David Parkin on facing up to life’s challenges

I LIKE a challenge.

Only the other day I tackled a double 99 ice cream cone single handedly.

I can see you are impressed.

I suppose the size of the challenges we take on are set by our previous achievements.

The other week I was MC at a charity ball organised by Leeds-based entrepreneur Mike Bates.

Mike is a former Royal Marines Commando who served in the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq.

He then joined the British secret service and served as a counter terrorism covert operations leader for 15 years.

After leaving the military he looked around for something that could replace what he had lost – tough training, seemingly impossible goals and camaraderie.

And that led him to the then little-known sport of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, where, after eight years of hard training and learning, he became a black belt in what is now one of the fastest growing martial arts in the world.

He didn’t just master this sport, he has made a business out of it and now owns and runs the Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym on Street Lane in Roundhay.

It’s become a throbbing hub for people in the local community where those aged from four-years-old to pensioners take part in the regular classes.

Mike subscribes to the fundamental principle of the sport that it is not just about martial arts but giving those that do it the confidence to both defend themselves but more importantly the confidence to face life.

So what does a bloke who has achieved all this do when he wants to set himself a challenge?

Mike is going to row the Atlantic Ocean single-handedly later this year.

More people have climbed Everest than done that.

When I first met Mike over a coffee in his gym which is above the American Golf shop on Street Lane in Roundhay, I had no doubt that he would achieve his goal.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s not cocky or boastful and has great humility, but he exudes the positive confidence of a man who sets himself seemingly impossible goals and then gets on and does them.

When I introduced him to the audience at the ball, I said:

“We all know we are here tonight because of one very special man.

“Good looking.

“A superfit athlete who loves a challenge.

“A man who is unafraid in the face of danger.

“But that’s enough about me.

“Let’s welcome, Doncaster’s answer to James Bond, the one, the only, Mike Bates.”

It whipped up some excitement and got a laugh.

The important thing about Mike’s challenge is that he’s not just doing it for himself.

Mike’s Atlantic Grappler Challenge is raising money for the Leeds Hospitals Charity for the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at Leeds General Infirmary,

Mike told me that the unit is special to him and his wife Sara because both their sons, Orson and Gabriel, were born prematurely and needed lots of help in their first few months.

Gabriel had complications and contracted meningitis which meant that the first period of his life was spent in and out of intensive care.

“Without the amazing staff and facilities at LGI our lives would be very different today,” Mike told the 130 guests at the black tie Atlantic Grappler Summer Ball at the Mansion at Roundhay Park.

“We’re the lucky ones, but we met many families along the way that weren’t so fortunate. I want to try and change that for future families who so desperately need the specialist care we received.”

Those flinty, determined eyes which have scanned the lonely, dangerous terrain of Afghanistan and the vast, sandy expanse of Iraq’s desert had tears in them when Mike handed the microphone back to me.

And so did many of the audience.

It gave me confidence that when it came to the charity auction later in the evening I wouldn’t be short of bids.

I invited Mike’s two lovely sons, Gabriel and Orson, to come up and I asked them a few questions about what they thought of their Dad’s challenge.

Their answer was along the lines of: “He’s a nutter but we are very proud of him!”

I have Duncan Roy to thank for introducing me to Mike Bates.

I first met Duncan on the Welcome to Yorkshire stand at the Great Yorkshire Show several years ago where he was with three friends displaying the boat they were going to row the Atlantic in.

Their team was called Row 4 Victory and with three of them having served in the armed forces, they were raising money for military charities.

I invited Duncan, Glyn, Fraser and Will to speak at a couple of events I organised for senior managers in the home service team at broadcaster Sky and compered a fundraising ball they held in Harrogate.

Given Duncan holds three Guinness world records for ocean rowing across the Atlantic and Pacific he is now an ocean rowing coach and Mike is one of the people he is working with.

Duncan told Mike about his own charity ball and that a professional MC would take some of the pressure off him at his event and so Mike got in touch and I was delighted to help.

​Given Mike has covered the cost of his great adventure through business sponsorship, every penny now raised goes straight to the Leeds Hospitals Charity.

The special guest on the evening was Leeds Rhinos legend Jamie Jones-Buchanan MBE who Mike met when he was invited to teach grappling skills to players for the Super League team as part of their specialist training.

The two are very similar: strong, humble men from modest backgrounds who have achieved great things but retain a strong sense of family and community and don’t ever see boundaries – just new challenges to overcome.

The auction had seven very good lots including a one of a kind bronze watch from Elliott Brown, the Dorset watchmaker for whom Mike is an ambassador and who make “the world’s toughest watches”.

I loved the note they had written to the successful bidder for their watch: “Enjoy it, but don’t look after it!”

