Billy Letford: Roofer / Poet

Published: May 16, 2016
Author: Steven Thomas

I first met Billy back in October 2015.  At the time I was working with The Scotsman newspaper and we were re-positioning the brand to reflect the modern, vibrant, colourful country that Scotland had become post independence referendum.  Part of our campaign included commissioning a poet to write something that captured the hearts and minds of the people we wanted to talk to.  You can hear Billy's poem below, delivered by David Tennant  no less.  Incidentally, I heard the first version of this with Billy reciting the poem and I felt that it was better, more authentic, more inspiring.

On the day of the launch, in an interview with the Scotsman editor Ian Stewart, Billy explained that he had previously been a roofer in the family firm and had previously balanced his creative career with making ends meet.

What struck me about Billy was that he was a really down to earth guy, from a working class background, who from a young age had formed a creative outlet.  Poetry was perhaps something that his friends and family didn't quite share his passion for or understand and yet he received lots of encouragement to continue to develop his craft.  For Billy, poetry was initially a sideline that has now developed into a career - one that I hope continues to flourish for him.  Often our side projects grow into something more fundamental then we dared to dream.

“I performed anywhere I could, to burger vans - where I would recite poetry in return for a filled roll - and on public trains.

Billy's success didn't come over night though (it seldom does).  No, it came from considered and purposeful practice and a huge dose of passion.  This passion shone through when Billy stood in front of 50 people in our office and delivered his poem...everybody was gripped, some were visibly emotional, all were in raptures   A true gift and very inspiring.  Billy's story, his considerable talent but also his ability to pivot from an every day roofer to a published poet of critical acclaim has stuck with me.  What better way to kick off my project on self-innovation.