Unearthed is a weekly podcast made by tour guide and journalist Ryan Latto. New episodes on Wednesday’s at 12 noon. The first episode is about McGonagall, ‘the worst poet in the history of the English language’ and features a contribution from our own regular podcaster Colin Waters.
Researching William McGonagall for my podcast has been heart breaking. I’ve come across posters for his shows that read “the greatest tragic discovery of modern times…”. People threw food at him, they laughed and bullied him whilst he stood alone on stage and recited his poetry.
But did he stumble? Apparently not.
William McGonagall is a bully’s worst nightmare. The victim who never sees himself as a victim, doesn’t listen to the taunts and the put downs, and ends up becoming more famous. As tour guide, I loved telling people the story of William McGonagall and finally I decided to write a podcast episode on him. Now more than ever before, we need the lesson from McGonagall’s life.
McGonagall was born poor and he died poor. But he was made poorer by the industrial revolution that replaced his career as a handloom weaver in 1878. So, what did McGonagall do with his now unemployed life?
He wrote poetry.
Whilst the world crumbled into poverty and redundancy, McGonagall used that as an opportunity to perform his beloved Shakespeare and write his own poetry. He knew that when disaster strikes, people need entertainment.
He even walked to Balmoral Palace from Dundee to visit Queen Victoria to hand her his work. He failed to ‘die’ at the end of Macbeth when playing the title character because he didn’t like his rival actor, and all the while he was pelted with peas by the audience. No money, no future, but McGonagall never gives up.
I have loved McGonagall’s story for a long time and having the chance to tell tourists about my hero was a privilege. But the tourists are gone, and we don’t know when they’re coming back. So, I launched my podcast Unearthed, to continue telling these stories by taking a closer look at them.
Unearthed is a history podcast with a slight difference. I speak to historians and experts, but I also find people still connected to those stories. From direct descendants to people whose lives are inspired by those characters from Scotland’s past. It’s a chance to brush off the cobwebs from Scottish history and bring it up to date, to see if there is something we can learn from our ancestors.
In the case of McGonagall, as many of us sit at home wondering if we’ll ever get paid for doing what we love again. Wondering what the future holds now that everything has crashed, there is a grand lesson. Life is hard, and that’s ok. Too many people are born with silver spoons in their mouths and that inequality needs to change.
But if you are passionate about something, don’t compare yourself to your contemporaries. No matter what you want to do with your life, just do it. You might not be famous, you might not be wealthy, but you will be something much more important – an inspiration to a generation who are at a dangerous risk of losing all hope.
So, William Topaz McGonagall, thank you for never giving up.
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