Play was the most important part of my childhood. Everything was a means to an end to be able to fill my time with amusement and recreation. My imagination would run wild, I was able to visualise any environment from a concrete car park - ice rinks, enchanted worlds, battle grounds. The more I grew up, the more I would expand my horizon, but then the real world intruded, the harsh realities of adolescents developed anxieties and restrictions.
I grew up in the trenches of working class South London in the early noughties, it was hard times, gang warfare and postcode rivalries were at the height, happy slapping and knife crime were all the rage. The ever present fear of becoming a victim was looming in the air. I was never part of a gang, but befriended many to survive and not become a target. We were lucky at the time to have thriving youth clubs, with a peak period of investment from the government. There was a safe haven, where we had the chance to explore different interests. Before I became an adult I had opportunities to visit Auschwitz, South Africa, Swiss Alps and the World Cup in Germany, all because of one youth club. At the cusp of adulthood, I was blessed to train in youth and community engagement. This opened my eyes to the true benefit of youth work, giving young people the opportunity to explore, build skills and learn about their unique individuality. However, it also opened my eyes to the inequality, the lack and the segregation many young people experience across the country.
It’s never easy for anyone growing up, learning about life through their lens and encountering trials and tribulations. Being involved in youthwork allowed me to see through many lenses, discovering difficulties many encountered. It wasn’t easy growing up in London, particularly working class London but now I was able to see I was lucky that I didn’t have to grow up with a disability, or within the care system or experience real poverty. With all the surrounding troubles that were escalating, ‘the fat cats’ would point their fingers at the underbelly of society without identifying the root of the problem, using mediastream media to sway the influence of the public. Seeing all this inequality birthed the rebel, the anarchist; it was time to fix a broken system.
It was during this time I discovered filmmaking, a disdain for being in front of the camera took me behind it and a natural gift emerged. After my first ever short film received an award at a local film festival, I was lucky to receive mentoring from Shane Davey, a talented film director who helped young people get into the industry. In reflection, this was an opportunity I took for granted, not many people were getting this opportunity, I had a foot in the door at a very young age. At the same time my passion for music emerged, any spare time I had went on learning how to DJ and producing music. In the emergence of adulthood, I discovered my new toys, my new technologically advanced toys that filled my inner child with so much joy.
Film and music, for me, represents a medium for expression, an expression I was not able to attain when I was growing up. I felt restricted in my expression, which left me voiceless, angry and belittled. This was a way to speak and get out what I wanted to say, in a new, fun and creative manner. I realised very quickly this was also an opportunity to offer this to others. With my journey through youth engagement, I saw a window of opportunity to help those in need. This was my way to help a broken system and do something about it without it being fuelled with resentment.
After a few years making branded content for charities and supporting people’s passion projects, an opportunity came to get into the TV world and begin to make bigger productions with budgets exceeding millions of pounds. I saw it as an opportunity to expand my horizon and reach larger audiences, in reality, I was placed at the bottom of a rickety machine, churning out old blueprints for a dying audience. I was caught in the slipstream of mind-numbing entertainment shows, which was the opposite of why I got into film. What I consumed had to be thought-provoking, I’m a deep person, I’ve never liked surface level conversations.
Synonymous to this, I had started turning my DJing from a hobby to a profession. In a short space of time, I went from a bedroom DJ to play in Ibiza and at UK festivals. I was resident DJ for events like Solid Grooves and Connected. I had music released on record labels and my weekends were full up with DJ shows. It was probably one of the funnest times in my life, though full on juggling my full time job and the music. However, this was another world in which I saw through the glamour, I quickly saw the exploitation from promoters, the fickle and pretentious environment that I was in and I couldn’t bear the toxicity of it all.
After a number of years building a career in worlds I no longer enjoyed, my love, my passion for film and DJing was dying. Fed up with the entertainment world, I was ready to get out and my career came into question. I packed up and left the UK to go explore the world, it was time to play again.
Life for me has always been about journey and exploration, seeing the unseen, trying new experiences, pushing my abilities beyond their limit. That’s why the opportunity to travel the world was a given, a clear next step in my journey. All signs were pointing towards Australia, the land of opportunity. Extraordinary nature, blissful sunshine and I couldn’t get any further away from the UK. The intention was to have as many new experiences as I could and not take any filming jobs, see what else is out there, see what the world has to offer.
Taking this trip was one of the biggest turning points of my life, a transformation like no other, an awakening to the true essence of life. What Australia offered was an opportunity to breathe, take time for me, relax and enjoy my environment. Growing up and living in London meant that I didn’t know anything else other than the constant GO that London’s culture cultivates. It was here that I discovered meditation and yoga, the importance of the space between the lines, the wisdom that comes from silence; my initiation to energy. For the first time I had a true understanding of the difference between mind, body and soul, what the ego is and how controlling mine was. This era of my life was dedicated to learning about psychology and spirituality, the science and the magic of who we are.
It lent into my love of humanity, understanding people and appreciating the nuisances of our diverse world. One of my favourite pastimes is people-watching, discovering new cultures, and emerging myself into them. Learning about the history, the traditions, what is the common ground within the culture. Even though I love this exploration, I never really fit into a culture fully, I wanted to explore them all out of curiosity but in some aspects, felt like an outsider within them all.
