David Tait on how he turned the darkest of secret crises into a superpower - Crisis What Crisis? Hosted by Andy Coulson (2024)

NOTE: This episode includes themes of child sexual abuse, violence, and suicide. The following material may be distressing to some listeners.

Bonfire of the Vanities novelist Tom Wolfe would have described our guest for this episode as a ‘King of the World’. A banker who through skill and a love of risk made his fortune as a city trader.

Now the CEO of the World Gold Council, David Tait is also an accomplished mountaineer having climbed Everest an astonishing five times, in the process raising over £8m for charity.

But Wolfe’s description would, in fact, not come close to explaining the truth of who David really is. The clue lies in the beneficiary of David’s incredible fund raising, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. For David, at the age of 10, was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of his grandfather’s brother and three other men. He was also abused by his own father. Like so many who suffer this horror David kept his abuse secret. Doing so, he believes, allowed him to build that successful city life … but at a terrible price that very nearly claimed his life.

David’s story was portrayed movingly in the 2020 film Sulphur and White named after the butterfly that become a symbol of hope for David. In this podcast we talk about that film and a personal crisis journey that can only be described as inspiring.

Please remember – if you, or anyone you know needs support for child abuse, you can reach out to NSPCC here: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/child-sexual-abuse/ and here 0808 800 5000.


Sulphur and White

David’s website


Stream/buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning: https://ampl.ink/qp6bm

Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk

Your Daily Practice: Sleep by Myndstream: https://open.spotify.com/track/5OX9XgJufFz9g63o2Dv2i5?si=b2f9397c92084682

Host – Andy Coulson

CWC team: Jane Sankey, Louise Difford, Mabel Pickering

With special thanks to Ioana Barbu and the brilliant people at Global

For all PR and guest approaches please contact – [emailprotected]

Full transcript

Andy Coulson: Welcome back to Crisis What Crisis, the podcast that aims to guide you towards a more resilient life and whatever it might throw at you. If this is your first time with us, then do please subscribe wherever you’re watching or listening, it really does help make sure that these, I hope useful, conversations are shared as widely as possible.

Today I am joined by David Tait, someone who the novelist Tom Wolfe would have described at one point in his career as a King of the World. A banker who through skill and a love of risk, made his fortune as a city trader. David, who is now the CEO of the World Gold Council, is also an accomplished mountaineer, having climbed Everest an astonishing five times. And in the process has raised over £8 million for charity.

So on the face of it David has led a somewhat charmed life, but nothing could be further from the truth. And in explaining that, I have to say this will be one of the most difficult but I think you’ll agree inspiring conversations that we’ve had on this podcast.

The clue to this story lies in the beneficiary of David’s incredible fundraising, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the NSPCC. For David, at the age of 10, was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of his grandfather’s brother and three other men. He was also abused by his own father.

David, like so many who suffer this unimaginable horror, kept his abuse secret. Doing so, he believes, allowed him to build that, at least what appeared to be a successful life in the City, but at a terrible price that ultimately led to the most visceral of crises.

So our guest today, whose story by the way is told in the very moving 2020 film Sulphur and White, I think you’re going to agree, is the absolute epitome of resilience and also of bravery.

David, thanks for joining us.

David Tait: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Andy Coulson: How are you?

David Tait: Very good, thanks. A bit jet-lagged but pretty good.

Andy Coulson: Good. Thanks for joining us. You know the purpose of this podcast, the reason we created it four years ago is to share the stories of those who have survived crisis.

So before we start, I just wanted to say having watched it recently, your film Sulphur and White, it is a very difficult watch but it’s also a very I think important piece of filmmaking, and is quite possibly the most courageous piece of crisis storytelling, if I can put it that way, that I’ve ever witnessed. It’s astonishing for a number of reasons, not least the brutally honest way in which you are portrayed. And also I think for its absolute total absence of self-pity, despite the horrors that you endured as a boy.

I think I’m right in saying that you were very clear that that’s the way you wanted that story to be told, am I right?

David Tait: Yes, absolutely. Mind you, it went through various iterations. It started by me trying to write a book back in 2007 when I was a bit broken after my ’07 climb, I just decided to write everything down, having just before that climb told the world that I was ‘one of those children’ in my NSPCC begging emails for sponsorship.

So when I got back I had three months off because I was literally physically broken, and I wrote down this story of seven chapters of climbing and seven chapters of idiosyncratic stories from my past, that interwove. And I thought that when you get to the summit, you get to the story and the explanation as to why I’ve done all this. I thought that was genius.

And I handed it to book agents who thought it was incredibly boring; could I please get rid of all the climbing stuff? It was the climbing they thought was boring, but if I could come back with fourteen or fifteen chapters of personal stories they would be interested. And in a fit of hubris I slung this manuscript in a drawer. My wife handed it to a chap who liked to make movies, and eventually we ended up doing it, as you know.

Andy Coulson: There are one or two things in the film that were changed; locations, what happened to you which we’ll get onto in a moment, in the film takes place in South Africa but in fact it took place in London. There are some other minor details, but essentially it is your story.

David Tait: Absolutely.

Andy Coulson: And it is, as I said earlier, brutally honest about the impact of your story on you, and as importantly others, as your life sort of moved forward carrying this terrible secret.

The film- I should say by the way, amazing cast; Anna Friel, Mark Stanley, Emily Beecham, had a Royal Premier and should have had a much wider audience but Covid got in the way. Having poured so much into it, the import of this thing for you to finally tell the full story in the way that it does, that must have been so difficult for you.

