BBC Radio 2 and Crimewatch presenter Jeremy Vine has written a letter to a 15-year-old after a video shared on social media showed the boy being attacked by a group of teenagers in Romford, east London.
Writing on Facebook, Vine said he too had been attacked as a 15-year-old. He encouraged the boy not to try to be tough like his attackers, saying there was “no shame” in reading poetry and listening to “our favourite bands”.
“Dear Romford 15-year-old, who I’ll call Ben.
I don’t know your name, and it’s good that I don’t, because I am sure you do not want to be associated with that video of the bullies savagely punching you to the ground.
Bullies? They are worse than that.
I was really shocked by what I saw.
Loads of people were disgusted.
You are just 15.
Sensitive young teen
Ben, something similar happened to me.
I was a sensitive young teen, always trying and failing to be cool… never athletic enough, never hip enough, a late developer, crazy hair, with uncool parents who thought church was the main event.
I worshipped indie bands – Joy Division especially – in the way that sensitive souls do.
I wanted to be a jock, but I was a nerd.
Maybe you recognise that.
One day I was at a party and spoke to a girl.
Apparently she was the girlfriend of someone important.
He sent his friend to beat me up.
The friend said: “Excuse me, can I tell you something?”
And because he was shorter than me I had to lean down to hear him.
Having moved my head within range, he punched me as hard as you got punched.
I had never been hit before.
The shock was unbelievable – violence does that.
I went down immediately just like you.
My mates, also sensitive souls, were too scared to help.
They were gutted afterwards.
You feel humiliated. Your pride is hurt, your head is hurt – I had a gigantic black eye.
A person can get very down over a beating.
Some people think depression evolved in us as a way of keeping us safe if we lose a fight – the mind and body working together to prevent you re-entering the conflict for your own safety.
It took me ages before I wasn’t scared of being hit again.
You look over your shoulder for a while, and you feel a primal fear.
That is natural, Ben.
So I watched your video and saw myself.
That guy who distracted me in 1980 could be the thug who hit you from behind in 2016 – such a coward.
‘Don’t be hard’
Can I give you some advice?
Don’t think you have to be hard like them.
I tried to be a tough teenager afterwards and closed myself off like a drum.
I reacted to nothing and felt nothing.
Then I got to university and found people like me who would never dream of punching someone, and my life opened up like a flower.
A kind lecturer was shocked when I proudly and foolishly told him I had never read a poem.
He said, “We’ll change that,” and helped me understand the power of poetry.
One day in my student room I read a poem and cried.
I was alive again.
Sure, I would never win a fight – I have never hit anyone in my life – but you don’t need to hit people to succeed in your life.
Quite the opposite.
‘Courts will decide’
The courts will decide who assaulted you and how to punish them.
In our society, what happened to you is thankfully now taken very seriously.
But let me tell you something about the lads in the video.
In 20 years, when you’re with the person you love and hopefully in a career you have a passion for, they will still be scumbags.
Their cupboards will smell of gym sweat and cheeseburgers.
Each will own one suit which he wore to the funeral of a friend who died doing a wheelie on a motorway – by the way, they all wore the same baffled expression at the funeral service.
They’ve gone from making the weather to being rained on, and they complain about it constantly.
They are not something anyone wants to be with – their lives are already over.
Five per cent of people are good at fighting.
I’m not one and nor are you.
It is very important we let the 5% fight each other.
Live by the sword, die by the sword: the thug who beat me up was in hospital himself a year later after someone broke a bottle across his face.
Meanwhile, you and I can read poetry and listen to our favourite bands, and if we sometimes cry, there is no shame in that.
To cry is to live.
The people who attacked you are the walking dead.
Come into Radio 2 sometime and I’d be happy to show you around.