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POPPY'S PEOPLE: The lives of Liam Doherty

POPPY'S PEOPLE: The lives of Liam Doherty

Thursday 23 June 2022

POPPY'S PEOPLE: The lives of Liam Doherty

Thursday 23 June 2022


Since I started writing Poppy’s People, I have had the privilege of hearing and sharing incredible true stories of real people. When it comes to Liam Doherty, I feel as though I am writing the story of two people at once.

On one hand, a victim of bullying, an A* student, bookworm, a teetotal exercise fanatic, and a peace-and-love nomad. On the other, a bully, a school drop-out, a binge drinker, a fighter and nine-to-five finance worker. Liam would be impossible for even the most seasoned journalist to define, so I’ll stick with telling his transformative story and let you form your own opinion.

Liam describes his younger self as “strawberry blonde with a bowl cut and glasses”  

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Pictured: Liam at 'Tommy rock' at Bordeaux, which he calls his "soul spot". 

“I was obsessed with reading, and I was terrible at sport. I got bullied a lot and it definitely had an impact on me,” said Liam.

“My mum thought that scouts might be good for me, which was a great idea, but unfortunately, I was physically bullied for quite a while both there and at a youth club in Brock Road.  

“I was fairly shy anyway, but those experiences made me uncomfortable in my own skin. I would avoid certain people and certain areas and I eventually dropped out of the clubs.” 

Liam explained that he carried the mentality of being somewhat of an outsider with him to the Grammar School. 

“I didn’t have a secure friendship group going into Grammar. I remember an incident in Year 7 where a group of girls were categorising us all, for example the ‘football boys’ or the ‘popular girls’,” he said.  

“I had overheard them and asked which group I was in, and they said I wasn’t in any. They labelled me a ‘drifter’."

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Pictured: Liam being welcomed by school children while travelling in Uzbekistan. 

Liam continued: “Now I would consider being a ‘drifter’ as an integral part of who I am; I will talk to anyone, and I have friends all over the world in every strata you can think of. 

“At the time though, that label was crushing because it meant that I didn’t belong anywhere.” 

Liam said that puberty hit him “like a brick”.  

“I was suddenly bigger and stronger than everyone else, and I was also carrying a lot of pent-up anger,” he said.  

“I actively tried to establish myself at the top of the pecking order after being at the bottom for so long. It’s not something I’m proud of whatsoever. 

“After having no friends, but being open to talking to anyone, I started making friends with the wrong people for the wrong reasons because I wanted a sense of belonging.” 

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Pictured: Liam with his late grandfather and Jeanie, who has been his penfriend for a decade and is a daily sea swimmer at aged 82. 

Liam describes his adolescence as “messy”.  

“Through absolutely no fault of my parents or my upbringing, my adolescence was a turbulent time,” he said.  

“By the time I was 13 or 14 I was more interested in smoking cigarettes and drinking than I was in schoolwork. By 15 or 16 I was getting in trouble at school constantly and I dropped out at 17.”  

Despite his lack of interest in school, Liam was academically successfully up until his A-levels.  

“I never did homework for the entirety of my secondary education, and I was constantly unhappy because I was always being told off for not doing homework,” he said.  

“I blagged my GCSEs and got a couple of A*’s, A’s and B’s and I thought that I could do the same thing with my A-levels, but I couldn’t. I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career and I was more interested in drinking and smoking than staying in education.” 

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Pictured: Liam with his girlfriend, Alana, in Little Sark. 

Liam said that his intellect was a source of frustration for his parents, teachers and friends.

“If you met me at 18, I was not on a good path. I drank an embarrassingly large amount in an embarrassingly large frequency,” he said.

“I remember my dad saying to me I needed to turn my life around, but his words didn’t go in.

“I wouldn’t listen to anyone and it annoyed them because I was intelligent and eloquent, but I wouldn’t hear or see sense. I would be incredibly dismissive of any advice.”

After leaving sixth form, Liam was unemployed for nearly three months.

