Category: Perspective

Take 5 with Guy Shahar



Guy Shahar is an autism consultant, writer and author of two books. In 2016, he founded The Transforming Autism Project, a charity that aims to transform public and professional understanding of autism and support autistic children and their families. His son, Daniel, was diagnosed with autism as a toddler.

What is your earliest memory?

Standing on an upstairs windowsill next to a big, open window, confused about why my parents were panicking.


What sums up happiness for you?

The profound inner presence I experience from practising Heartfulness meditation.


What makes you angry?

Suffering caused by cruelty or willful ignorance.


If you could be anywhere right now, where would it be?

Probably an isolated tropical beach or forest.


What did you want to be as a child?

I think I wanted to be Prime Minister. Can’t imagine why.


What’s the worst job you’ve done?

The first thing that comes to mind is doing the night shift cutting sheet metal in a factory. I didn’t last long in that role.

Though when I think about it, the cumulative effect of being smothered in the culture of a multi-national corporation for eight years, followed by a (worse) year in a small local company, was much harder.


What would your superpower be? 

My son recently had to choose a superpower for a school project. He wasn’t interested in any powers that we came up with, apart from the power to make other people happy. I can’t think of a better answer than his.


Have you ever been mistaken for a celebrity?

Yes, but nobody I actually look like – usually obscure snooker players for some reason.

Nobody has mistaken me for George Clooney yet but it’s no doubt just a matter of time.


What’s your favourite book?

I read very little but have been fortunate to read a few life-changing books. As a teenager, I read Labyrinths of Reason by William Poundstone, which really opened my mind to philosophy in a down-to-earth, inspiring way.

A little later, I read Franz Kafka’s The Trial and also The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro, both of which have had a profound influence on my own writing.

More recently, The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer is by far the most powerful personal development book I have ever come across.


Which living person do you most admire, and why?

A corny answer, but probably my son for how resilient and resourceful he has been, and how he has managed to prosper in the face of adversity.


If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would be better able to handle other people’s negativity.


What would you change about the world to make it a better place?

For everyone to commit to looking inside themselves with honesty and humility, seeking the best in themselves and bringing that out more and more in daily life.


How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who helped to radically improve quality of life for people with autism.

Watch Guy’s talk, The Beautiful Reality of Autism, here.

For more information on Guy’s work, visit the Transforming Autism Project at


Interview by Rosy Edwards

5 minutes with… Harbinder Birdi


Harbinder Birdi is an Architect and Partner at Hawkins\Brown, a leading London-based firm that is currently delivering the architectural designs for Crossrail and Thames Tideway.

In his 2016 TEDxWandsworth talk, “The art of infrastructure in the heart of London” Harbinder reveals the lessons he has learnt from designing and constructing within the world’s oldest underground metro system, and asks how architecture and art inform construction, and reflect the communities that use transport everyday.

What is your earliest memory?

Being an arsonist at the age of four. I accidentally set my home on fire exploring how matches worked.

What sums up happiness for you?

A smile.

What makes you angry?

Unhappy rather than angry: our inability, as a species, to see the impact our constant craving to consume has on society and the environment.

If you could be anywhere right now, where would it be?

Lost in a new city without Google maps.

What did you want to be as a child?

An automotive designer. I grew up in Coventry, which has a rich heritage in car manufacturing. On an open day I noticed that the coolest students were those who were studying how to create beautiful cars. I was seduced immediately.

What’s the worst job you’ve done?

Working in a city bar on New Year’s Eve. Deciphering drunken orders is never fun, especially when you are already getting them wrong at 10.30pm.

What would your superpower be? 

Convincing my son that I love him more than his IPad does.

Have you ever been mistaken for a celebrity?

The magician David Blaine. I have absolutely no tricks up my sleeve but I do wish I had his arms.

What’s your favourite book?

Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. It is a beautifully written exploration into how we all see and understand environments through our own particular lens.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?

