John Flanner

Villa supporter, motivational speaker and author John Flanner MBE tells us how he was thrust down a new career path he never dreamed even existed

As a teenager, football mad John Flanner felt ‘ugly as well as stupid’ and would shy away from girls. This lack of self-esteem scuppered his dream of being a sports reporter too as he felt he wasn’t bright enough to go to college. He promptly started work as an office junior at Fort Dunlop, but aged 19 was struck down with Leber Optic Atrophy which left him blind. John recalled getting on with life after the devastating blow: “I learned to be an audio typist which in my day was a girl’s job, but I settled down easily into a typing pool at HMRC surrounded by women and stayed for 25 years!” Ten years ago while at HMRC, John was asked to write an article for the office magazine about an aspect of disability. When a senior director phoned John to say he thought it was an amazing article, his head was buzzing. A few days later the same director reiterated his feelings in an e-mail, offered to send John on a personal development course and told him that the organisation needed him. “At 57 years of age I thought it was wasted on me, but the director jumped down my throat and said age had nothing to with it. No one had believed in me like that before and it gave me courage.”

The course was a success and John was asked to produce a presentation on diversity – a ‘buzzword’ in the civil service at the time – as managers didn’t really know what to do or understand it much. John said: “I ticked a lot of boxes! Blind, getting on a bit and a man of faith.” John presented to managers in his office who laughed and cried in equal measure and it transformed the atmosphere at work. He was then invited to present to teams in other government offices across the UK and ultimately at the Home Office. In 2006 John was given a civil service outstanding achievement award for his services to diversity and equality and accepted an MBE in 2014. “My wife thought it was a joke when she read the letter!” he remembered. As well as a thriving career in motivational speaking John has written two inspirational books Fear, Fun and Faith and most recently Bitzaro to Buckingham Palace with a possible third in the pipeline. The retirement will have to wait.

Checkout John’s website at