“My mum eventually said that, if I didn’t have a job in the next month, I would be out of the house. It was the best thing she could have said.

“I got a job working compliance for a trust company and I began boxing. It was by happenstance; my dad was going to sponsor someone for a boxing event and, for whatever reason, the dropped out so he asked me if I fancied giving it a go.

“That’s when things really turned around for me. I stopped drinking, I started exercising and my mentality completely changed.”

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Pictured: Liam has been a Youth Worker with the Youth Commission for nine months. 

Three months later, Liam was in the first fight in front of a “packed-out audience” in Jersey. He won the fight but said that boxing wasn’t about winning or losing for him.

“I credit boxing for teaching me bravery, discipline and determination,” he said.

“I went from getting blackout drunk three times a week to training for at least two hours, three times a week; it was completely transformative for me."

Liam boxed competitively four times, winning on all occasions. In his last fight, he dislocated his shoulder but continued to finish the fight using one arm.

Liam said that the shift in his mentality through boxing translated into other areas of his life.

“I had previously been coasting in my compliance job, but I decided to take an interest,” he said.

“I became fascinated by the geopolitical side of what I was doing, where the policies came from and why it mattered. I was promoted from a trainee to compliance officer then to an assistant manager by the age of 21.

"I became more and more interested in history and geopolitics and then, at the drop of a hat, decided I wanted to go to university.”

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Pictured: Liam with his friend, Oleg, in Uzbekistan. Sadly Oleg was killed after he was run over by a vehicle while hitchhiking in the central Asian country. 

Without the necessary grades for a university application, Liam relied on interviews and was open and honest about turning his life around.

He was offered a place at two universities and decided to go to Brighton to study philosophy, politics, and economics.

“I went to university as something approaching an activist and someone who genuinely wanted to change the world, but with misguided ideas about how that could happen,” he said.

“I had just started blogging at the time and I wrote a piece entitled ‘there for the sake of impulsivity go I’. Although it was humorous, the general gist of it was ‘you won’t see me in finance again or in Guernsey again'.

“Within the first term of living in the UK I realised I had been living on a somewhat paradisiacal island and that I had been so ungrateful.”

Liam said that he spent most of his time at university “hanging out with homeless people” rather than his peers. He explained that he learned a lot from the homeless people, who he deemed to be more authentic than the students.

Over the course of his three-year degree, Liam said he reinvented himself.

“By the end of university, I wasn’t looking at activism as a means for effecting positive change in the world. I reformed myself and tried to do things to effect change in a more practical way,” he said.

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Pictured: Liam is seemingly at home outdoors and has been sea swimming daily for the last four years. 

Liam continued: “When I returned to Guernsey I worked in another finance role. I was highly motivated to save money because I wanted a house and a wife and kids.

“I applied myself and was promoted in very quick succession. I became the youngest money laundering reporting officer on island at 26. It’s an extremely stressful position and you have personal criminal responsibility for your role.”

Although achieving corporate success and motivated by his desire for a white-picket-fence life, Liam explained that he was not fulfilled in his job.

“I found that I had to do things to counterbalance working in finance and to release energy,” he said.

“At one point I was exercising two or three times a day, waking up early, during my lunch and then again in the evening.

“I eventually stopped exercising to such a manic level, dropping down to two or three times a week, but I continued to sea swim every day and I have maintained that for four years.”

During the first covid lockdown, Liam split from his partner of eight years.

“The reason I was in finance was for the house and wife and kids. Suddenly that goal was taken away, so all the motivation I had for working in finance was gone,” he said.

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Pictured: At 26, Liam became the youngest mouney laundering reporting officer in the island. 

Liam continued: “I resigned from my job on good terms and decided to completely rethink my life. I started working as a waiter at St Pierre Park, I was the only local waiter, and it was fantastic.

“I had worked at the Hilton in Brighton and something I loved was that you can have 100 interactions on shift and they’re each opportunities to bring something positive to someone’s life.”

Liam said that his friends and family seemed to be almost waiting for reality to hit him.