No one, actually. I don’t believe one person should be honoured in that way. I believe in the collective.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My ability to negotiate terms with my son about his IPad.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Designing Tottenham Court Road station, a fundamental piece of my city that will serve my fellow traveller.

What one thing would improve your life?

Completing the design of our home.

What would you change to make the world a better place?

I would instigate a sensible approach to the distribution of wealth.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who brought out the best in others.

Interview by Rosy Edwards



From a high-flying career to flying with fitness


Leanne Spencer left a career in the city to prioritise her health – and it inspired her to embark on a whole new career. Here, she explains her unique fitness philosophy and why TEDx is the perfect platform to share it.

Why fitness is more important than weight

TEDxWandsworth 2016 talk by Leanne Spencer


What was your TEDxWandsworth talk about?

My talk was about why fitness is more important than fatness. I argued that striving for a perfect, skinny appearance is not the answer to obesity.

Instead, the focus should be on functional fitness and incorporating exercise in our daily lives for all the benefits it brings, not just weight management.

Tell us bit about yourself

I had a successful career in the City, but I left five years ago after realising I was burnt out, several stone overweight and chronically abusing alcohol. Now I’m an entrepreneur, bestselling author and performance coach.

My business, Bodyshot Performance, is a health and fitness consultancy that helps busy professionals increase their energy by removing the guesswork around their health, fitness and nutrition.

I’ve built a business based on the kind of lifestyle I want to lead, which prioritises health and well-being and gives people what they need to live happy and rich lives.

What drew you to TEDxWandsworth?

TEDx is an ideal platform from which to try and spread a message. I am really concerned about our attitudes towards weight and fatness, particularly amongst women. I want to do something to alter that message and change our perspectives on how we view our bodies.

How did you find the experience?

I loved giving my talk. I was third on stage so I had everyone’s attention, and it went very well! The venue had an intimate feel that made it easy to connect to the audience.

How has life changed since you appeared at TEDxWandsworth?

Well, I’m not an international celebrity, and the press isn’t camped at the door, but the credibility I have gained from being a TEDx speaker is much greater. It’s a big differentiator and has helped me get more speaking requests.

More importantly, I’ve had comments on social media from people – both men and women – thanking me for the message I’m spreading. One woman said she was going to show her teenage daughter and her friends, which was wonderful to hear.

Which TED Talk has inspired you?

Monica Lewinsky’s talk, The Price of Shame, was brilliant. For her to get on to one of the world’s biggest stages and deliver a talk on shame…that is something, and she was amazing.

What advice would you give to our 2017 speakers?

Remember it’s ‘Ideas worth spreading’, not speakers worth watching. Focus on your message and your delivery will come.

Quick-fire round

What makes you happy?

Cats and sunshine.

 What has been your greatest achievement?

Doing what was required to prioritise my health.

How do you relax?

Solitary walks in the countryside.

Guilty pleasure?

Cadbury’s Whole Nut.

Who inspires you?

Anyone who demonstrates strength in the face of adversity and sticks to their principles.

The motto you live by:

Fear drives so many of our behaviours, find a way to be unafraid.

Watch Leanne’s Why fitness is more important than weight talk

Find Leanne on Twitter @riseshinemethod

Interview by Rosy Edwards

Novice rower battled across Pacific as the ‘perfect way to explore the mind’


Natalia Cohen was part of the all-female ‘Coxless Crew’ who became the first British women to row the Pacific when they landed in Australia in 2016. Her talk for TedxWandsworth, entitled ‘Lessons from 257 days at sea in a rowboat’ has since been viewed nearly 4,000 times. Here, she explains how she prepared, the importance of positivity and why we should all share our stories.


How did you get involved in rowing the Pacific?

I was keen to challenge myself more than I had ever done before. I have always loved the ocean and knew that the journey would be a catalyst to help me better understand the human spirit. I believe that the strength of human spirit is an incredibly powerful force, and that we all have it within us.