David Tait: Yes, it was- you know, we had five or six weeks shooting in London which was a dream for me, and then two weeks in South Africa where Anna Friel and Dougray Scott sort of recreated my childhood in front of my eyes, which was the most amazing two weeks of my life. Horrific and wonderful all in one.

And then literally the most terrifying day of my life was the premier. I stood outside the cinema watching people gather and I felt faint. And yet the evening, watching Her Royal Highness pull up in the car, get out, lights flashing, it was quite an incredible moment for me. She actually held my hand through the whole of the film, by the way. Quite amazing.

Andy Coulson: Astonishing.

David Tait: But yes, two weeks later I was presenting in the Everyman Liverpool as a precursor to the film, I tried to travel round all the Everymans to do it, it was exhausting, and I got a text, or Sky News announced that Boris had closed all the cinemas. And that was that. It was extremely difficult, and I-

Andy Coulson: Not just in terms of, okay this thing is not going to get the audience that it deserves, but you know, your motive was not- it’s not a commercial motive that’s sat behind this film. The motive could not have been more significant, for you personally but also more broadly. Your mission in essence, which continues to be your mission, was to tell a story in the hope that it would give others who perhaps are enduring the same agonies in their life, to see that it doesn’t have to mean the end of their life. It doesn’t have to mean a total unravelling of their world.

David Tait: That’s right. The intention is to try to not only help survivors, I’m not sure I quite that phrase, but survivors, but also their families who frankly might not even be aware of the fact they have got someone in their midst who has been touched in this way.

But yes, I thought that yes I wanted it to be used as an encyclopaedia for people in the world, do the charity some good, the proceeds, my proceeds had their been any would have gone to the charity and they still will.

But deep down inside me I’d reached a point towards the culmination of the making of the film where I thought I was going to be able to declare victory. I had these faces in my mind, which I still have in my mind when I wake up every morning, and they cross my mind during the course of the day-

Andy Coulson: Can I just stop you there? Every day?

David Tait: Yes, every day. You learn to manage it, but they are always there. Always there. And I defy anybody to say that’s not the case. And I actually confessed to Vanessa that I felt they had won when the cinemas were closed and when the film didn’t do well. I thought I was going to be able to turn around in my mind and I suppose give the middle finger to the four or five faces that I have in my mind, that I won in the end, I managed to turn that story, what you did to me, into a force of good. See?

Right at my age I was- that was what I was saying to myself, and that’s why I was driven so hard. It was the hardest thing to get across the line.

And then to be robbed by a once in a century event, I almost had them all laughing at me in my head. I know it sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? But I had to get the pictures out of mind of them all chuckling. “You didn’t in the end.” And that’s the way I felt about it for about a year. Coming up to the one-year anniversary of the release of the film was a pretty tough time. I even revisited Beachy Head.

Andy Coulson: Did you really?

David Tait: I went down there. There was a tragic month of January, post the- it was January ’21-

Andy Coulson: I should explain that Beachy Head is a significant location in the story and we’ll move onto it later. What you are telling me is that much later, post the release of this film, that you went back there. Did you go back there…?

David Tait: No, I wasn’t- it was just- almost cathartic in a peculiar way. I had no intention, I wasn’t that depressed, but it felt like, “What have I got to do?” you know? It’s very woe is me, a bit self-pity I’ll be honest, but I used to take- it was mid-Covid, you know? I was depressed anyway, you’d drive down there, just sit there and think, “My God, twenty-five or thirty years ago this is where I started this whole thing.” And now I’ve had it ripped away out of my hands, very woe is me, as I say, by Covid of all things.

Andy Coulson: I don’t think it’s woe is me, David. I think that is-

David Tait: It was tough though, it was tough. I couldn’t quite believe it.

Andy Coulson: Yes. Look, let’s talk more about what came post the release of the film. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to the beginning so that our listeners and viewers have the full context here.

You were born in the UK, you moved with your family as a baby to South Africa for a while and as I say, that features heavily in the film. But in truth you came back to South London, to Deptford, when you were 10, with your mum and dad. Do you remember those early years there? Have you got many memories sort of pre what we’re about to come on to discuss?

David Tait: Yes. Warm, swimming, brown skin, having fun. Mornings at school, come home at 1 o’clock because it was hot. Bare foot playing, you know, adventures. Always swimming. They are wonderful memories of South Africa.

Andy Coulson: You came back to London David, presumably excited about your new life?

David Tait: Yes, it was surreal. We came back on the Edinburgh Castle liner, got film of that as well, and we docked at Southampton, and looked down to see my grandparents for the first time that I could really remember.

And we moved into that house in Deptford, a Victorian house on Evelyn Street. The traffic thundering past, the whole front room used to move.

Andy Coulson: As I understand it David, you are given a job working for your grandfather’s brother in what is the café in Deptford Park. Can you tell us what happened, please?

David Tait: Yes. I got a little job, I think it was just a pound a week at the time which was quite a lot of money. I was asked to wash up and sweep, and most notably stack the shelves; little shelves of sweets. It was one of those shops with the Lyons Maid swinging board outside it and some wrought iron chairs. I’d fallen in love with Fry’s Chocolate Cream, a chocolate bar. In Africa we didn’t have sweets, funnily enough, we had fruit and little packets of raisins and stuff. I’d fallen in love with the stuff. The chocolate came in flimsy cardboard boxes, and one day I dropped a box of this Fry’s Chocolate Cream when I was stacking the shelves, and it broke open.

As I scooped down to pick them up I slipped a bar of the Chocolate Cream in the waistband of my shorts. I stole a bar. The owner had seen me do it, I hadn’t seen him come up behind me, and ordered me to put it back. And as I turned to do that I was hit from the back of my head, from the side and my right hand- I went flying, I hit the shelving. Then I fell onto the ground and then I remember my t-shirt get ripped up, my shorts were ripped off, and- I was wearing sandals, and I remember the buckles scraping on the concrete. And then on the floor I was raped by this man.

To be honest, at that moment I didn’t know what it was. I had no idea what had happened, to be perfectly frank. All I know, that it was- screamed like hell, hurt. Hurt a lot.

As I say in my NSPCC speech, I wasn’t allowed home until much later, I was told to clean myself in a small toilet cubicle and bandaged myself with toilet paper. There were air fresheners that smelt of lavender, so strong, in the toilet, that I can’t smell lavender without getting a proper horrible feeling now.

I wasn’t allowed home, he continued during the course of the day. Eventually when I was told to go home it was with my father who was a strict disciplinarian, he used to cane me, being told that I was a thief, ringing in my ears. That stopped me telling anybody. I was more scared of that, because to be frank I didn’t really know what had happened. I didn’t really know. There was no stigma at that point. You know it was wrong but you didn’t know what was wrong.

And I kept going back to the shop. I had to, because I couldn’t tell anyone, over the course of- I’ve been asked how long, I think it was about four months. It was a hot summer.

And then one day I saw my father walking towards the store. He used to have this greenish tweed suit. And that day I was again- him and his friend- not my father but the shop-owner’s friends showed up. And that day I wore a hood, for the first time.

Andy Coulson: They put a hood on you?

David Tait: Yes, that day. Peculiarly the same day I saw my father walking in the park at least, he seemed to be coming towards- I remember looking out this wire mesh door. And to this day I don’t know for certain that my father was in that store with them, but the wearing of the hood had to- was erratic. And so I always wondered, literally quite wondered.

And then eventually my parents found us a home in Sanderstead in Croydon, near Croydon, and we moved away. But that following Christmas, very soon after the time we left, we went back to my grandparents’ house as we nearly always did at Christmas. Their house was closed off above level two of I think nearly six levels to conserve heat. My sister and I used to play in this room, we used to play Thunderbirds, and that man managed to catch me upstairs. On Christmas, on Boxing Day.

And to this day I have an aversion to Christmas, which I’ve got to be honest sounds childish, but I do.

Andy Coulson: It doesn’t sound in the least bit childish.

David Tait: I do, and I tend to try and take myself away from my family at Christmas. And then ultimately my father started to visit me in Sanderstead. It was not of the same nature of the shop abuse, but it was similar. And he was discovered by my mother, who walked into my bedroom. I still remember the silhouette of her standing there in the doorway, exactly as portrayed by Anna in the film, and then turning on her heels and walking away. And then everything ended.

Andy Coulson: The first thing I want to say is just how sorry I am.

David Tait: That’s okay, it’s a long time ago now.

Andy Coulson: It may be a long time ago David, but I’m just so sorry that you had to endure that. And I’m sure anyone who is listening to this or watching this would want me to say the same.

David Tait: Thank you.

Andy Coulson: There are obviously, you know, a whole range of issues that emerge from that. The first is I suppose is, and the film suggests this, that your father was somehow complicit.

David Tait: Mm hm. It suggests.

Andy Coulson: It suggests that.

David Tait: Like I said, I was trying to be specific. I didn’t know for certain.

Andy Coulson: Your recollection is you are not clear. You know he was in the vicinity on one of the occasions when you were abused by-

David Tait: And I’ve always extrapolated that, yes.

Andy Coulson: By both your grandfather’s brother and three other men I think I’m right in saying.

But the fact that he abused you himself much later suggests to you that that may well have been the case.

David Tait: Yes.

Andy Coulson: Let’s be clear, you don’t know.

David Tait: Exactly.

Andy Coulson: When your mother discovers him in your bedroom, you say she turns on her heels and leaves the room. What happens at that point? As I understand it she moves the two of you into a different part of the house, you are kept separate from your father but you remain in the house.

David Tait: Yes. We’re renting the house, she moves downstairs into the dining room, at a slightly later stage I end up down there with her. There was no interaction between them. She couldn’t go anywhere though, at first. It was sort of parent, father comes home and left cash on the working top, so she couldn’t actually leave the house, she had nowhere to go. Luckily that-

Andy Coulson: And you have a sister who is younger than you, obviously unaware of everything that’s going on.

David Tait: That’s right. But she remembers my mother moving downstairs and all that. And then eventually she has the luck of discovering someone, moves out of the house. By that point I was-

Andy Coulson: Another relationship?

David Tait: Yes, another relationship. At that point we continue to live in the house. I grew significantly bigger than my father, there was never any abuse from that moment when she came into that room, it all stopped. But their relationship ended in that moment.

Andy Coulson: No physical abuse, but his mere presence-

David Tait: It was torture.

Andy Coulson: Was abuse of a kind, right?

David Tait: It was difficult. I mean, he was the one who would- silly things, really. The heating was always off and I would always turn it up. The phone had a lock on it, you know, a dial phone. Yes, it was an experience to say the least. With the benefit of hindsight it makes you- it does, it’s true, it makes you the person you are. You know what you’re capable of, what you’re capable of enduring.

And then jumping forward a little bit, I got a job and my girlfriend at the time turned round to me and said, “It’s Friday evening, would you like to come to my mother’s birthday party?” I’d just got home from work, him and I in the house. I was lying on the couch in the dark in my one suit, with my one shirt and my tie with my kitchen medals all over it, horrible, and I said, “Yes, I’ll come.”

And this 560 SEL Mercedes pulled up outside. The contrast between getting into that car and smelling my future mother-in-law’s perfume and the beauty of that car, and where I was, was transformation in my mind. I remember driving towards this pub, I looked down and there was a little light on the arm rest. I reached down and pressed it, and the window went down. It was such an amazing moment for me. And the contrast between where I was only an hour before to suddenly where I was, it was like going to heaven.

And I resolved in that moment that I was going to have one of those cars. That was it.

And so what I’m trying to say by that story is that there are pivotal moments where you could take the horrors and make them an incredible motivation, and it almost becomes a superpower.

Andy Coulson: Yes.

David Tait: One of the things I mentioned to a lady the other day who came into my office to discuss her problems was how we both see it deep down inside as almost a bizarre superpower. Because you’ve been to the worst place and nothing on God’s earth is going to be worse than that. And so you are far more adventurous, you take chances, and that’s what I found when I moved to Goldman Sachs.

Andy Coulson: At what age were you able to kind of begin to understand what had happened to you? I’m not saying work it out in any meaningful way, but just sort of understand what happened to you. Because I’m assuming, and I may well be wrong, that at that point came a tremendous amount of anger as well.

David Tait: Absolutely. It wasn’t that far afterwards when I started understanding quite what- you know, 10, 11, 12, you’re going into those formative puberty years. By the time I was 12, 13, going to secondary school I knew full well what had happened to me. I absolutely understood it.

I remember visiting the library, I remember reading, I remember finding magazines, I figured it out. And then I was really worried, which might sound an offensive thing to say, but I worried about my sexuality. I worried what had happened to me, what had it made me? I don’t want that to sound negative, but it-

Andy Coulson: No, you were young-

David Tait: As a child I was scared of that, I was scared of it. I had no one to tell, and you know, little jokes that kids used to make on the bus, grievously affected me when they would use- I remember back in the day kids used to use ‘hom*o’ and things like that. As a 12 to 13 year old kid having been through what I’d gone through, I was in turmoil. And I’d go out of my way to prove that I wasn’t, you know? And this was a trait through my early years of just consuming relationships as fast as I could, to convince myself effectively that I was normal, as I saw it, put it that way.

Andy Coulson: You never talked about it with your mother?

David Tait: No. No, absolutely not. My mother never knew about the shop.

Andy Coulson: Right.

David Tait: My mother only ever knew about my father. I saw no benefit, although it was tempting at times, to bring it up. I didn’t tell her about anything past.

Andy Coulson: Do you wish you had, now?

David Tait: No. It was the right decision. She’d dealt with enough, and it made her very ill. It was a horrible time and I regret the manner in which I dealt with her. In a way I regret the manner in which I peculiarly dealt with my father. I wasn’t very mature. I can explain it all away, but with the benefit of hindsight I wish I hadn’t treated her the way I did.

Andy Coulson: Obviously you’re a bright boy and your skills at school I’m sure were obvious to some. Or not, I don’t know.

I’m interested to know the transition from the story that we’ve just heard, I think your first job in the City was with Lloyds, I think I’m right?

David Tait: It was, yes. So I applied to four banks and I got a job at Lloyds Bank International, as it was at the time. Because I knew there were dealing rooms, and I knew dealing rooms from my father’s time of trading, looking after gold in South Africa. And gold, it’s pure coincidence that I’ve come back to it.

David Tait: Yes I got into the dealing room, I was very driven, very apt to do that. Route one, very brutal, got there. I excelled, I was lucky, I never lost money for eighteen months or something, on any day. They were small amounts in those days but it was quite a record.

Goldman Sachs gave me a call, I didn’t even know who they were, I had to ask.

Andy Coulson: Was it luck, David? Because in the film we’re drawn to the conclusion that what had happened to you as a child had sort of created a characteristic in you, if you like-

David Tait: That’s true.

Andy Coulson: That was, you know, you were the very opposite of risk averse.

David Tait: That’s exactly right.

Andy Coulson: You didn’t care, really, about the consequences of the work that you were doing. And that made you in many ways a very, very effective trader.

David Tait: Looking back on it you are absolutely right. If I have to look back and re-examine it, as I have done with other people, my superpower was the fact that I literally, at that point when I walked into Goldman Sachs, in fact when I walked into Lloyds, I didn’t care. And that’s not bravery, I wasn’t a brave person, brave trader, there’s a difference. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about myself. And that gave me an edge,

Andy Coulson: There’s a line in the film where you say, “Money can’t hurt you.”

David Tait: No, it can’t. That’s exactly right. Susie Farrell managed to grasp that. There was no way I was going to be intimidated by numbers, having been where I’ve been. Fire me, I don’t care.

I just became frankly- and people will always say to me, “God, you’re so route one.” And that’s true, and it comes with its advantages and disadvantages. I have a big team mopping up around me as I do my route one stuff, the collateral damage, and that’s ironically why the film was made, to demonstrate this collateral damage.

Andy Coulson: Yes.

David Tait: That was my intention. Not to demonstrate what sexual abuse is, although I think Julian Jarrold did a wonderful job in a very sensitive way.

Andy Coulson: He did, incredibly sensitive.

David Tait: But it was to show the collateral damage, that I still have a tendency to do.

I’m better now because my whack-a-mole wife Vanessa has a way of managing me.

Andy Coulson: We will talk about Vanessa.

Before we do that let’s talk about- because it is two tracks isn’t it, you have explained the superpower but it is also, if you don’t mind me using the clunky kind of analogy, it is also your kryptonite. Because running alongside that of course is- I think in the film you describe it as an emptiness, which is also causing untold damage to you and to others.

But let’s just fill in a few of the details so people have the context.

You married very young, to that young lady that mentioned, at 21. You had two children quite quickly. There’s a scene in the film David where you are talking much later to your father. You have lunch with him, with your- the lady who is to become your second wife. And he criticises you for having left your two older children, or not having spent enough time with them.

That meeting happened didn’t it, that conversation, that conversation is real?

David Tait: Yes it did, it did.

Andy Coulson: Because he criticises your parenting skills, which is to say an affront would be a massive understatement. But you never confronted him directly over what he did to you?

David Tait: No, I didn’t. I didn’t. There was only that meeting, there was one meeting, where I tried to- I wanted to experiment. It was exactly ten years to the day after I’d left the house in Sanderstead, when I walked out.

Andy Coulson: We should explain, in the intervening period you cut yourself off from both your mother and your father.

David Tait: Yes I did. My mother for about five years, during which time she got ill, and my father for ten years. And then I had this sudden impulse to- life was changing, I’d got a bit older, I’d been quite successful, and I wanted to show off. I wanted to sort of say, as I remember it, “You see? You didn’t get me.”

Andy Coulson: And he says to you, “You’re the same as me but in a better suit.”

David Tait: Mm, mm.

Andy Coulson: He said that to you?

David Tait: Mm.

Andy Coulson: Can I ask why you didn’t confront him? Having now explained that you’d joined the dots, you knew what had happened to you. Yes you’d kind of turned that into, as you say, a superpower, but you’d also got this void in your life that is a direct consequence of what happened to you. You didn’t want to confront him?

David Tait: Not in detail, because at the time I didn’t have the confidence to humiliate myself again. I didn’t want to go into detail and describe what had happened. And that was captured by Susie in the manner in which Mark, Mark Stanley, talks to Dougray. “You leave them alone, don’t you Dad?” It was more a conversation that skirted round the edges. I wanted to see how I’d feel being in the same room, talking to the same person.

And in a somewhat perverse way to some, I also felt like I was missing a father. You know? I was very much a lonely- not lonely, but a lone person. And I’d really wished I’d had someone to talk to, a lesson for me with my own children.

Andy Coulson: You still wanted your dad.

David Tait: Yes. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I did. I did.

Andy Coulson: It doesn’t at all.

David Tait: I felt that if I could just have someone I could talk to who could give me some advice, I got married too young, I hadn’t any silly questions, I’d done okay. But I still had that missing bit, and I thought I’d try. It was pure impulse, I did it and it didn’t work. And it wasn’t going to work. I just knew in that moment.

And we moved on, and eventually he died.

Andy Coulson: He died in 2002, I think.

David Tait: I believe, yes.

Andy Coulson: And as far as you know, David, your abusers were all dead some time before.

David Tait: Yes, I was in my early teens. I remember my mother telling me. My grandparents died, everybody- I don’t know the other people, but my grandparent’s brother died, I remember being told that when I was 12 or 13 years old.

Andy Coulson: As far as you know, none of them faced justice. Because the chances are, we don’t know, they abused others.

David Tait: Yes, there is that chance.

Andy Coulson: And you don’t know whether or not there are any consequences for that at any point for any of them.

David Tait: No, no. I’m grateful that they died then, because if I’d grown up a little bit more, a little bit older, by 16 I was a good strapping 6’2”, 6’3”, I would have gone back, and that would have been a disaster for my life. When looking back, I doubt I would have been given much licence by the authorities, I think it would have changed everything. Because I’m pretty-

Andy Coulson: You are certain that you would have done that?

David Tait: I’m absolutely certain I would have done that. The same way I’m certain that if someone touched my son or daughter they wouldn’t see tomorrow’s sunrise. So I’m certain, but I’m also grateful that nature took its own course, and it gave me an opportunity to have a life.

Andy Coulson: Your mum as you say became very ill. Again, in the film this point about brutal honesty, about your own relationship with her, the film makes- kind of portrays you in a way that is pretty harsh against her.

Tell me about that, tell me what happened with your mother.

David Tait: No. We never really discussed what she saw my father doing, or me doing, I should say. But finally, there was a period- it was a ridiculous thing I did, when I was 18, 19, in a fit of anger I kicked the front door of my father’s house. Long story. And the door literally fell off its hinges, it was quite amazing, like a comic scene really. I stood and stared at it for a minute, then propped it up and went out. My father when he came home threw me out the house, “Don’t come back.” And he was right. Taken in isolation, his reaction to it, not throwing me out, but his reaction to it was correct. I did something really stupid, infantile.

My mother, in a conversation on the phone, backed him, and in my mind that was the ultimate betrayal, about something so ridiculously trivial.

Andy Coulson: But it spoke to your-

David Tait: Yes, absolutely. It sounded like, you’ve got to be kidding me. And being young, childish, emotionally immature, I put the phone down and didn’t speak to her for what was nearly five years.

I regret that enormously. In the dealing room we used to have these phones, which I think was depicted by Mark, with buttons on them that could close the mouthpiece off. And my mother would continually call the dealing room, and people would continually put her through to me. She would never stop. People knew around me that I was being callous, but I had this route one approach.

Andy Coulson: They also had no idea what sat behind it.

David Tait: No. And so she’d sit on the phone open for hours. Anyway, long story short, she got ill as a consequence, and that ultimately led to her ending her own life in her own way. It was horrific really, the way she did it. She starved herself to death.

Andy Coulson: You are certain that her decision was essentially guilt-driven and that she-

David Tait: Her getting ill definitely came at a time during those five years when I- of persecution. Now, you could argue I don’t have proof. No, of course I don’t. But was it that period, did she recover from that? No. And the guilt that she suffered I think through virtue of my father led ultimately to a point where when I cleaned out her house after she had died I found on the bedside table a booking with the local undertakers, funnily enough in Deptford, and a quote for £1,250 for her funeral. Sorry, £1,249 quote, and £1,250 was always left in her account.

Andy Coulson: That tells you it was intentional.

David Tait: Yes, it was intentional. She locked the door, they had to break the door down, all that. It was horrible.

Andy Coulson: I think a lot of people listening to this would say that you are- it is brutal honesty, but it is- and I hesitate to say this, but it is an unbelievably complex situation, and there were two people, three people in truth, caught in that unbelievably complex situation. And that your decision to cut off is on a number of levels understandable.

Andy Coulson: You’ve cut yourself off from your parents in the way that we’ve described. You are essentially pushing the past down, if I can describe it that way, I hope that’s kind of accurate. You’ve developed this route one drive, determination to succeed, you are succeeding, you’re making money.

Explain your- aside from your parents in the way that we’ve discussed, describe your sort of state of mind at this stage. Because again, the film is so brutally kind of critical of you and your behaviour in the film. Again, accurate?

David Tait: Yes. My time at Goldman in those years was dominated by working, trying to make as much money as possible, a single-minded approach to accumulating relationships, euphemism for playing the field as fast and as aggressively as I possibly could.

But, and this is the important bit, not for sexual conquest. If I could differentiate, clearly it came as a package, but I was looking for- I would crave the affection, I would crave the acceptance of a person. Because the best way I can describe it is you don’t really feel like you’re worthy of it. And so I wasn’t particularly interested in another notch on the bedpost, it was I wanted the adoration, I really did.

Andy Coulson: You wanted the closeness.

David Tait: And when I got that, I’d move on. It was like filling up my self-esteem bucket, as I’ve referred to it, which has constantly got a leak in it.

Andy Coulson: Your mother dies. In the film I think it’s matched with you losing your job, which I don’t think did happen at that stage. But your marriage also ends, your first marriage also ends. Those things culminate with a proper unravelling, if I can put it that way, and you drive to Beachy Head.

David Tait: Mm.

Andy Coulson: Tell us what happened.

David Tait: A rainy Tuesday morning after a long weekend, in quick succession my marriage had failed, the children had left, my mother had done what she’d done. I drove out of my house to the end of the road, right was to Goldman, left was to somewhere else, and I chose Beachy Head.

I drove all the way down there, it was a Wuthering Heights sort of scene really, blowing wind. I went into a small shop on the cliffs, which is still there, and I ordered a cappuccino. And in front of my eyes on the bar above my head was an appeal to raise £200 for a local charity. In total Goldman Sachs largesse I wrote a cheque for £150 which made up the outstanding, handed it to this rather bemused girl behind the counter, took my cappuccino and went and sat back down. Drank my cappuccino, walked out towards the cliff edge, with an intent I believe to get it done. Looking back I can’t- I don’t know whether I would have got there.

As I walked towards the edge I suddenly heard- I turned round and I saw these two policemen running. There was a guy ahead of me on the cliff edge, and they sort of half ran past me, and then the girl yelled, “No, him.” And they turned and jumped on me.

Andy Coulson: The woman in the shop, David, saved your life.

David Tait: Probably. I don’t know for certain, but probably. I mean, who knows? Would I have turned around if I’d got to the edge? Would I have jumped? I don’t know. But I was very down, there’s no doubt about that. I spent the afternoon in the police station where bizarrely a clock chimed every fifteen minutes outside the window, it was the longest day of my entire life.

And during that process I got so scared about the lack of a future, trying to appeal to two doctors in succession about my sanity, trying to prove to them that I wasn’t worthy of sectioning, and I suddenly feared for my future. Which makes me think- I was in the cell, I didn’t want to go back out to this- I’d decided that I wanted to move on from this horrible experience. And so I pleaded with these doctors to let me go, over the course of the day. And by the end of the day they did, and I was back at my desk at Goldman the following day and no one knew.

And so I decided to fight back against the faces, frankly. I’m not going to be told what to do and they’re not going to have the rest of my life. That’s the way I motivate myself.

Andy Coulson: You didn’t leave that cell clear-eyed and certain on what direction you were heading in, it was more complicated than that.

David Tait: No, it’s the benefit of hindsight.

Andy Coulson: Some of the aspects of your character that you’ve described remained. I think you’d met Vanessa previously, but then you met Vanessa again and you fall in love and then you get married. But this is not a straight line, is it?

David Tait: No.

Andy Coulson: Towards a happy ending. Just give us a sense of what happened.

David Tait: Yes, I’d met Vanessa before. We’d always seen eye to eye. We got married in ’95. In ’98 we had a son called Seth, who is 6”6’ and looks like Jesus now. And we had another son in 2003. I struggled with the first son, which is depicted in the film correctly. I did not warm to the notion at all, I was terrified about doing it all again. I distanced myself from the whole notion of children; my other children were with my divorced other wife, I saw them but I didn’t see them that regularly. You know, they were not my everyday life, put it that way. And the thought of going back to do that again was horrifying.

