The images of Simon Weston’s devastating injuries turned him into the most recognisable face of the Falklands War. Forty-eight soldiers and crewmen lost their lives during the 1982 attack on the RFA Sir Galahad ship, which left Simon with serious burns to 46% of his body.
Almost four decades on, he is still in the public eye. He has overcome his injuries, and the dark depression that followed, and is a force for good – supporting numerous charities, and giving inspirational talks. He is a national treasure in the truest sense.
As he prepared to hit the road for his new tour, Simon spoke with Sammy Jones from Pulse Magazine.
The tour, My Life…My Story in My Words, will surprise people, even those who think they know Simon’s story: “There’s a heck of a lot of things that have gone on in my life outside of what people think they know,” he promises, “And all things that haven’t really been said about before.”
What ticket-holders might not be expecting is a big dollop of humour, but it comes as part of the package.
“Humour is a huge part of the process,” he says, “No-one survives what we’ve been through in life if it’s just sadness. There has to be humour. There have to be brighter moments, and there are quite a lot of them. I think everybody needs a bit of escapism, and it will be nice to talk about something that could have been doom and gloom and terrible tragedy for me, but actually turned out to be quite fortuitous.”
Simon will be joined by his good friend, the BBC’s David Fitzgerald for the show, which will feature footage from the Falklands conflict, and a Q&A session. But why did he decide to bring this tour to the stage now?
“I’m 58 in August, and I keep looking on the TV and seeing so many young, vibrant people passing away, and I think if I don’t do it now, I might never get the chance,” he says with a little bit of a laugh, before considering, “The time is right.”
The Falklands didn’t just leave physical scars, the mental ones also had to be overcome. Simon battled depression and the demon alcohol along the way.
“I couldn’t figure out why I was chosen to survive, but I accepted it,” he says of the fateful day on June 8, 1982 that changed everything, “It is just being in the right place at the wrong time, or the wrong place at the right time, there are so many different permutations you can put on it.
Anyone struggling to come to terms with the horror he endured might well ask ‘Why me?’ But not Simon. “I’ve always thought ‘Why not me?'” he says, “I’ve thought the same when good fortune has happened to me.”
“A bomb doesn’t know a friend, and a footstep on an IED (improvised explosive device) doesn’t know your professionalism, your ability, your great skill, or your talent as an artist or a singer. All it knows is the weight comes on, and the bomb explodes.”
Simon won his battle with the darkness eventually, but he can’t put his finger on one moment, or one thought that signalled the turning point.
“I’ve tried to think about this so much,” he admits, “If there was one moment, I would try and bottle it and give it away to the rest of the world, because so many people go through so many moments like the ones that we went through. They might be different circumstances, but they are just as cataclysmic.”
When Simon visits schools to speak with young people, he tells them, ‘Don’t let anybody crush your dreams or your spirit.’
“Be hurt, be positive and be constructive,” he invites, “But don’t just lay back and let things happen to you. Even when I was probably suicidal, I always believed something positive was going to happen. I don’t know why.”
The ex-Welsh Guardsman even counts the pilot responsible for bombing his ship as a friend. “Carlos is a super nice guy,” he says, knowing that not everyone could be so forgiving.
But if you remove the emotion from the situation, you can understand that both men were simply doing their job.
“Exactly,” he agrees, “That’s why I’ve never hated him, or felt any need to forgive him – there was nothing to forgive.
“Hate means you get hurt every single time you think of what happened. Hate is a terrible emotion, and I dislike it immensely when people use the word without putting it into proper context.”
Besides, Simon is simply too busy to hate. Aside from his work as a motivational speaker, he is a successful businessman, supports many charities, and is an accomplished author. And his honours are too many to list, although they do include a CBE.
Another role he fulfils is that of grandad – with a seven year old grandson, and a two-year old granddaughter: “She’s a social hand-grenade,” he says fondly, “She walks into a room and throws it upside down!”
Simon loves rugby, and music is another passion. He regrets never having seen Tom Petty live, but recalls memorable shows by Queen, Status Quo, Thin Lizzy and U2.
“I’ve enjoyed every single concert I’ve been to,” he says, “I love the theatre too, and going to watch a good play.”
His grandson is showing an interest in the arts now, something Simon says he won’t be able to help with: “My grandson likes nothing more than to be outside kicking a football. He is mad into his sport, but he is really keen on dancing and singing too, and those are two things I really can’t help him with – I have a voice like a cork under a door and I look like the dance of the sugar plum fairy,” he says with a laugh.
“The grandchildren are without doubt the joy of our lives. I’m so very, very lucky. It is a very happy house…” n