I met Nile Wilson this week. I’ll be honest here, even when he told me his name, I had no real idea who he was. It turns out when I checked out the guys social media stats, complete with his haul of Commonwealth Games medals and Olympic Gymnast status, I realised that this was my loss.
Nile is one of the new generation of hard working and hugely talented athletes who are inspiring a generation of younger people with their examples of hard work, talent and an ability to engage with people using social media.
Meeting him gave me lots of food for thought and indeed stimulated a series of thoughts that I had been considering writing into a blog post for a while, so I have him to thank for the trigger to write what follows. There are several subjects all rolled into one blog post, so take some time to read the sections. There’s a who series of lessons to be learned with, I hope, several useful thoughts to take away.
Takeaway 1. Nile Is His Own Media Machine and Publisher
We were chatting about his YouTube channel complete with a subscriber count of more than 760,000 followers and his Instagram audience of over 380,000. If you want to see some insane gymnastics and someone who loves life, trains hard and enjoys his success, I’d suggest you give him a follow. Nile is one of a new generation of skilled, professional athletes who don’t need old fashioned media.
They don’t issue press releases or have a PR minder and while I know he is always professional when being interviewed, he actually doesn’t need ‘conventional’ media and printed newspapers. He is his own media publisher, with an audience of his own who love him and follow his every move, love the content that he puts out and are huge fans of him, his sense of humour and how he lives his life.
For me, it was great to meet someone who really understands how he can go straight to his fans via their phones and iPads and speak directly to them without the need for a PR company issuing press releases. He’s not a D List celebrity or a YouTube Influencer who wants to be famous just for, well being famous. He is a hard working athlete who is inspiring young children to want to become athletes too. And that’s so much better that an orange suntan and an Essex accent.
If you are one of the traditional PR companies out there right now, you should be very, very worried if you think that a few inches of newspaper print justifies your existence. Nile is only one of the many thousands of people who are bypassing the gatekeepers and building their own personal brand.
Takeaway 2. Some People’s Skill Sets Are Way Way Better Than Yours
So we’re chatting and Nile says, “Could I do an handstand on the roof of the car?”
We get some bizarre requests on track at times and that was a new one on me. The Lamborghini Huracan that was with us on the Driving Sensation event day we ruled out due to it’s thin alloy roof panel. Nile is a typical gymnast, a pretty compact guy, but we’d almost certainly leave a dent in the lightweight panels and after all, it wasn’t my car. The Lotus Elise, on the other hand, has a strong fiberglass roof panel that would be perfect.
“There’s just one thing. My mate McKenna who drives the Lotus will want to drive it while you’re handstanding in the roof”. This was said in jest….
Nile, “Sure, no problem.” He meant it.
So, one dynamic risk assessment later, a chat between myself, Nile and Andy McKenna in the Lotus and we are all set. There’s a stiff 25 knot wind blowing right down the runway at Elvington, making it harder for Nile to set his balance on the shiny Lotus roof. Then suddenly, he stabilises just like a gyroscope spinning to life and he is totally still, inverted on the roof. Andy gently lets out the clutch and Nile stays there, perfectly upright, on the shiny roof of a moving Lotus in a 25 knot wind.
Now that’s impressive.
Takeaway 3. Some People Need To Wake Up And Smell The Coffee
So here’s the thing. I showed the video clip to quite a few people afterwards and was mildly surprised at some responses. Most people thought it was a really cool thing, that Nile’s talent was amazing. Yet others commented that it was crazy.
“What if something had gone wrong? That lad will break his bloody neck.”
“That’s just showing off and being foolish.”
And this incorrect perception comes down to a very simple thing that I come across very often when people discover what I do in my daily life. So this post is a good opportunity to talk about it.
It’s all about your reference point and where your own life experiences and skills have got you so far. Very often, things that some people think are unacceptable are actually relatively straight forward if you have the right skill set.
I would no more try and handstand on the roof of a moving Lotus that I would try and fly formation aerobatics in the front seat of a Red Arrows Jet. For me, that’s so far outside of my capabilities that I know I would be hurt. But I DO understand that to Nile or a Red Arrows pilot and others with finely tuned skill sets, this is their normal work.
For me, I am very lucky that in my daily work I am able to drive high performance cars and teach others how to become better drivers too. I fly in interesting helicopters and I help clients improve their business with digital marketing and other great things. I am truly fortunate to enjoy the working life that I have.
And so it’s surprising, in fact saddening for me, when others think it’s a high risk business.
It so easily could be, I sometimes witness things that make me inwardly cringe. Instead we work very hard indeed to mitigate risk, to constantly evaluate the environment and ensure that nothing goes wrong, or if when it does, we have a Plan B to deal with it.
In this case, Nile explained that he is used to falling and knows how to land. As he prepared to do it, you could see him doing the gymnast’s mental arithmetic of what was needed and I was quite happy that together with McKenna’s light feel on the pedals of the Lotus, all would be well.
Takeway 4. You Can Never Tell Who You’re Going To Meet
I am a huge believer that you can never, ever tell who you are going to meet on any day and also that you can never tell where it might lead. Working as a track instructor has introduced me to some truly interesting people. I’ve coached everyone from housewives to fighter pilots and bomb disposal experts in cars across the years and have met people like Chris Garrett who changed the course of my career and introduced me to new ways of doing things and the fun of blogging and digital marketing.
My old boss is the one who inspired this. When attending conferences and other corporate functions, he would always wander off and sit at a table where he didn’t know anyone. “I will talk to anyone for five minutes. You can never tell who you’re going to meet and where it will lead. After five minutes, I you feel that it’s not for me, I politely excuse myself and vanish.”
It’s a view that has served me well over the years.
As for Nile Wilson? He is a great guy and an inspiration to thousands of young kids everywhere. It was wonderful to see someone with genuine talent who has obviously worked hard being appreciated by a young auidience who are interested in his skills rather than someone who is tenuously clinging onto marginal fame just for being famous. He was surrounded by young children all wanting an autograph and a quick selfie with him when they realised he was there.
There’s a whole generation of athletes and other talented people with powerful brands out there now that the gatekeepers of traditional media are powerless to control. It’s inspirational to many others too and in this age of negativity in the world, a sign that in fact, we are doing just fine.