Exclusive: teenage years were the hardest, Sir Mo Farah tells Future Mag
His teenage years were his hardest, Sir Mo Farah tells Future Mag. As a football mad student, PE was – obviously – his favourite subject. When he was bored, he used to annoy the teachers by making odd animal noises – though he’s not prepared to repeat them now. “I used to disrupt the class to get a bit of attention,” he says.
“I had no choice but to keep grafting. You have to be ruthless and work, work, work. I’m a great believer in what is possible – I’m a glass half full person.”
"I’m a glass half full person.”
As four-time Olympic champion, he’s more excited about getting back on a football pitch than anything else at the moment – he’s the first English player to have signed-up for a summer Soccer Aid charity match for Unicef – where he’ll be competing against the likes of world sprinter Usain Bolt. “I used to be all about football, football, football. Now I can’t wait.” Unicef’s match takes place at Old Trafford on June 10, and singer Robbie Williams has been named captain of the side.
Sports saved Sir Mo at school. He arrived in the UK from his native Somalia at the age of eight with no English. Making contact with fellow pupils was too difficult. “But sports helped me become better, go to better places.”
He urges teachers and students to take time to understand new immigrant pupils. “All I wanted was to talk to somebody. If you can’t talk to people, you feel vulnerable. If I could give any advice, it would be to try to understand kids from other countries – give them one-to-one time. But kids from Africa and other countries are often stronger because they’ve dealt with so much more.”
Recognised wherever he goes, one exception was a recent brush with security staff at Munich airport. Manhandled by a security guard – who put his hand between his jeans and his boxers – Sir Mo complained. Staff – unaware who he was – demanded his passport. “I was angry. The manager came by, no one was listening all I wanted to make clear was that I wasn’t happy with the security staff. I started recording what was happening. He started pushing me. I think it’s important as a human being to stand up for what’s right. It was sad to see – we should respect one another.”
At no point did Sir Mo say “do you know who I am?!”- though he was tempted.
“Will people love me in ten years’ time? No..."
As a child Sir Mo lived with his aunt “she was very strict. If I went out she was like ‘whoa’.” But he struggled to make the step to independent living. Now he tries to be a good role model to his own children – “I spend time playing around and chilling out with my kids. With four of them, it’s difficult. But my kids are very respectful – they understand the value of life. I hope I’m a good father.”
He tries to pass on his mother’s values. “The one thing she taught me was to be adaptable. No matter what country you’re in.” And he’s bracing himself for a day when he’s no longer mobbed by selfie-seeking fans. “Will people love me in ten years’ time? No. But that’s a reality. As long as you understand that you’ll be fine.”
Sir Mo was talking to Helena Pozniak at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai