Ashley Tabor admits he "wasn’t particularly academic" and might have been a bit "troublesome" at school before leaving at 16 to work in radio. "I wasn’t learning the things I wanted to learn," the spiky-haired founder and executive president of Global says.
Yet here he is, almost 25 years later, welcoming the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry to a school in Hayes, west London, that Global has backed in partnership with the University of the Arts London.
The UK’s top professions remain disproportionately occupied by alumni of private schools and Oxbridge
The Global Academy is a state school and university technical college for 14- to 19-year-olds who want to work in the media and get the hands-on experience that Tabor wishes he had. The first pupils started in September last year but the royals came last week to open the building on the former site of EMI’s vinyl factory.
"Walking in here and seeing some of these students learn is probably the most gratifying thing in my diary I do all week," Tabor, a father of two, says. "I don’t think I expected it to be as rewarding as it has been."
He wanted to set up the academy in Hayes, one of London’s less affluent areas, because "I didn’t want it to be somewhere that only kids with connections could get into or from a background that could afford it". He continues: "I wanted it to be a school that could find talent in other areas of society that weren’t able to get into the media industry."
Tabor, who was privately educated, knows the benefit of family support. His father, Michael, made a fortune from bookmaking and finance, and has invested in Global, which owns Capital, Classic, Heart and LBC.
At Global, Tabor says he sees a lot of young people who are enthusiastic but "don’t actually have the skills they need". Rather than having to teach them everything on the job, "wouldn’t it be better if they could come into a media company – whether it’s ours or anyone else’s – with at least some core basic skills so they know how to edit in Pro Tools or Adobe, or operate a [production] desk, or be on one end of a camera or the other?"
The team behind the Global Academy says there is nothing woolly about its curriculum. Principal Simon Collins says teaching practical and vocational skills to students and giving them confidence by introducing them to people in the industry is what they need to prepare for the world of work. It can mean, in some cases, students won’t have to go on to university and spend £40,000-plus on a degree.
Good mental health is also part of the ethos, which is why the royals attended as part of their Heads Together campaign.
When Campaign chatted to a group of year ten boys, they enthused about learning video, audio and digital skills, and how they regularly talk to "Ashley" and meet Global’s talent.
The students’ induction last summer was at Wembley Stadium on the day before Capital’s Summertime Ball – a reminder that Hayes is still near the heart of the London media scene.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility warned earlier this year that "the UK’s top professions remain dispro-portionately occupied by alumni of private schools and Oxbridge" and highlighted "a gulf of opportunity between London and elsewhere". If Global backs another academy, it’s likely to be outside London.
Other media organisations are getting involved in nurturing tomorrow’s talent. The BBC has close links to the Media City university technical college in Salford, while Sky’s Sky Academy programme offers training around the UK. Haymarket, the owner of Campaign, is supporting the new Richmond upon Thames School.
The media industry should reap the benefits by gaining a more skilled workforce. And as Tabor says: "It’s great for the students because they have a route in that wasn’t there before."