David Reviews

 Biting the hand that feeds us since 2002.

JOHN MCAVOY'S TALE OF REDEMPTION

At the latest of Just So's screenings exploring the realm of influence the audience was captivated by John McAvoy's extraordinary story of redemption.

Growing up in one of London's most notorious crime families, McAvoy was taught to disrespect authority and admire villainy, and was as prolific as he was precocious when it came to emulating his uncles' appetite for armed robbery.

McAvoy describes in his excellent book 'Redemption' how he seemed to destined to follow a well-trodden path which would see him alternating between spells in prison and audacious adrenaline-fuelled criminality. But he began to channel his energy in a different direction when he discovered another outlet for his extraordinary self-discipline and pursued physical fitness with such a maniacal enthusiasm that he eventually began breaking world records for indoor rowing.

McAvoy's story caught the imagination of directorial duo Jonny & Jono and their short film was shown before John McAvoy was interviewed - alongside one of the co-directors - by Just So's MD Rich Ascott.



McAvoy has the look of Jason Bourne, if you could imagine Matt Damon's black-ops maverick as a garrulous South Londoner. He possesses a palpable self-assurance both physically and mentally and doesn't yet seem to have discarded the habit of visually sweeping the room to determine if anyone there represents a threat. Maximum security prisons will do that to a person.

Rich Ascott's questioning generates an intriguing self-portrait from McAvoy. Despite his rejection of criminality, the twinkle in his eye suggests he nonetheless feels quite proud that he was once Britain's youngest ever Double Category A prisoner.

Then again, he's done enough of these talks to know that audiences are fascinated to learn more about prison life - so he's only playing to the gallery.


What emerges from the conversation with Ascott and from the autobiography itself is that McAvoy is a really complex character, with a pathological need to commit himself 100% to every endeavour in his life.

He was an extremely ambitious criminal harbouring hopes of becoming a multi-millionaire in record time. He prided himself on adopting a more professional approach than those around him, and listened carefully to those who mentored him. Had he not been caught, there is little doubt he would have succeeded in these goals.


Despite his rejection of criminality, he seems quite proud that he was once Britain's youngest ever Double Category A prisoner.

 ”

Once he realised that he could channel his energy in a different direction, he committed to the life of an endurance athlete with such vigour that he routinely endangered his health.

There is in John McAvoy a level of competitiveness that will never allow him to be easily beaten and he is inspired by others with a similar never-say-die approach. He laughs at his own temerity when describing how - in prison - he followed an example set by Nelson Mandela, who gave up smoking on Robben Island so that the authorities wouldn't be able to punish him by removing his right to tobacco.

McAvoy professes a huge admiration for Lance Armstrong which appears to more or less factor out the cyclist's tainted history, and you sense it's not because he's indifferent about Armstrong's 'crimes' but rather that they're eclipsed by the enormity of his achievements.

These days, John McAvoy is a man on a mission. He participates in Iron Man competitions - a combination of running, cycling and swimming that is partly sport and partly self-harm.

But more important still are the inspirational talks he delivers to school children. Believing himself able to get through to troubled youngsters because he has lived the life that may be their destiny, he has become a significant evangelist for a crime-free future.

And having opted for this course, you suspect McAvoy's competitive instinct will provide him with the determination to be the best role model in the world.

You can listen to the whole the session by clicking on the audio link above, and if you contact Jessie Williams on 020 7613 3381 or via email at jessie@justsolondon.com, she'll be able to put you on the mailing list for future events, including their excellent Postcards series.

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David Reviews - Lovely Lenzie Ltd, Woodbourne House, Seven Sisters, Lenzie, G66 3AW. Telephone: +44 141 776 7766. Editor: Jason Stone.