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Lecture Series #2 -Captain Simon Mann – Ballard School

January 22, 2016

Choose the right coat!

Captain Simon Mann

Captain Simon Mann (Twitter- @CaptSFM)  (also a sometime Brigadier General in the Angolan army!) gave a fascinating presentation, illustrated with a fantastic array of photos, maps and challenging statements, as part of our lecture series. Once again we had pupils attending from Ballard, Priestlands, Highcliffe and Arnewood Schools as well as many parents, teachers and some Ballard alumni.

2016.1.22 Simon Mann lecture

Captain Mann told us about a teacher at Eton, his alma mater, who spoke to the boys about ‘self’. In his talk he said: ‘You are lucky: there are many coats you can choose in life – choose a good one’. Captain Mann’s ‘coat’ was that of a professional soldier. He joined the Scots Guards (like his grandfather and father before him although they were answering their Nation’s call to arms in an emergency). He then served in many theatres – Northern Ireland, the first Gulf War, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Angola (to name a few) – and became a member of the SAS.

Executive Outcomes

It was Captain Mann’s time as part of ‘Executive Outcomes’ – a fighting force formed in Africa in consequence of the Angolan civil war (and the seizure of an oil installation of which he was a part as a civilian) – that excited particular interest. He spoke of his experience helping to bring order to troubled parts of Africa and was then very frank about being captured ahead of an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea which saw him initially imprisoned in Zimbabwe and then in ‘the arm pit of Africa’. His account of being in solitary confinement for over 14 months and how his self-discipline ensured he maintained his fitness (despite leg irons and handcuffs) and his mental state was sobering. He was eventually given a presidential pardon by the man he had planned to remove from power and now, incredibly, refers to the President of Equatorial Guinea as a friend!

By Chatham House (Simon Mann) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Chatham House (Simon Mann)

Cry Havoc – 2011

The details of Captain Mann’s life can be read in his 2011 book, ‘Cry Havoc’. In his talk he went on to tackle difficult subjects such as ‘what’s it like to fail?’ and ‘what makes a good leader?’ He touched on heroes and heroines (such as TE Lawrence and Stella Rimington), on how to visualise success and failure and on Adair’s leadership principles. His talk finished with four ‘sticky thoughts’:  choose your ‘coat’ carefully, understand the complexity of the world, go for it 100% and use your head being true to yourself. As we have come to understand by the lecture series as a whole, we are indeed being interested and challenged to consider many ‘coats’!

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)
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