Jane Bradley: Looking for a better kind of hero

Real hero: Doreen Lawrence. Picture: PA
Real hero: Doreen Lawrence. Picture: PA
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PLANNING our wedding reception seven years ago, my other half and I spent a long time deciding on a theme for table names.

Friends who had recently got married had named each table after a Scottish mountain, while others – where the couple were both keen football fans – seated their friends around tables dedicated to players from their favourite team. Neither were right for us. One half of this couple was most definitely not a football fan and neither of us could remember the last time we had been near any landmass bigger than Arthur’s Seat.

In the end, we opted to choose our heroes. Dead or alive, fictional or real. My husband set to work and quickly came up with a list of hundreds. Politicians, musicians, authors, sportsmen. All people for whom he has huge admiration. I scratched my head.

Granted, there were people who I thought had done great things, but I found it difficult to define them as heroes. Surely for that to be the case, I needed to have been influenced by them in some way.

I halfheartedly picked out a couple – playwright Harold Pinter and Jayne Torvill (I was a bit of an ice skating geek in my youth) – but we mainly opted for my husband’s idols.

I’m not sure many women of my age or older look up to role models or heroes in the same way as men. There are so few lauded figures who are female.

Now, teenage girls have heroes a plenty – but perhaps not for the right reasons.

A survey out this week from Opinium Research listed people who the public believed would be good – and bad – role models for young people.

The predictable line-up of rogues was topped by Justin Bieber and also included Lindsay Lohan, Katie Price, Miley Cyrus and Russell Brand and somewhat bizarrely, Max Clifford.

But more than 80 per cent of the public, the research claimed, want youngsters to have people other than celebrities – many of whom are only famous for being famous – to look up to.

However, the top choices of potential role models left me thinking that most people have even less an idea as to what makes someone a suitable idol than I did: David Beckham; the Queen; Richard Branson; Joanna Lumley; Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.

Really? It seemed that the dream line-up wasn’t much different from the previous list.

Richard Branson and Joanna Lumley, perhaps. David Beckham: credit to him, an excellent sportsman. Beyond that, I’m not convinced.

As for the royals, if my daughter is going to idolise any princess, I want it to be the one in Julia Donaldson children’s classic Zog, who proclaims: “I don’t want to be a princess, prancing round the palace in a silly frilly dress”. Instead, she decides, she wants to be a medic and sets off on the back of a dragon with her would-be suitor, a knight, as her deputy in a flying doctor crew. Much more laudable. As would be any profession in which you have to accomplish something – anything – to get there.

William and Kate have degrees from St Andrews. Big deal. So do I. So does Alex Salmond. And Bob Dylan (an honorary one, anyway). The young pin-up royals know how to stand still while someone dresses them in pretty clothes and are capable of smiling and being nice to people. Kate can fairly competently wield a hockey stick. All perfectly pleasant and I wish them well, but they have not personally accomplished anything that should make them role models.

BBC’s Women’s Hour this week published its Power List of the women who it believes are this year’s “game changers”. Top of their list was Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen, who was killed in a racist attack in London in 1993. Since her son’s murder, Doreen has campaigned tirelessly for victims of racist crime, has been selected to sit on panels within the Home Office and the Police Service and serves on the board of numerous anti-racism charities.

It is disheartening to think that, while there are inspirational people like Doreen in the world, our minds are still not wide enough to think beyond traditional role models like the Queen – or vacuous fame-hunters like Bieber and his crew. My wedding might be a long time ago now, but I’m finally off to make that list of my heroes. And I’m going to make sure I look beyond the obvious.