The 17-year-old guitarist was taking his turn to play a piece he had created himself - when John Bercow walked into a music session, as part of a visit to the Croydon-based performing and creative arts school. The Speaker joined in the cheers for Leon, who sang “Tunnel Vision” - a moving ballad he had written in just one night.
Mr Bercow said the song was “incredible” and he praised the teenager for giving such “an amazing” rendition in front of his peers. He said:
“Leon’s performance was spell-binding – if I was a betting man, I’d say he has a bright future as a singer”
Leon, said he was glad he had not realised the Speaker was in the audience when he began singing. He said:
“While I’m used to playing in public – I have a regular gig at a pub in Tunbridge Wells - it would have been a bit daunting knowing he was there.”
Mr Bercow visited the BRIT School on the day after it was awarded the title Best Secondary School in Croydon at the Croydon Council Awards 2018. The state school, which has 1,361 students, boasts Adele, Jessie J, Tom Holland and the late Amy Winehouse among its alumni, was awarded for its contribution to the creative industries and its community outreach work.
Current intake Tommy Hunt and Robyn McKinson, both aged 14, put the school’s success down to a shared ambition to perform – and “because we all had to fight to get here – we all want to be here.”
The Speaker said he wished he had attended a dedicated facility like the BRIT School – and he urged students never to be put off striving for a job that would give them great joy.
“I can’t say I particularly enjoyed my school days, but I really like the BRIT School’s ethos – it's a bit different, a bit alternative, a bit exciting,”
But while his anti-establishment credentials, rebellious nature and love of music might have helped him fit in, Mr Bercow conceded his lack of ability in the performing arts might have been a setback.
“I never learnt to play an instrument, I got kicked out of the school choir in 1973, and I’m the worst dancer,” he joked. “My advice to you would be, ignore the voices that say: ‘We don’t think it’s appropriate – it's not right for you’. It’s much better to try, to have a go, to put your head above the parapet, than to have a lifetime of regret.”
BRIT School Principal Stuart Worden said:
“The Speaker really engaged the students. He made politics and Parliament sound so interesting. Many of our students are fired up by social issues and The Speaker encouraged them to combine their interest in politics and their passion for the arts.”
Image: Student Leon Benson singing 'Tunnel Vision'. Credit: Jessica Taylor / UK Parliament