As a former member of one of the world's most renowned and respected regiments the Coldstream Guards, Phil Lee is an inspirational role model. Phil Lee’s courage, desire and determination to succeed against the odds has transformed lives.
From a young age Phil Lee had to overcome a great deal of physical and mental abuse during his years in and out of children’s homes. He was also known to the police. Despite this, Phil created his own ways of dealing with any challenges, resulting in him achieving outstanding success in both learning and business.
During a recent visit to Bradford College, working in partnership with Jane Marshall Healthy College Manager, Phil Lee spoke to Public Service students about his inspiring story and his motivational approach to overcoming adversity.
Explaining more about his difficult childhood experiences, Phil Lee said: “I’m not after any sympathy – I’m here to share my story with you. This is the reality, my mother was raped and as a result, she didn’t want the baby she was carrying. I didn’t know this until a few years ago when I got my former social workers reports. So for years I had no idea why my mother had rejected me as a child. What mother does that to their kid? There must have been a reason…I just couldn’t understand it.”
Phil continued: “That’s why she’d often give me away, didn’t want to spend any time with me and why I was left on my own for long periods of time on a regular basis.”
Unsupervised, ignored and neglected by his mother, Phil Lee focused his attention on more negative pastimes. Phil explained “I was often arrested by the police. I used to go into Leeds city centre with my friends and come back with pockets full of stuff, usually toys. I wasn’t a very good shoplifter, but I was very good at getting a free ride home with the police. By the time I was 10 I had so many convictions and I was always fighting.”
Elaborating further, Phil explained: “I was also very aggressive. You become like your environment and your immediate influences. I was so angry and cheesed off. The social workers and the children’s homes saw me as this stroppy little kid, with loads of attitude, so I’d often get punished for my behaviour.”
“It felt like I had no future. I also had two stepfathers who were paedophiles. They went to prison for 8 years each for what they did, I was surrounded by illegal activity. Sometimes I’d come home and the house would be full of food, really expensive stuff in our front room and the neighbours would come down and buy it. The whole family was in on it, we used to do these shopping trips - it was crazy and I was a part of it!”
Elaborating further on what he described as an ‘interesting childhood’ Phil said: “I had cigarettes put out on my body… I still have the scars. I had to get my feet surgically rebuilt because of the inappropriate footwear I was forced to wear as a child. My mum didn’t seem to care.”
“They’d be many times when I would sit there totally frustrated and crying, thinking ‘why do I have to go through this again?’ I’d often say to myself, ‘why me’? Then one of the guys running the children’s home said to me: “Instead of saying ‘why me – say why not me’. For some bizarre reason I couldn’t get it out of my head.
At the age of 16 Phil was no longer eligible to live at the children’s home. Phil said: “I had nowhere to live. I’d sleep on various friends floors until their parents would find me and that would be really embarrassing.”
“At that point in my life I was on my knees. My sense of self worth was so low. I acquired so many labels as a child. It’s the labels that can really help us or can really damage us. At one stage I was called a liar, a thief…untrustworthy. I was called those things because that was exactly what I was doing. That’s the reality – as a child, I was stealing and lying. So I got my labels from my actions.”
“So if you’ve got labels that you don’t want, change your thinking and change your actions. You can then get a completely different set of labels.
“You’ve got to really want it and make it important, to make it happen. Be the person that you’ve always wanted to be! I couldn’t have done it without some positive minded people around me – we learn from positive influences.”
Phil continued: “There were two things that I had to learn. One was coping strategies for people I didn’t like. So rather than reacting with anger towards them, it was much more acceptance and understanding. The other one was to find patience, tolerance and calm. I managed to do that. It took a while, but once I did, it really did help and I actually lost that aggressive edge that I’d carried around with me for such a long time. That was one of the most important lessons for me, because I used to get so angry all the time.”
When hope appears scarce and motivation reaches rock bottom, Phil Lee’s inspiring techniques for dealing with life’s difficulties provide a lasting legacy for all – demonstrating that despite the odds we can all succeed.
Phil has applied the principles he learnt as a child to his career, resulting in early promotion in the Armed Forces, passing the West Yorkshire Police recruitment process, training and working with Special Forces (SAS), the Coldstream Guards Reconnaissance Platoon and has led a section in Northern Ireland during the conflict years at the age of 19.
Offering inspirational advice to Public Service students, Phil Lee said: “You’ve seen my journey. You guys are ahead of where I was at your age.” Phil Lee was barely able to read and write at the age of 16 and has since gone on to gain a University Degree, 3 Diploma courses and a teaching qualification on top of his Mountain Leader awards. He also runs his own successful business consultancy practice.
Humbly Phil continued: “There is nothing stopping you from achieving so much more than I have. If you’ve got negative thoughts going on in your head, change your thinking and acquire coping strategies.
“There is no question that it is all within your grasp. As long as you understand what your aspirations are - and you are sufficiently inspired, then you’ve got the reason to take the required action for motivation.”
“Motivation is a neutral word. It’s not positive or negative – it simply means ‘reason for action’. People who jump off bridges are motivated. Aspiration is a deeper level of who you want to become!”
Phil Lee has had the courage, desire and determination to face life’s difficulties and survive, using these difficulties to learn and live his life to its full potential.
Inspired by Phil Lee’s speech, 17 year old student Abdullah Chunara said: “Never give up - be confident and believe in yourself!”
Mature student Ronette Harney (aged 24) speaking after Phil Lee’s motivational speech said: “It doesn’t matter about your past. Anyone can turn their life around for the better.”
17 year old Public Service student Nazakat Saleem added: “Anyone can change their life if they have the determination to succeed.”
Commenting on Phil Lees inspiring speech, event organiser and Healthy College Manager, Jane Marshall reflected: “Judging by the feedback from our students, Phil’s message has really hit home. Hopefully it will inspire our students to go on to reach their full potential in life.”
Gary Bradwell, Public Services Lecturer added: “The students have found the talk extremely interesting and thought provoking. I’m sure Phil’s ethos will be embedded into their minds for years to come – when they may each find hardship or adversity in their own lives that they must overcome.”