I loved the Australian people, I loved the land and the waters even more, but one thing that it lacked was diverse culture. It offered an opportunity to learn about the indigenous people that inhabited the land but that only ignited a desire to move on and discover more. So my time had come to branch out and see something new, Asia.
The obvious choice from Australia is to Indonesia, the first thing I did was immerse myself into the culture. I went somewhere in Indonesia that no westerners go, Polewali, Sulawesi. I was the first white person some of the locals had even seen. I was an alien who couldn’t speak the native tongue, back to the silence I went. This was extremely valuable though, for the first time I learned how to communicate with the absence of language, the subtle forms of communication we intuitively pick up on the way to learning how to talk. They say 80% of communication is unsaid.
After a few months in South-East Asia and silent retreats, it was time for the new venture, to learn a new language, I moved to Spain to learn Spanish. After travelling across Australia and Asia, meeting many people from different countries, I realised how many people know multiple languages and the benefits of that. I felt it was essential to take a period of my life to learn a new language. I knew the next step of my journey was to go to South America and with it being one my the largest dialects across the world, it made sense to learn Español.
Again, submerging myself into a culture where I didn’t know the language. When I left I only knew ‘Hola’ and ‘Dos cerveza por favor’. Living out of my comfort zone was the norm nowadays and something I thrived on. I loved the Spanish lifestyle, I worked part time, learning something new every day, tapas with every drink. After a year of this life, it was time to go to South America, what I envisioned as the pinnacle of the pilgrimage. I was always deeply fascinated with Machu Picchu and the indigenous cultures of the Amazon, this seemed like what everything was building up to. Little did I know, it was the next turning point of my life.
South America was everything you would expect it to be: wild, crazy, adventurous, dancing my way down the continent. This trip had a different agenda to it, I was on a path in which I felt that a door was closer and a new one was opening but what that was, I was yet to know. Something had interested me for a number of years that came up in conversation as I was journeying around the world, that was ayahuasca. To some a medicine, to others a drug, the stories I had heard of this elixir were mind-blowing, tales of joy, of sorrow, galactic adventures around the universe and everything else in between. I had to try it for myself.
Whilst on my pilgrimage towards the jungle, I did loads of research because I needed to know what this substance was and what was being said in the science community, in documentaries and by the shamans who have used this for thousands of years. I watched every documentary, read almost every science paper, looked into which tribes offered ayahuasca (there were a lot). After a 3 month exploration around Cuba, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, I went into the jungle to spend time with the Shipibo shamans of Peru. I found a retreat centre that offered ayahuasca ceremonies. In exchange, I would live there and provide film and photography services for the centre. This exchange allowed me to spend solid time with the community, go on the inner journey I had wished to and learn as much as I can about myself, the medicine and the culture. The golden trio of exploration for me.
If you have drank ayahuasca, you know how hard it is to describe such an experience. It is the most profound experience I have ever had, it changed my life. This was another one of those turning points which has a deep knowing that this was a big transition in my life. I had so many insights, I was turnt inside out and picked apart in hours, all because of 2 plants that are cooked together. Messages would come in many guises, visions, information, feelings, sensory knowing. One of the strongest messages I received was to make a documentary about ayahuasca, but the main story has to be about the Shipibo. It has to be told through their eyes.
I had decided to return to filmmaking and evolve my career into why I got into it in the first place, to provide a voice for the unheard and make an impact. Documentaries are the perfect medium to offer this. A 10 year journey coming full circle back to the core of what I love. It’s important to pay attention to the reason why you first got into something in the first place, to make sure that why is the anchor that keeps you centred as you grow your relationship with it. It was time to reignite that flame, with new experience, growth and skills.
Thanks to the wisdom of the ayahuasca, I started on a 4 year journey to create my first feature-length documentary called Onanya, which means ‘healer’ in Shipibo. As it was my first feature, it was hard to get funding to create it, so I self-funded it and created a crowdfund which helped with some of the costs. The production took 3 trips to the jungle as well as taking place during the pandemic, causing many setbacks. In 2022, it was finally complete! There’s a lot to be said about this 4 year journey, it was one of the biggest and challenging experiences I’ve gone through, the commitment to get it complete along with the challenges, learning curves and sacrifices I had to make have shaped who I am today. The valuable experience of playing many roles in a production has given me so much oversight in the making of such a grand production.
So, what have I learnt along the way? Life is all about doing what I love, if I do what I love and treat it as play, it’s never going to feel like work. I am a creative, an artist and a problem solver at the core of me, that has to be anchored throughout my life. The journey is the point of it all, every experience is a lesson, a navigation towards the best person I can be. Don’t take life too seriously and trust the process, it gets blurry in the uncertainty, but every step has some value to take. Every time no value is taken from a situation, be sure to repeat that experience again. The world is a beautiful place, in every single place I’ve been you get some amazing people, who bring so much light to the world, the nature, the animals, it’s all bloody beautiful! Even if the media will tell you differently, go find out for yourself. The most valuable experience I have had to date has been travelling the world and being a guest amongst other cultures.
Finally, shine my light as bright and authentically as I can, that is the best thing I can do for the world.
And always make the most cheesy statement possible right at the end…in the words of Jesus ‘live, laugh, love’