Andy Coulson: You’d decided that you weren’t capable of being a father.

David Tait: Yes, that was what I meant, sorry. That’s exactly what I meant. I didn’t want to be-

Andy Coulson: And your rationale was?

David Tait: I was scared of it going wrong. I was scared of them going through something like I’d done. I was scared of not being good enough, I was scared of my personality not working out. And all those things manifested itself in being cold with Seth for the early stages, which upset Vanessa. I frankly didn’t do it deliberately, I didn’t do it deliberately, I just couldn’t muster the warmth and I was very standoffish. I sort of left it to her in many respects which was- and I think has always created a bit of a void between myself and Seth. We’re warmer now, we see each other a lot and are much better now. He’s 25 now. But I regret that now, I do.

But Vanessa is a remarkable person. She tolerated me in the early stages, she understood to a degree what I was going through, and-

Andy Coulson: We’re jumping just slightly ahead, if you don’t mind me pausing you for a second because, again in the film brutal honesty, you behave very badly in the early days of that marriage, quite aside from the distance that you put between yourself and her and your son.

You unravel again, but this time it leads to you- and in the film you’re sat at the kitchen table, I don’t know whether that was actually what happened, and you tell Vanessa what happened to you.

David Tait: Mm.

Andy Coulson: Can you just tell me about that conversation?

David Tait: I was at my- this was probably more of a breaking point in many respects than Beachy Head had been. The one person I never wanted to tell was Vanessa. The one person I never really thought I’d ever tell would be her, of all people. Because to her I was James Bond, I really- and I’m still flattered by the way she looks at me, it’s still lovely, still remarkable. I still find it- but she does.

And so I didn’t want to destroy that vision that she has of me. But finally, through the circ*mstances as depicted in the film, you reach a point where you’ve just got to give it all up a bit.

I expected her to leave me. I expected her to walk away and never look at me the same way again. That’s what you expect.

I know it sounds perhaps irrational to someone who has not gone through something like this, but you do feel-

Andy Coulson: That’s what you’ve been expecting your entire life.

David Tait: Yes. But you do feel revolting, you do feel that you’re probably hideous to touch. You do feel that you are scarred or tainted. And how could she possibly look at someone like me again in the same way, knowing that that had happened to me and that I’d done what I’d done to them? How could those images go through her mind and her not think that? That’s what I was thinking.

Andy Coulson: But instead she embraced you.

David Tait: Yes. And there’s still a part of me deep down inside that wishes she had the whole- I still see that as a flaw, I can’t help myself. And there’s still a part of me that wishes she saw me as James Bond, not James Bond with luggage. I know it sounds crazy.

But she was just wonderful. And I’ll be honest, I think as I’ve said to many before, that I don’t think I’d be around if it wasn’t for her. I don’t think my life would be the same if I hadn’t met her at that point and that she stood with me and patiently worked her way through the different layers of this to the point that I’m now a relatively reasonable human being, I think, who dotes on her and tries to listen and tries not to be too route one.

But you know, without her…

Andy Coulson: And it was that support that led you to sending that email as part of your fundraising. We haven’t even talked about Everest, I’m going to very briefly. On one of your Everest climbs you decide actually the moment is now right for me to explain why it is, or at least allude to why it is I am raising money for the NSPCC.

David Tait: That’s right.

Andy Coulson: And you send an email that simply says, “I am one of those children.”

David Tait: That’s right. Vanessa knew by then, a couple of years before. ’07 I sent this email, and I stared at those few lines, that one line at the bottom of the email that I sent to thousands of people, and I thought, “Shall I send it? Shall I send it? Shall I sent it?” And at five o’clock on the dot I hit the send button and ran, because it was going to go to everybody. I didn’t sleep that night.

Andy Coulson: How did that feel?

David Tait: It was nerve wracking. I walked in the following morning and waited for this reaction, there was nothing. There was nothing from anybody really, just a few nods and smiles, that’s it. The world felt like it was going to end. The great thing was though that the fundraising was spectacular. I’d accidentally fundraised a ton of money in ’05 for my first climb, and 2007 hit the ball out the park aswell.

And then just a little bit of a jump to 2010, the charity asked me, without knowing any details, the charity asked me to tell my story. They had not read my manuscript which I’d written in ’07, they just said, “Would you be prepared to tell your story?” and I went, “Yes.”

Andy Coulson: And each time that you tell the story, as you’ve done so generously with us today, how does it feel? Because you know, early in our conversation you said those faces are still with you.

David Tait: When I give these speeches, I end up inheriting quite a few contacts. Give a function, there’s 500, 700 people, give my speech, there’s a good twenty people will come up to me with similar stories who haven’t told anybody. But they- not all but some get in contact, and I end up trying to do my best to help and talk through their problems with them.

But it’s very difficult to be a help to these people. It’s very difficult to articulate what works for me and what doesn’t work for me, and trying to get that across to them is a complicated thing.

Andy Coulson: Your message is not, “You must do as I did,” or rather, “You must did as I didn’t do for such a long period of my life; you must talk about this, you must tell someone.” Or is it a more complicated message?

David Tait: I try and give people a message that- I’m generally thanked for telling my story in these situations, “Because I couldn’t,” is their quote generally. And then I say to people, “You’ve got to really come to terms with you will live with the faces in your mind, you will live with the memories.” And there comes a point where you can’t- and this was forced upon me, as I’ve described. I mean, I’m not a genius in this respect.