“After my relationship ended, I seemed fine, because I was fine. The reality was that I realised I am so uniquely blessed that I could quit my job but keep my colleagues as friends and my family and other friends gathered around me.

“I didn’t have to ask or reach out at any point, there were all just there, and I was so lucky to have that.”

As is common among many young people lacking direction, Liam decided to go travelling. His first trip took him to Latvia for three months, but he was restricted from going further due to the pandemic and he returned to the island.

Liam_Doherty_-_graduation.jpg

Pictured: Liam graduated from Brighton University with a degree in philosophy, politics and ethics. 

As things started opening back up, Liam booked a one-way ticket to Kyrgystan in central Asia. He hitchhiked, camped and relied on the kindness of strangers through Uzbekistan, Turkey, Lebanon, Georgia and Iraq, before returning to the island.   

While most would find it daunting to travel through certain areas, Liam said that he considered the risks, but found the hospitality shown to him to be above and beyond that in the UK.

Liam has spent the last nine months as a Youth Worker for the Youth Commission, a role which had been a calling to him through his years in finance.

“Before I went to university, I had volunteered for Autism Guernsey on their befriending scheme, which matches volunteers up with people with autism who need friends,” he said.

“I was matched with a guy called Mark, who I remain very good friends with, and I spent an hour or two with him every week. When the scheme ended we continued hanging out. It was magical."

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Pictured: Liam takes children from his youth groups to the beach for "recreation and respite". 

Liam continued: “I got so much out of that experience that, while working in my finance role after university, I volunteered for the youth commission as a mentor.

“It was always in the back of my mind that mentoring was the happiest part of my week and it was what I got the most out of, but I had been on a certain track of saving money for the life I wanted.

“When I had come back from travelling, it was the right time to apply for a role which is truly fulfilling.”

Liam said that his experiences through his childhood and teens meant that he could relate to the young people in his youth groups.

“When there are kids who are in fights often or are physically intimidating, I am hyperaware of their behaviour and I know how to rein them in,” he said.

“I also know how to support the other kids and make them feel safe because I never want another kid to feel how I did as a child.

“You never know how it will hit them in later life; they might retreat into themselves or they might have pent up aggression and head down the path that I was on.”

Liam said that, for the most part, he has worked through his troubled past but that it is “still and aspect” of his personality.

“I mostly worked through all those issues through sport. My mum took me to rugby when I was in Year 7. I was terrified but I was going through a growth spurt so I was larger than the other kids,” he said.

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Pictured: Liam uses writing as an outlet. You can read his most recent blog HERE.

“Rugby, and later boxing, taught me hard work and bravery. Boxing in particular definitely helped with my character development," continued Liam.

When talking to Liam, he has clearly found fulfilment in his job and happiness in a new relationship. Rather gushing about his girlfriend, he said he “didn’t know a woman like her existed”. He expressed gratitude and complete awareness for his “unique blessings”, but he said he still has escapism tendencies.

“I’m am very happily settled in Guernsey and I have a partner who I love and that I’m very happy with, but there is a part of me that could drop everything in a second and get a ticket to some strange country,” he said.

“I thought it just yesterday because I was trying to deal with feelings of anger, which I am not used to.

“I’m very chilled out and I’m peace and love 99% of my waking life, but that anger yesterday made me think ‘why am I here when I could just drop everything?’"

For someone just shy of 30, it would be fair to say that Liam has already lived a full, albeit transitory, life. I was curious to know what his polarising experiences so far had taught him.

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Pictured: Liam said he was comfortable hitchhiking and camping while travelling and appreciated the hospitality shown to him in foreign countries. 

“I often think of the Montesquieu quote that we receive three educations; one from our parents, one from our school masters, and one from the world and that the third contradicts all that the first two teach us,” he said.

“I take that to mean that one has to find their own way. I have made a lot of mistakes. Some were really bad and I still regret them, others I am grateful for, but all were valuable lessons.

“At the moment, life for me is about building on my relationship with Alana and doing what I can to give recreation and respite to children who need it through my job.”

READ MORE...

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