The Castle Bromwich teenager, Joshua Williams tells us how he fought his way out of a homeless hostel, became Mr Birmingham, launched a fashion show and won a Bank of England scholarship – and he’s still only 19!
This is issue number 58, so we’ve interviewed our fair share of impressive youngsters for this feature and yet we were bowled over by Joshua Williams more than any other. And it’s not that he has a skill that you can put your finger on like a concert pianist or international sportsperson.
He is thoroughly charming, self-deprecating, determined and a grafter which has resulted in a life that defies his homeless status just three years ago. For instance, the Bank of England has awarded Joshua one of only three scholarships in the country after a rigorous selection process throughout which he knew he was on the back foot academically and needed to be genuine and memorable. He’s now studying politics and international relations at the University of Birmingham and will go straight into a £30,000-a-year internship at the Bank on graduation. His is a fascinating story and aged 19 it’s only the start.
Not blessed with the beginnings in life Joshua was placed in a homeless hostel aged 16 when his mother’s relationship fell apart. He could have joined the rest of the cohort in the hostel drinking and smoking but he was determined to change his situation and make something of himself. Joshua recalled: “I kept myself to myself. Seeing people getting drunk and smoking weed just made me feel sad and I knew I wanted to strive for a better life. I didn’t want to accept the minimum.”
He left the hostel, moved into supported living and started modelling after being scouted in London. When he was approached by someone at a fashion show who suggested he entered the Mr Birmingham competition, he wasn’t keen. “I just thought that’s not for me. It’s just not happening, but then I considered the opportunities it might throw up and I agreed.” Joshua insists the competition wasn’t just about looks and if it was he wouldn’t have won thanks to his ‘jiggly belly’. The competition is less pageant-like and ‘in your face’ than the female equivalent but nonetheless pretty daunting. Joshua said: “After I won, I got through to Mr England at the Ricoh Arena and I thought holy crap what have I done!” Although he wasn’t crowned Mr England – he came third – the regional title has opened doors and enabled Joshua to do a lot of campaigning for local charities. It’s also boosted his self-esteem beyond recognition. Having suffered with mental health issues throughout his early teens, Joshua said: “It’s really helped. I couldn’t speak to people properly before or make eye contact.”
More than a pretty face, Joshua launched the Elite Fashion Show aimed at boosting Birmingham’s fashion scene. “Birmingham is often unfairly overlooked, so I wanted to celebrate the city and what it has to offer,” he explained. The focus is on local talent but there’s an international flavour too with designers from around the globe getting involved. The event is not for profit and supports local charities – this year it’s LoveBrum. It was important for Joshua to keep ticket prices down too. “It’s so unfair that events aimed at teenagers like the Clothes Show are so expensive to attend. I wanted Elite to be accessible.”
Higher education was next on Joshua’s wish list and without the funds or support it takes just to get to university, he began researching scholarship schemes. He applied for a few and was knocked back, but progressed the Bank of England scheme’s application process successfully. “ I went through the interview process just being myself. I knew I wasn’t the brightest of the applicants and I don’t have the greatest set of exam results, so I had to impress in other ways and thankfully they liked me and saw potential.” The other two students awarded scholarships were straight A* pupils.
After a whirlwind few years we wonder what’s next for Mr Birmingham? “I’ve only ever wanted stability. I’m not into riches and fame. I just want to be safe and happy,” he said.