Margaret Rooke with Benjamin Zephaniah
Author Margaret Rooke with Benjamin Zephaniah

When photographer David Bailey and his art critic friend each decided to take a photograph of the same view in Cornwall, there’s no surprise whose turned out the best.
“I achieve this without being able to explain why,” says Bailey, before acknowledging that his mind must work in a way that makes him see things differently from other people.

Bailey is one of 23 contributors to the book Creative, Successful, Dyslexic by Stoke Newington author Margaret Rooke, in which well known figures from the arts, sport and business worlds describe their experiences of dyslexia.

Dyslexic celebrities such as Richard Branson, Eddie Izzard and Darcey Bussell reveal the difficulties they faced in childhood, and how, ultimately, they think dyslexia actually helped them reach the top of their professions.

For Bailey, who only became aware of the word ‘dyslexia’ when he was 30, curiosity and spark, and not the ability to spell, are the main factors for a successful life. He talks about his “uncommon sense” and how making mistakes can be the basis for a lot of art.

Margaret Rooke had the idea for the book after her own daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia, aged 13.

“It was just such a shock to us, and it took a long time for it to sink in,” Rooke says. “But I really did want her to know that she could still do what she wanted in life. I didn’t want this to be something that weighed heavily on her shoulders.”

Rooke quotes the story of a friend whose son was diagnosed with dyslexia. When the friend spotted an article about how Richard Branson was dyslexic, she cut it out and stuck it to the son’s bed, and it turned out to be a turning point for the son.

“I thought it’d be great to get a whole book together with lots of different examples,” Rooke says.

With the help of charity Dyslexia Action, who put forward some of their ambassadors, Rooke was able to put the book together. One thing common to all of the stories is the importance of a positive outlook.

“When we found out that my daughter was dyslexic I didn’t have a positive response,” Rooke admits.

“But the attitude from the experts in the book and a lot of the people I interviewed was to be positive. The attributes that come with dyslexia might not help with school qualifications but they can still help your child in the world of work.”

Rooke recognises that teachers do an “incredible job” and that schools are much more “on it” when it comes to dyslexia these days. But when the educational establishment places attainment and results above everything else, including creativity, how can those who learn in different ways thrive?

“I’ve found just in the playground there’s a lot of competitiveness and kids always know who is top of the class,” says Rooke. “Even if we’re not in an age where teachers call out the results, kids do know and I would say step away from all of that because there are other ways to shine.”

Poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who holds 17 honorary doctorate degrees yet still finds the word ‘knot’ difficult to spell, ends the collection with a powerful call to arms.

“If someone can’t understand dyslexia it’s their problem, not yours,” he tells the reader directly. “In the same way, if someone oppresses me because of my race I don’t sit
down and think ‘How can I become white?’

“It’s not my problem, it’s theirs and they have to come to terms with it. So if you’re dyslexic, don’t be heavy on yourself.”

Creative, Successful, Dyslexic: 23 High Achievers Share Their Stories is published by Jessica Kingsley. RRP: £16.99. ISBN: 9781849056533

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