When Ian Wright took part in Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in February 2020, listeners learned a lot about the former footballer and pundit’s life, particularly before he signed for Crystal Palace, aged 21.
We discovered how a teacher at Turnham Primary School, Mr Pigden, changed Ian’s life, before he left school at 14 and became a plasterer, and spent 18 days in prison in 1982.
However, most moving of all was the former Arsenal and England striker describing witnessing abuse as a child and how he grew up terrified of his stepfather after his real father Herbert deserted him at the age of 18 months.
“This record, when I hear it, takes me to a place of real anxiety,” he told presenter Lauren Laverne. “It’s a horrible tune for me. It would come on and my mum would just cry.”
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Recalling her treatment at the hands of his stepfather, he added: “She was 4ft 11in and he was 6ft 4in, and I would see him lift her and do stuff to her. I remember my brother Maurice, when my stepfather used to be really, really manhandling my mum, my brother used to cover my ears so you couldn’t hear it. When this song comes on, it just takes me back to that place. It wasn’t a loving place to be. My stepfather was a very big, growly-voiced, gambling, weed-smoking, angry man who frightened me. All I have known from a young age was my stepfather, and I was never, anywhere near, somebody that he liked.”
Wright said the hours he spent waiting for his father, who had promised to turn up at the family’s South London tower block at 9.30am, but arrived at 5.15pm, changed him forever.
“I just remember the emotions,” he says. “If he didn’t turn up on that day, I would never ever have had anything to do with him again.”
The outpouring of support and private messages Ian received after the broadcast of Desert Island Discs had a huge impact on him and was the catalyst for this film, in which Ian shares his own story and listens to the stories of others who have gone through similar experiences.
Wright says: “As someone in the public eye I know I have a platform. I know that people will give me space to speak and I am often asked to do so. I mainly say no. This time, I couldn’t say no. Not speaking is what helps abuse continue. We are creating a cycle of abuse, years of scars and trauma. We are not protecting young children enough and my story, unfortunately is not a unique one. I am grateful to the BBC for giving me this platform. For bringing the subject of abuse and all its discomfort to a mainstream audience. To start this conversation, so others can continue it…”
This year has had immeasurable impact on children living in abusive homes, witnessing emotional and physical abuse with little or no escape for months on end.
Ian meets with social workers to find out how they are supporting and protecting children living in at-risk households during Covid-19 as well as meeting with adults and young people who have been affected by growing up with domestic abuse.
Along the way, Ian’s investigations will cause him to re-evaluate his troubled early life.
He talks with family members, old friends and colleagues to explore how it has affected him, and how might things have turned out differently had he been offered external support.
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