David Parkin on how the Brownlee brothers are humble, YouTubers grumble and a comedy stumble

I’VE found the antidote to these dark, damp, dreary autumn afternoons.

Do something uplifting.

While my usual uplifting experience on a Friday afternoon is to down a decent bottle of vino collapso, last week was a bit different.

As one of the honorary degree alumni of Leeds Beckett University, I was invited to attend the ceremony for the latest recipients of honorary doctorates from this seat of learning.

If Leeds Beckett uni has had second thoughts about giving me an honorary MBA then it hasn’t shown it yet.

Last Friday it was the turn of my fellow athletes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee to be recognised by Leeds Beckett University.

The brothers, who became sporting superstars after picking up gold and bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, were recognised for their achievements over the past decade.

Their pride was palpable and they received a particularly warm welcome at the ceremony in the university’s James Graham Building in front of the acre of quadrangle lawn on the Headingley campus.

That is because the brothers started training at the university when they were teenagers and when they made their first tentative steps towards competing in the triathlon, which then wasn’t a hugely popular sport.

At the special ceremony, held because the boys cannot attend the university’s traditional summer graduation events because they are right in the midst of the international triathlon season, there were many other worthy recipients of honorary doctorates including Leeds United legend Eddie Gray.

To be honest I was the only person there I’d never heard of.

The university’s Carnegie sporting facilities have helped produce many talented sports people including England footballer Lucy Bronze and Graham Potter, manager of Premier League Brighton & Hove Albion.

But they do so much more than just sport.

Last year an expedition team of injured, wounded and sick military personnel and veterans, led by Dave Bunting from the university’s Carnegie Great Outdoors, successfully reached the summit of Mera Peak in the Himalayas.

The expedition, organised with the Royal British Legion, reached the top of the peak on November 11, marking the centenary of the end of the First World War.

One thing that goes hand in hand with successful sportspeople are big egos.

But in every interview I’ve ever seen with the Brownlees they come across as humble, grateful for their success and generally very down-to-earth lads.

That was even more apparent as they sat on the podium for last week’s ceremony, dry-mouthed and a little nervous off their bikes and wearing caps and gowns and suits rather than the usual lycra.

Jonny was first to address the audience and explained that he isn’t very good at public speaking “so I’m going to let Alistair make a really great speech here today!” he grinned mischievously at at his brother.

Alistair said: “It’s very special to be here, and we both feel very lucky to have had a long relationship with the university and staff.

“I actually first ran here on a primary school sports day. When I was 14, I was told by a friend to turn up to the track to meet a coach to help me run faster.

“On that night I met Malcolm Brown MBE (former Director of Sport at Leeds Beckett) and that was the start of a 15-year coaching relationship and that has had a massive impact on my career.

“There were four of us training at the time – now there are hundreds of students training. It’s been amazing for me and amazing to watch the progression of triathlon in the city.”

Since their first Olympic success, the pair have remained based in Leeds, where they are now coached by Ian Mitchell, who also works in Leeds Beckett’s Sport & Active Lifestyles.

They train regularly at the Leeds Triathlon Centre, whose main partners include Leeds Beckett.

Peter Mackreth, Dean of the Carnegie School of Sport at Leeds Beckett, said: “Alistair and Jonny are world class athletes who have taken the triathlon to new levels.

“They have a long-established relationship with Leeds Beckett University, working with our coaches and researchers, who themselves are leaders in their fields on an international stage.

“We are delighted they have been able to join us today to receive their Sport Science Honorary Doctorates and for us to recognise their incredible achievements.” 

Their former coach Malcolm Brown gave the guest address at the ceremony and remembered how Alastair injured his achilles just six months before the 2012 London Olympics.

For any normal sportsperson it would have put paid to their dream of competing, never mind winning a medal.

But Yorkshireman Alistair was made of sterner stuff.

It was decided that the best exercise he could do during his recovery was on a special static mike submerged in a tank of water.

So that had to be dropped into a hole dug in the middle of the back lawn of the Brownlee family home in Leeds.

Cue a visit from a small man with a large clipboard from Leeds City Council’s planning department.

After a lot of pursing of lips, tutting and squinting at the huge water tank in the garden, the man from planning said it was ok – and Alistair went on to win the gold medal in London and another in Rio four years later.

So thanks to the man from planning but he must also take credit for something more than that.

The success of the Brownlees has seen Leeds and Leeds Beckett University become synonymous with triathlon.

The university has consistently been in the top three triathlon rankings for the last decade, in terms of triathlon performance sport Leeds is acknowledged to be the leading centre in the world and four of the five identified potential Team GB podium athletes for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are connected with LBU.

