OUR STORY 2008 - 2023

Jack Thompson

Listen to Jacks story with Podcast Kings here

Best moment? It’s got to be stepping on stage and being in Bugsy Malone. It was like an out-of-body experience and no matter how many performances I've done – and I've done a lot – I can't get that feeling back.

Greatest lesson learned: No matter where you are in life, there's some place where you can fit in. Freedom Road made me feel so humble, like I got a family there, you know, and I've got my own family at home.

Freedoms gained? They gave me my voice in a sense. They brought me out of my shell and they gave me the freedom of my own actions. I was very hostile at school because I didn’t know who to trust. I know I’m responsible for my reactions.

Jack’s Story

“You know, you look in the mirror and he whispers. You can hear the actual person insulting you. His actual voice comes back – how he said it exactly and it’s like mental branding.” Jack is talking about being bullied at high school. He is now 24 and it is around a decade since he really went to the school where he was bullied, but the words “mental branding” and the idea that he looks in a mirror and can hear the slurs hurled is painful to think about. At his heaviest, Jack reached around 25 stone.

There were lots of reasons why Jack gained weight. The first thing that happened was that Jack’s toe was severed when he trapped it in a door. For seven months he could not walk and he found comfort in food. He ballooned in weight. His family live on a council estate in Hull. His sister had leukaemia when she was a young child and later an operation on her legs which meant she walked with her toes pointing in the wrong direction. Jack’s mum was protective of her children. Life had stacked up against her and she was afraid for them. She was right to be. Within days of Jack starting high school, he marked himself out in an incident that defined his life for years to come.

“I think it was the first or second day in school and I was walking in front of my sister. She used to walk a bit like a penguin. It’s horrible to say. One of these lads was shouting ‘penguin king or queen’ or something. I just flipped out and hit him. He was a year eleven and he had a lot of friends and from that moment it was just like everyone had it in for me. I was just protecting my sister. I didn’t think it through.”
Jack also suffered from the “big fish small pond” thing that can happen when you move from a primary school where you are happy to a secondary school, where you don’t have the same status. Most of his friends went to other schools and he felt alone. When faced with daily threats Jack hit back and became known as a violent aggressor, but he was as much the bullied victim as anything else. He explains: “I’d be like punching someone and I used to apologise after. I'd feel bad. For me punching them was like me telling them to leave me alone.”

He describes his mind at this time as being like a “washing machine” that churned thoughts and he became horribly depressed. In fact Jack’s description of depression is close to that of the poet Sylvia Plath, who took her own life. He describes himself as being like an “empty vessel”, as being “totally emotionless”. He would get in from school, lie on his bed and stare into space. He knew a number of people who had committed suicide and he himself felt suicidal. His mum spotted what was happening and with the help of a charity Jack gained a place at Freedom Road.

Jack’s memory of walking through the doors of Freedom Road is so vivid he says he can still recall the “musty church smell” as if he was there. Like others, he met Ian Bolton first and he describes him as being “so humble” that he instantly felt at home. He says: “I was twelve. I was very quiet. I wouldn’t say boo to a goose. I walked through the door and got introduced to everyone and within like a few minutes, you kind of felt like you was meant to be there.”

Jack’s problem’s didn’t go away after joining FRCA, but his life did get better in many ways. He was picked to play Fat Sam in Bugsy Malone, a role, that could have brought him shame, but instead gave him joy. He says it took the power out of the word “fat” in some ways. He explains: “I was like, yeah, I'm making my friends laugh and I kind of dissociated myself from being fat for a few minutes and just thought, well, it's just a word, and it kind of made me think the insults weren't as big anymore.”

He rehearsed intensively for five months and when he eventually took to the stage at the Northern Academy for Performing Arts (NAPA) in Hull, it was to be a defining moment for him. He explains: “The first performance I did, it did feel like I was watching myself on stage. You have like an out-of-body experience where you're looking at the crowd but you feel like you're watching yourself as well. I don't remember the performance. I just remember the feeling. I was tingling all over my body.”

Like other Freedom Roaders Jack began leading parallel lives. The happy life where he describes himself being at circle time at Freedom Road and a member of staff calling him a “chatter box” and jokingly asking him where he found his voice, and the torturous life at school. Jack says his mum “might as well have pitched a tent” outside his school she was there so often, trying to resolve his problems. She’d buy him deodorant because she was worried he smelled because of his weight. She’d also buy him new branded things like bags and shoes hoping they would help him fit in. Instead they got ruined by his peers. Nothing worked. In the end Jack more-or-less left school. He attended for a handful of days in years 9 and 10. He then got into a special school unit for year 11. It was made of a cocktail of bullies and the bullied. Jack acted out. He left school feeling “dumb”. In fact he continuously says he’s “dumb”. He has dyscalculia and dyslexia, but he isn’t stupid. He did make it onto a college course, but he picked IT and it didn’t suit him.

Aged 19 he realised he wanted to act. He got a college place and felt alive and happy again. He then embarked on a university degree in theatre, but Jack was beset by a horrible tragedy when one of his close friends died from epilepsy. The details of his death are disturbing. He suffocated after falling whilst having a seizure. Jack’s grandmother also died. Jack was so depressed his weight started plummeting, he became anorexic, and a kind university lecturer took him to one side and suggested he took a break. Jack came home to the teenage bedroom where he had stared at the ceiling for years as a child and felt nothing. Life was repeating itself.

His mum contacted Freedom Road and Jack found himself back helping out. Lockdown happened and Jack was asked by the charity to help launch a podcast. He says: “It gave me a massive purpose and massive confidence boost. At first it was just a word on notepad, an idea. Then within a week, we were recording with the kids, and it was like I’m helping young kids. I'm doing something. I’m forgetting about myself and I'm helping some kids, taking their mind off lockdown, taking their mind off the pandemic.” Now the podcast is well listened to, and on a local radio station as well as having been downloaded in Egypt and Costa Rica.”

Jack is about to return to the university he took a break from. He is excited. He will continue the podcast, and keep up his involvement with Freedom Road, which gave him his first love of acting and his new love of radio.

Jack describes school as “mental warfare” for him. Freedom Road trained him for combat. Not as a fighter, but as someone who could think before he acted, someone who can now diffuse situations, and someone who is ready take on life and win.

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