participate in our mentoring programmes, offering their time, knowledge and positivity to boost the confidence and skills of others.

We invited Ian Wright to talk to us about how mentors have shaped his career and reflect on what being a mentor means to him.

“Being a mentor, or being able to influence somebody, is not about what’s in it for you. You’re trying to pass on knowledge and experience that’s going to help them in their lives.”

What does it take to inspire someone?

For Ian, inspiring others starts with drawing on your own life experiences - the good and the bad: “You need to know what’s it like to be up and down - and you have to try and get that across to people in a way that’s going to make them take positivity and a bit of inspiration from it. It comes down to the fact that you’re in a position where you can influence people and what they go on to do.”

Tell us about your childhood and schooldays

Having known he wanted to be a footballer from the age of eight, Ian found school challenging: “I wasn’t writing very well, I wasn’t reading very well … I’d get disruptive when I couldn’t do what I was doing, then I’d get put outside the class.”

Combined with an “intense and oppressive” home life, he remembers, “I was very angry all the time.”

Ian’s teacher Sydney Pigden was a beacon of hope at this time. Recognising the troubles young Ian was facing, Mr Pigden spent time with him, often taking him for one-to-one tuition while he was excluded from class. Ian acknowledges that Mr Pigden gave the gift of his own time, saying: “He used to speak to me. He used to sit down and take the time to talk to me about everyday life.”

Their relationship was cemented through Ian’s passion and talent for football: “Once he saw I could play football, he really kicked in … he gave me a little bit of self-worth.”

The time Mr Pigden invested in Ian throughout his life paid off and Ian believes that his playing for England was “the proudest thing in [Mr Pigden’s] whole life.” He credits his former teacher for having turned him into a “decent bloke”, saying, “Because of him, I am who I am. He’s somebody I can never forget.”

Who inspired you in your early career?

Following a “lot of rejection” trying to get into football after school, Ian joined Crystal Palace at the age of 22. His hard work and potential were soon spotted by manager Steve Coppell, who advised Ian to stay true to himself.

Ian remembers Coppell’s words: “You are who you are – you’re a hard worker. You must never forget who you are and what you’re capable of. Be who you are and continue to be who you are.”

These words have stayed with Ian ever since: “I’ve always tried to be exactly who I am at every single moment.”

What do you enjoy about giving back to the community?

Reflecting on his own experiences as a volunteer and mentor, Ian recommends that volunteers get involved in things they enjoy: “I try to get involved in projects that I can also get enjoyment out of.

That said, it’s not always fun and games. Ian points out that while honouring time commitments can be tough, taking on the role of mentor can also be extremely rewarding: “What’s important is the time, knowing that you are in a position where you can influence somebody else moving forward and trying to become a better person in a very tough, challenging world.”