JJB had chipped in with two signed and framed Leeds Rhinos shirts but also offered another lot for a private dinner for six guests hosted by him and fellow sporting legend Kevin Sinfield OBE at the Dakota Hotel in Leeds.

And when he turned up on the night he added an extra lot – a chance for four people to train with world featherweight boxing champion Josh “The Leeds Warrior” Warrington.

Mike offered a full lifetime membership to his gym, Gracie Barra Roundhay Leeds, as well as another lot for a day out in the boat with him on the North Sea (seasickness tablets included) followed by a fish and chip supper if you aren’t feeling too queasy.

Other money was raised on the night from a raffle where many local businesses in Roundhay had donated prizes and I also did a heads and tails game with questions about sponsors and guests.

I was helped by a 14-year-old lad called Jonny who helps Mike out at his gym.

He diligently toured the tables with a card payment machine.

I told the audience that Jonny wasn’t old enough to drink but could take their money.

I started the heads and tails game with an easy one:

Was Jamie Jones-Buchanan born in heads, New York or tails, Bramley in Leeds.

The answer is of course tails.

But they are both known as the Big Apple.

We went through questions about Mike’s sponsors including Howard Civil Engineering, legal firm Arma Litigation and Goodall Brazier, the executive search firm.

My favourite question was about Mike.

He once met Her Majesty the Queen and gave her a tour.

But did he show her round the inside of a nuclear bunker or a transit van?

The answer was a transit van and I intend to get Mike to tell me the story when I next see him.

In the meantime, the most important thing was that the ball raised £33,250.80 for Leeds Hospitals Charity.

The incredible thing is that Mike’s original target of raising a total of £70,000 for the charity will be smashed by the time his boat arrives in Antigua early next year.

It is currently £144,000.

Mike dropped me a note with the total and was kind to say:

“The dust has settled on an amazing night and I wanted to write and thank you for the part that you played.

“There is no question that having you there to compere the evening was such a good decision.

“It allowed me to step a long way back from the pressure of the night (not completely, but far enough that it was pleasurable and enjoyable) and you definitely contributed to maximising the amount raised overall.

“Simply amazing!!  I hope this fills you with a sense of pride for the part you played.”

It certainly does.

I might have a triple 99 ice cream cone to celebrate.

If you would like to donate to Mike’s amazing charity challenge click this link https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-atlantic-grappler


YOU’LL have worked out by now that I came away relatively unscathed from the stag do I warned you I was going on a couple of weeks ago.

We went to Brighton where we stayed in an Airbnb near the seafront where any noise from passing traffic was drowned out by the shrieking of seagulls.

A trip along the coast in a boat was followed by a trip to a few beach bars frequented by an eclectic mix of drinkers whose nose rings glinted alluringly in the summer sun.

It was here where I incurred the wrath of some on the trip by ordering a small white wine.

They told me I should join in the spirit of the stag do and drink something tough and manly.

I said I had, I’d forgone my usual tipple of white Burgundy for a rather gritty Romanian sauvignon blanc.


I GOT the train from Leeds to Brighton, which, given there were no strikes and the trains were on time, made for a pleasant journey.

The trip was punctuated by overheard conversations of fellow passengers who conducted their calls on speakerphone so the rest of the carriage could hear them whether we wanted to or not.

Highlights included: “She went for a job interview and they offered her a job on the spot. But it’s a joke, they want her to work from like 9am to 5.30pm. Can you believe it?”

And this one: “I’m on the train. I’ve just been through that King’s Cross station. It’s massive, it’s like an airport, but with trains.”

If I’d gone in the car I’d have missed out on all this insightful wisdom.


DOMINIC Ponsford, the editor of journalism news website Press Gazette, wrote an editorial piece last week reflecting on the role of “the Fourth Estate in holding careless power to account by bringing about the demise of Prime Minister Boris Johnson”.

The piece was immediately dismissed on Twitter as “excrement” by former Monty Python star and comedian John Cleese.

Dominic responded: “I knew Cleese was a vocal critic of the tabloids, but I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.”


A NOTE arrives from former Yorkshire Post restaurant critic and Barnsley Chronicle editor Bob Cockcroft.

“Great column, David, but I weep for your humdrum life: parties, lunches, dinners, wealthy friends, celebrity friends, golf, cricket, international travel, glamorous women on your arm.

“Where did it all go wrong?”

What can I say Bob?

Perhaps I should defer to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who seems to sum up my approach.

“One always has exaggerated ideas about what one doesn’t know.”

Or perhaps the words of former Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue editor Diana Vreeland are more relevant:

“Exaggeration is my only reality.”

Have a great weekend.

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