For the latest in our WISE WORDS interview series - where stars from a whole range of fields share the important life lessons they’ve learned along the way - we’re posing some of the big questions to actor GARY NUMAN.
Celebrated as one of electronic pop’s great pioneers with his 1979 hits, ’Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric?’, Gary still enjoys a tireless cult following, as much for his offbeat ‘android’ persona as for his distinctive synthesizer hooks.
Following his peak popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Gary has branched out into film music and collaborations with other artists, most recently Jean-Michel Jarre.
Gary lives with his family in California, but continues to perform around the world. To mark his return to Britain this summer, with an appearance as part of Liverpool’s 50 Summers Of Love at Exhibition Centre, he sat down to swap some Wise Words with us…
What do you do to switch off from the world? I don’t really. I tend to move from one stressful thing to another. If I’m not in the studio or touring, then I’m busy doing family things with Gemma and our three children, and that’s more stressful than anything else. I used to fly in an aerobatic air display team but stopped doing that when the children came along. I tried boating for a bit when I lived in the UK but stopped that when I moved to Los Angeles. I’m thinking about getting back into flying and boating actually, but I need to get the new album out and the touring campaign over with first.
How do you deal with negativity? I avoid putting myself in a place where it’s known to exist for a start. I don’t read Twitter or Facebook comments, I don’t read reviews, I don’t really interact with the world much at all. I wrap my family around me and try to keep the world outside the gate as much as possible. Luckily, though, I have Aspergers so, when I am touched by negativity, I’m able to just step over it for the most part. On the rare occasions it gets to me, I allow it to make me angry and I use that anger as a driving force to work harder and prove people wrong.
When and where are you happiest? When I’m with Gemma and the children, wherever they are. I do love life here in California, but I also like to travel as often as possible. I love touring as that offers excitement and the chance to travel all over the world. Before I was married, I would have said I was happiest when I was upside down in my aeroplane but that all seems a long time ago now.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? I am brutally honest and open, often in a way that could potentially hurt my career, and so I was once told that I should learn how to lie. I’ve never been able to lie unfortunately, but it was probably very good advice.
What has been the hardest lesson you’ve learned? Too many to list, but realising that loyalty can be a fickle thing at best was one of them.
What would you tell your 13-year-old self? Everything’s going to be alright, just stop worrying and enjoy it.
What 3 things are at the top of your to-do list? Today it’s buy an RV; visit Antarctica (not in the RV obviously); get tickets for the US Formula 1 race in Austin, Texas.
What do you think happens when we die? I think we cease to exist in every way, although I firmly believe in ghosts, having seen one myself, so that would suggest that, in some situations, it doesn’t all end when we die. I find that challenge to my beliefs quietly exciting and comforting. Strangely enough, the older I get, the more I want to find a reason to abandon my belief that death really is the end.
When do you feel a sense that we live in the presence of something bigger than ourselves? Never. I have no belief in a higher being, God, or whatever you want to call it. I look at a cloud and see something beautiful, not something created by God. I look at the ocean and I’m filled with awe, I look at mountains and I’m left speechless at the grandeur and majesty of the high peaks, but I have never once, in my entire life, ever thought that it had anything to do with a God.
What do you try to bring to your relationships? Grumpiness apparently.
What keeps you grounded? Life mainly. It’s really very simple. Many, many people can do what I do, many of them better than me, so I’m very aware that I’m lucky rather than talented. I’m also riddled by self-doubt, so I have never thought of myself as clever. I’m too aware of the pain I go through to create anything to ever feel clever. That lack of confidence, coupled with the feeling that you’re just lucky and that sooner or later everyone’s going to realize, keeps your feet very much on the ground.
What was the last good deed or act of kindness you received? About two days ago someone let me park directly outside an entrance to a venue, without charging me extra for ‘preferred parking’, because it was raining and I had the children with me. I thought that was very thoughtful.
Knowing that both the state and the people around you have got your back is key to a content society. It's in the education system, with kids given empathy training at school, via the
From a young age, children are given empathy training in schools through the Klassens tid programme, which aims to build emotional awareness.
"We have a society that is built on trust," explains a Dane in a new video made by the Socialdemokratiet party. The film asks what trust means to Danes, who respond that it's everything from confiding in other people, to being honest, to something that is simply in their DNA. That trust extends to asking a stranger to look after your child while you go into the toilet, or the simple expectation that if someone borrows something, they'll give it back. And that when it comes to making a deal - a handshake, and your word - is as binding as any contract. This whole philosophy underpins how all of Denmark's institutions are run - society trusts in its people, and in return, the people rely on the systems in place to take care of them, providing security and stability and making Denmark one of the world's richest and most equal societies.
