Stephen, you dear silly boy
You wrote me a letter when you were 15. It was furiously addressed “To My Older Self”. In it you made a claim for the great purity, clarity, honesty and truth of what I seem to remember you called The Republic of Adolescence. “Everything I feel now, everything I believe now is truer than what I will believe when I’m twenty, thirty or forty,” you wrote, or words to that effect. “Every day from now on I grow away from my true self.”
It was a brave, strong and heartfelt letter. I published it in a book I wrote about my youth, about you. And it’s true that the responses to nature, love, feeling and the world that you had when you were 14 and 15 had an acuteness, a depth, a raw and honest engagement that I cannot pretend to have retained into my 60s. Into what is technically and rather alarmingly my seventh decade.
But while you had so much to shout across the years at me, I do have things I want to communicate to you.
Firstly of course I want to tell you that the big thing, the unnameable thing that haunts your every waking moment will work out fine. The pain, fear, shame and doubt that you feel now about love – forbidden love as it is to you back then – will melt away and, astonishingly, be replaced by pride. While the pride won’t melt away too, the acceptance of your sexuality that most of the world feels will mean that you don’t even have to think of yourself as different. Now there’s something the young me could never even dare to contemplate. You believed you would end up a sad lonely, despised and ever-fearful outsider, scuttling ashamed in the dark corners of a sordid shadow world.
But sex and love aside, what about the world, society and other people?
Right now, in your youth, you hover between an anxious pull that urges you to stand alone, to refuse to join in with the crowd and an equally anxious pull in the other direction, a longing to join in and belong. To be apart from or a part of the world of other people – that is the question that haunts you. Deep down you are afraid of so many things. Afraid that you aren’t strong, nimble, cute, or confident enough ever to succeed. It is as if everyone else in the world has had lessons in how to be that you have somehow missed. Immediately ahead of you is a rather woeful passage which involves expulsion, two more schools, arrest by the police and imprisonment for theft and credit card fraud: don’t worry, it’s not as frightening as it sounds. After three quarters of your life spent at boarding school you will find prison to be a breeze. And at some point things will click in your head. You will discover that actually your mind, your command of language, your memory and your wit are enough to take you anywhere you want to go. You will realise that you don’t have to shout, or elbow your way forward. If you believe ion your brain things will happen for you. But you will be astoundingly lucky too. After such a stormy adolescence success will seem to fall out of the sky. A Midas touch.
But the old insecurities, doubts, dreads, anxieties and fears will never quite leave you. You will reach for every low-hanging fruit available and make yourself a mess of drink and drugs. Your mental health will degrade and you will have to face the fact that neither your mind nor your body are immortal or immune from damage. But that won’t mean they aren’t capable of repair.
I shan’t tell you the wonderful things that await you as you age – it will spoil the glory of the surprise.
You were right about everything and you were wrong about everything. You did join in and you did stand apart. You stayed young and you grew old. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. And then it was the best of times again.
Dear Young Me is whynow’s new editorial series where each month you will gain a uniquely personal insight into the retrospective thoughts and feelings of some of the UK’s most well known and influential figures including Michael Caine, Bill Wyman, Dave Stewart and Gary Barlow.
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