This week, British football legend Ian Wright joined Who We Be Talks podcast hosts Harry Pinero and Henrie Kwushue to talk about his career and his share his thoughts on politics, navigating the overlapping worlds of sport and entertainment as a Black man, and how Home Truths—his brand new documentary—has helped him process a traumatic childhood marred by violence.
In the years since Wright’s days as an Arsenal star and linchpin of England’s national team, things have changed somewhat. But, as the old adage goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Off the pitch, he was always known as a larger-than-life character and a bit of a joker. As he shares with the hosts, that reputation proved to be something of a double-edged sword, particularly in recent years as he’s pivoted from a player to a pundit.
”Listen, the way we’ve been brought up,” he explained, “we’ve always been told that we have to do more than white people because we have to do double simply to get in the door. And this is what I say to all of the mandem—whether it’s Micah, whether it’s Clinton, whether it’s all of them—do the homework. Do not be on there as a Black man, as the comedy value. Yes, do your laughing and everything, brilliant, but give insight. Let people know that you’re not a fucking idiot. It’s too hard for us as it is to get there—it’s taken me so long to get to that place, then I got there, then they belittle me, then I had to come back.”
The premise of the interview had been to discuss Wright’s upcoming Home Truths documentary, which will be broadcast at 9pm tonight, May 6, on BBC One. The doc, he explains, was born out of his appearance on BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs in which famous figures talk through their favourite records and books and how they relate to their own lives. For Ian Wright, that meant unpacking a traumatic upbringing and some harrowing experiences of abuse.
“It was unbelievable,” he said of the days following the show’s broadcast. “It was like a tidal wave, like a tsunami of people reaching out. And what it is, it’s about abuse, witnessing abuse, a child seeing abuse. It’s like, now, two women a week are dying of abuse. And then 90% of the time, there are kids present, and they’re saying that they don’t recognise that it can affect kids. It affected me, seeing that sort of stuff, hearing your mum being beat up in the next room and you’re imagining it when you’re like a five or six-year-old kid.
“These kinds of things, they stay with you and why I’ve done this documentary was to go into that real deep dive. I was crying on a daily basis coming back from this thing, speaking to people. My wife’s been amazing with it because I feel like people need to talk those kinds of feelings out. It’s taken me so long.” He went on to explain how he had learned to process his experiences and ultimately reach a place where he could understand his mother who, although a victim of abuse herself, had in turn become an abuser. That experience, he says, was what inspired him to make the documentary and speak to other survivors of abuse.
“I literally can’t believe how many people have been through the same thing,” he said. “And it was almost normalised. You know, it’s normalised; I think, yeah, sometimes, but when you speak to people, you realise this isn’t normal. It’s not normal for you to hear your mum say certain things about you, saying that she actually wanted to terminate you. I found out what that word meant because my mum used to say that to me when I was younger. She used to say those kinds of things to me.
“What this documentary ended up making me realise is my mum’s journey has been off the scale in respect to what she went through, simply because she never speaks about it… So then, what my journey ended up making me realise is my mum went through some serious stuff. I had to get to a place where I could forgive my mum so I could move on.”
Ian Wright’s Home Truths will be broadcast 9pm tonight, May 6, on BBC One. You can hear the full Who We Be Talks interview below.