Check out the video below to see Danish trust in action. Spoiler alert: it's on point.
Equality & Balance
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When it comes to work vs. play, the Danes know what's important to them: they work hard, but they also prioritise other things in life: socialising, friends, family and hobbies.
In fact, according to this year's OECD Better Life Report, the Danes had a better work-life balance than any other country surveyed, with only 2% of employees regularly working long hours. Danes spend two-thirds of their days doing rather lovely things: eating, sleeping and enjoying leisurely activities. And yeah, even though Danes have a reputation of working from 8am-4pm each day, working fewer hours doesn't mean Danes are less productive (or less creative). But when 11.25% of those surveyed said they prioritised life satisfaction (compared with 8.04% who think income is of paramount importance), their attitude to life says it all. There's even a word for it: Arbejdsglæde, which means work happiness.
Another reason the Danish system of work-life balance actually works? Women are well represented in the workforce, even after having children. The generous policies the Socialdemokratiet put in place, like parental leave that can be split between mothers and fathers and a childcare policy in which the welfare state picks up 75% of the tab when it comes to sending your baby to a high-quality nursery, means that 85% of mothers return to work. Compare that with the stats from the NCT survey on first-time mothers going back to the workplace after baby, which found that 80% of all new mums were not going back to work, with over half saying that childcare costs were a key influence.
The Social Democrats also believe that a great society starts from childhood: as kids grow older, education remains free, so everyone can pursue whatever it is they love, even at university level.
We have a feeling even Danish babies are enjoying all of the happiness emanating from their relaxed, fulfilled parents: Danish babies don't cry as much as babies in other countries, according to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, which found that babies in Denmark have some of the lowest colic rates.
Enjoying The Great Outdoors
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It won't surprise you to know that Danes love nature. They like playing sports outdoors, many have cabins in the woodland or countryside that they escape to and in Copenhagen, you'll find more bikes than inhabitants, with women in heels through to the country's top politicians riding their bikes through blizzard conditions.
In the nation's capital, 50% of citizens commute to work by bike every day, and there are almost 400 kilometres of biking lanes. And yes, you'll even see little children cycling along next to their parents.
A recent report in Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagbladstated that more and more Danes are spending time outdoors, reconnecting with Mother Nature by taking up winter bathing or joining a scout association, with over 140,000 people sleeping in the woods in 2016.
And we've all seen the proof that being outdoors makes you happier, from our own experiences after spending an invigorating afternoon outside to scientific studies, like a 2012 one from the University of Essex which found that the colour green makes exercising seem easier or the recent study published in Scientific Reports which found that being outdoors can even help lower blood pressure.
Leaving babies outside is also part of the Danes' embracing of the great outdoors - parents believe frisk luft (fresh air) is crucial for babies and promotes healthy development.
Being Nice To Yourself
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In Denmark, the unspoken motto may be that we all look after each other, but Danes also look after themselves. There's a reason that the concept of hygge - cosiness and indulgence - has become such a buzzword in the UK (to the point that Morley College even decided to teach the concept to students as part of its Danish language course).
But hygge is a state of mind as much as a state of comfort, and putting on your knit socks and snuggling by the fire will only get you so far. For one, the concept of hygge is part of a bigger Danish mentality which centres on being kind to yourself. Instead of the binge-purge cycle us Brits so often adopt, where after we spend weeks depriving ourselves of food, we then stuff our faces later and feel horribly guilty as a result, the Danes eat their delicious cinnamon rolls and apricot custard turnovers with no consequences. They simply enjoy.
Home Is Where The Heart Is
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The Danes know a thing or two about how to create interiors that are inviting, airy and stylish - there is no stressful clutter in sight, everything has its place, there's an emphasis on natural, organic design materials and smart designer accents contribute to the overall sense of comfort and style.
The Danes are indeed a "design society," but having a beautiful home isn't just about the aesthetic appeal: according to scientists at UCL who observed what happens in the brain when you look at art, looking at something beautiful can give you a happy feeling akin to gazing at someone you love. The Year of Living Danishly author Helen Russell writes that every Danish home is centred around the dining room table, because having family meals together is an important part of daily life in Denmark.
The concept of hygge comes into play in the home especially - think lots of candles, gorgeous lighting and relaxing music. It's central to the Danish design ethos and is all about creating an atmosphere that cultivates warmth, cosiness, peace and happiness - something the Danes are already doing in their minds.