I had just finished a contract managing a safari lodge in Tanzania when the expedition was presented. It sounded like the perfect way to explore the mind. Having never rowed before, I knew I would be outside of my comfort zone and that it would be a steep learning curve.

We were rowing to raise money for Breast Cancer Care and Walking With The Wounded and it seemed like an incredible opportunity to support women who were overcoming adversity, and I hoped to inspire others to deal with their own personal challenges.

For me, that is what life is all about: extraordinary experiences, connections and making a difference.

What is your background?

I started out in the music industry and then moved into the travel industry as an adventure tour leader.

I did that for over 15 years, leading tours, setting up new destinations and volunteer projects and managing safari lodges. Learning about different cultures and exploring the world are a huge part of what drives me.

What challenges did you face in the lead up to the row?

Getting to the start line was almost as challenging as the row itself. We had to deal with the sponsorship, PR, media, marketing, logistics, legal, admin and do all the physical and practical training whilst holding down full time jobs!

Dealing with feelings of being overwhelmed and managing our time effectively were tough, as well as the practicalities of getting funding and getting ourselves as prepared as we possibly could.

And once you started?

Our first major challenge came after just 10 days. A flood caused a fire (luckily contained to a small compartment) that meant we lost the use of our batteries. We actually had to turn around and row back to land.

The next challenge was to fight the gremlins in our mind when we realised that the trip would take us much longer than we expected. For nine months, we dealt with exhaustion, extreme heat, monotony, confined spaces, sea sickness, sleep deprivation, salt sores, pressure wounds, unpredictable conditions and having nowhere to run or hide!

What was your most memorable moment?

There were many. Every time I felt a powerful connection to my team, to the mighty Pacific Ocean and to my inner world.

We encountered breaching humpback whales meters from the boat. We had sharks follow us. The turtles, dolphins, birds and fish were remarkable. The 360-degree view of ocean and sky, sunsets, sunrises and ever changing sea states were mesmerizing.

But the moments I remember most always involved laughter. As a team, we supported each other amazingly and laughed our way through all the discomfort, challenge and frustration.

Why is it important that individuals push themselves to achieve great feats like this?

I think it’s important to be bold, to challenge yourself and to learn from every experience in life. For me, that is where we grow the most and real personal breakthroughs happen. You develop mental resilience so you become stronger and better able to deal with the next challenge – and there will always be more challenges!

You will also learn to empathise and will be much better placed to support others around you.

How has the experience changed you?

I now love the colour pink! I never used to like it, but as all our branding was pink, I grew used to it and now find myself attracted to it.

More seriously, I learnt so much about understanding your strengths, the power of the mind, the importance of perseverance and of supporting your team.

I learnt that you can choose how you want to feel and should always look for the positive. It’s OK to be your authentic self and it’s also OK to be vulnerable. I now have first-hand proof of how wonderfully adaptable human beings are. With self-belief, focus and dedication, we can truly do anything.

What drew you to talk at TEDxWandsworth?

I wanted to share my story and insights, and be a living example that we can do anything we set our minds to. The TEDx platform seemed like the perfect way to do this. I spent my time preparing for our Pacific row in London, so I wanted to do my TEDx talk there, too.

Why is it important that we share our stories?

Everyone has a story to tell. We are all wonderfully unique. We can learn from each other and connect more deeply through sharing our stories. We develop more understanding and compassion. You never know how your life may shift from the simple act of hearing or sharing one powerful story or idea.

What does 2017 hold for you?

This year I am developing my speaking career and mindset coaching practice further. I will be doing talks and workshops internationally and our documentary will be premiering in Spring! 
Five of our Coxless Crew team have entered a 10km open water swim in June, so that will be my next focus – especially considering that I haven’t really swum for about three years!

Watch Natalia Cohen’s talk – Lessons from 257 days at sea in a rowboat

Interview by Rosy Edwards