There comes a point, I realise, where no one really cares outside- you’ve got to look after yourself. You can cry all day if you want to, you can whinge all day, you can moan, you can keep going to therapy. But there does come a point where you’ve got to be brutally honest with yourself and say, “I’m going to live with this, I’m going to deal with it, I’m not going to let it beat me, I’m not going to let them or he or she or whatever it was beat me.” That’s the critical element. If you do, you’re on a constant spiral.

And so the advice I try and give to these people, and some people appear on Zooms in front of me crying their eyes out, is you’ve got to make the decision for it not to hurt you anymore. It’s your call. Your call. And don’t think that the world is going to care too much about you; they’re not going to be able to help you. I mean this, and I really-

I went on this big meeting the other day for health and medical professionals with the NSPCC, there were 500 people on this call. And I think I surprised them by saying you shouldn’t indulge the people who are abused too much. You should try and give them the space to tell their story and then the encouragement to stand up on their own. Because if you do indulge it too much you increase the spiral down.

Andy Coulson: I think in the backdrop to what you’ve just said, it’s important that people understand what the statistics are, because I know that’s what drives you in these conversations, on the Zoom calls, in the speeches that you give, podcasts that you generously sit on. Is that one in twenty children in this country will have suffered some form of sexual abuse, and one in three of those will never talk about it, as you didn’t for so long. And that’s the cycle really that you’re trying to break, isn’t it?

David Tait: Absolutely. And those statistics are as good as they’re going to get, but I suspect it’s much higher, you know.

Andy Coulson: David, we have glossed over, somehow I don’t know on a podcast called Crisis What Crisis, five ascents of Mount Everest. We could almost do a separate podcast, maybe we should, because there’s plenty of crises in those climbs. One in particular when you thought you were going to die.

Just tell us briefly about that, if you don’t mind. It feels like a very awkward kind of insertion into this story, but-

David Tait: I know.

Andy Coulson: And the question actually that I’ve got, I want to hear that story quickly, but also what’s driving you? You know, this isn’t a charity bike ride, you are deciding with no mountaineering experience as I understand it the first time you did it, it’s got to be Everest, and then five times.

David Tait: Yes, it’s still that route one mentality. Why do a small amount, mentality. I didn’t see any point. I needed to gain traction, it needed to be high profile, and I was flabbergasted by how much money I raised. I raised 250 the second time 300 grand, and it was like, “Wow.” And I really didn’t expect that. I expected 20,000, 20,000, really did. And so I felt compelled to keep going back.

David Tait: But the death story was we were going through the ice fall, I was five or six guide friends, because I’d done it so many times I was sort of one of the guides in a peculiar way. I had Jimi Hendrix in one ear and I was wearing a helmet for the very first time. The ice fall is a horrible place, and it was dawn and I suddenly heard this roar. I looked up and a cornice had broken off above my head, vast, and it was coming down towards me. I tried to take two steps in thigh-deep snow, tried to run, instinct.

Realised I couldn’t, dived on the deck, put my head behind a rock, a lump of ice actually, and it cannoned into me. It wasn’t really snow, it was more ice that hammered into me. A piece smashed into the top of my helmet, cracked the helmet, first time ever I’d worn a helmet, how about that for lucky? Should have bought a lottery ticket.

Something cracked in the middle of my back, my shoulder came out- my right shoulder was wrenched out of joint as I twisted, and I felt a blow in my lower leg. The blow in my lower leg was the most painful of the four I’ve just mentioned by a long way. As I’m under the snow, buried, I was very scared. And believe me, you don’t know you are scared until you find that moment. You think you’ve been scared, but you haven’t. That’s scary. And I was screaming like a baby.

Underneath the snow I remember thinking three things. One, your past life really does flash in front of your eyes. It does, it’s a peculiar sensation, like a collage. The second thing is, I’ve broken my leg, the Queen is going to be really pissed because I won’t get the flag up there. And the third thing was, I don’t want to die. And that was the first time in my life I really- had I been confronted with, “I want to live,” and I’d chosen.

I pushed my left arm down, I was only covered by a foot or two, although I didn’t know. I stood up, and there’s a great picture of me coming out of the snow

We got there in three days and down in one, and I got the flag up there first. We were the first two people on the summit that year

Andy Coulson: I’m glad I asked you to tell that story, because the image actually that I’d like to leave our listeners and viewers is of you stood at the top of the world carrying a Union Jack for Her Majesty the Queen with a smile on your face.

David Tait: I’ll send you the picture.

Andy Coulson: Please do. Because if that doesn’t epitomise and capture your unbelievable strength of character, your- I know you won’t like me using this word David, but your courage and your bravery in climbing that mountain again and raising the money that you did, but frankly for the unbelievable story that you’ve shared with us today. To say it’s inspiring is an understatement, and thank you sincerely for joining us today.

David Tait: Thank you very much for having me, it’s been a pleasure.

Andy Coulson: If you’ve enjoyed this conversation with David then please do leave us a review. And if you’ve found it helpful or even inspiring, we would be delighted if you would recommend us to your friends.

You can watch the full episodes on YouTube, follow us on Instagram and TikTok, and if you hit subscribe you will find loads more Crisis conversations. As always, full transcripts are available on our website along with links, just head to crisiswhatcrisis.com

And thanks so much for listening.

David Tait on how he turned the darkest of secret crises into a superpower - Crisis What Crisis? Hosted by Andy Coulson (2024)
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