THE BLOG

Britain's Personal Best, and Facing My Own Challenge

10/09/2013 15:43 BST | Updated 08/11/2013 10:12 GMT

So, as an ambassador of Britain's Personal Best, I'm one step closer to achieving the goal that I've set myself for this exciting initiative, and I couldn't be more elated about it. A few weeks ago, I challenged myself to sing in public during the weekend of the 4th to the 6th of October: and on Thursday evening, I performed some of my own material in front of an audience for the very first time.

I'm not sure how big a deal the audience, several of whom were new friends and colleagues of mine, realised that this event was for me. How could they? After all, for the brief time that they've known me, my role as an ambassador has involved plenty of public speaking. Many of them might have thought that singing would come naturally to me.

Except that it didn't - well, not for years, anyway. Before Thursday evening, the last time that I had sung in public with any confidence was when I was 11 years old, playing the lead back at Langley Manor School in a Nativity musical. I performed a piece called "Kindly Sit Down At Your Places" whose tunelessness fills me, even now, with a particular horror. Months after the show, the whole family put the tape into the VHS, and the muffled laughter of some of my siblings stays with me even now. Of course, they meant nothing vicious by it, but their ridicule resonated with me. It was what I thought of myself.

Fast-forward now, to the age of 33, and I had studiously avoided singing out and about unless part of a large church congregation, under the din of a karaoke lounge, or else a far louder group of friends onstage. That's not to say that I hadn't spent many a private moment crooning on the sly, though. One of my favourite tunes to wail when I'm wandering home late at night is Mos Def's "Modern Marvel", which is as moving a piece of popular music as I can find on my iPhone; I also sneak in a few choruses of my own whenever no-one else is listening.

Which brought me to that Thursday evening. And as I awaited that evening's event, when we would be speaking to some of the programme's partners about how they could make pledges of their own, I thought it would be hypocritical if I didn't challenge myself too. So, to everyone's surprise, I stood up and performed an acapella version of "Not Tonight", a song I wrote a couple of years ago. The lyrics of the piece, inspired by a friend who told me that there were still private members' clubs in the USA which Jewish people were not allowed to join, went like this:

Sorry mate, you're not coming in,

Not tonight, not tonight, not tonight -

Not any night;

Sorry mate, you're not coming in,

Not tonight, not tonight, not tonight -

Not any night;

This club -

Will admit any guy

Who is white, very erudite, and a friend of mine;

I'll spell it out, can't let a fella in

If he's feminine, yellow, or full of melanin;

Nothing personal; only a member thing -

Right gender, but the wrong skin, that's the end of it;

Let it slide,'cause a bygone is a bygone

Go find a nice glass ceiling to cry on

The reception was, for want of a better word, moving. People actually seemed to enjoy the words and the rhythm, some even laughed at the jokes, and I finished to appreciative applause. Just like that, years of insecurity were gone, and I found myself suddenly looking forward to my next recording session, instead of fearing it. I'm looking forward, too, to performing more of my work live for the Britain's Personal Best weekend, though I must still confess to some trepidation. It'll be alright, though. The first note is always the hardest: and, with that safely negotiated, it's probably time for a singing lesson or two.

Britain's Personal Best 's big weekend takes place around the UK 4 - 6 October 2013: http://www.whatsyours.org/.