It is a legacy they can all be very proud of.


IF you want an example of the changing (I’d call it bonkers) world in which we live, then I have a recent example for you.

Two weeks ago Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez confirmed his status as the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer by stepping up two weight divisions from middleweight to light heavyweight and knocking out the bigger hard-hitting Russian champion Sergey Kovalev in the 11th round in Las Vegas.

The bout was free to view on Sky Sports.

A week later two men had their first ever professional fight in Los Angeles.

Over two million people tuned in to watch the fight which Sky sold as a pay-per-view broadcast for £9.95.

The combatants might have been new to boxing but in a sport where money doesn’t just talk, it shouts, they also brought something else to the ring other than rudimentary pugilistic skills – about 40 million followers between them on YouTube.

Logan Paul and KSI already had the audience, all boxing promoter Eddie Hearn had to do was charge them for the privilege of watching their idols belting seven bells out of each other.

KSI is an English YouTube personality who started out posting films about video games but has since branched out into rap, comedy and acting.

American Logan Paul has used the video channel to post various films including one of a dead body in Japan and another of him tasering dead rats.

I know, Richard Dimbleby would turn in his grave.

But that is where we are these days: your value is based on the number of followers and likes you can garner.

Quite what value we can put on experience, knowledge, humility and wisdom I don’t really know any more.


I KNEW the Brownlee brothers were down-to-earth individuals but I got first hand evidence of that at last week’s ceremony when Tracy Commons from the Leeds Beckett external relations team introduced me to Jonny Brownlee.

Beaming with pride he recounted his earliest memories of training at the university.

I asked him how much time the brothers take off at the end of the long international triathlon season.

“About two weeks. Any longer than that and it gets much harder to get back into it,” Jonny told me.

“I really enjoy the training at this time of year. It isn’t too full-on so we don’t get too knackered and that means we can still go out for a meal in the evenings.”

He told me that a couple of weeks ago the brothers packed small bags onto their bikes and set off to ride 180km to Northumberland where they stayed a night before cycling to Peebles in Scotland the following day.

After a night there they rode south and stopped at a youth hostel in the Lake District.

“It was lovely, we got to see a lot more of this country – we probably have seen more of the countryside of Switzerland and Spain because of the competitions over there,” said Jonny.

When was the last time you saw a pair of double Olympic medallists in the dorm of a youth hostel?

These boys have fast feet, but they certainly keep them on the ground.


I’VE always been nervous about sitting on the front row at a panto or a comedy show.

That’s where the performers look first when they are looking for a bit of audience participation or to just generally take the mickey out of someone.


I’ve squirmed as I watched people in the front row skewered by comedians.


I was quite relaxed when PR supremo Nathan Lane invited me to a show at the City Varieties in Leeds and I found our seats were right in the middle of the front row.

Despite this being the historic theatre where Charlie Chaplin, Frankie Howerd, Ken Dodd, Morecambe and Wise and Nookie Bear and the Krankies, not forgetting comedy genius Stu Francis, have performed, I was going to a grown up show.

This was a show featuring The Times political journalist Matt Chorley.

With Brexit delayed, Trump facing impeachment and an election recently announced, this heavyweight political commentator had much to get his teeth into.

What I didn’t realise that Matt combines satire with stand-up comedy.

He said that if his show was being performed in America the audience was likely to be made up of people called Brad, Buck or Randy.

“Are you Randy sir?” he said looking straight down at me sitting in the front row.

I nodded enthusiastically – well what else can you do?

During the show he brought up odd photos of politicians including Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.

Each time he did, he punctuated it with a glance in my direction and the question: “Are you still Randy sir?”

I nodded or shook my head accordingly.

I can’t remember who I nodded about, but I must admit here and now it may have been a photo of President Donald Trump.

Well I’ve always found his long red ties deeply homoerotic.


ON my annual pilgrimage to Hull in August I took a photo of a unique implement that I had never seen before: a pair of grape scissors in the collection of historic silverware at Hull Guildhall.

I commented at the time that I’d put a pair on my Christmas list.

Well Christmas has come early.

Cue a call from business speaker and trainer Jon Hammond.

“David, I have a little gift for you to be put to good use during the festive season.”

We arranged to meet at my office at Platform in Leeds city centre and I asked Jon if he needed access to the delivery entrance, hoping that his small gift would be several cases of Puligny Montrachet and Gevrey Chambertin for lubrication purposes during the festivities.

He arrived with a small, neatly wrapped parcel which was indeed a pair of grape shears.

So thanks Jon.

I’m fully equipped to trim my grapes (they’re a lot easier than plums) over the festive period.

Now I just need to find someone to peel them for me.

Have a great weekend.


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