Young Scots With Scotland about to celebrate Year of Young People 2018 – the world’s first such dedicated year – Conference Call speaks with one of the country’s foremost advocates for young people and the world record holder for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe by bicycle, Mark Beaumont

“I was never a racer ... it was just a case of using my summer holidays to go on adventures that naturally got bigger as I grew older”

“This is going to take a while,” says Mark Beaumont, his back smarting and his gait a little uneasy. “One of the biggest problems is forgetting how to walk.”

It’s understandable, for he hasn’t been on his feet much of late. Thirteen years ago the world record for cycling around the world was 276 days. Mark’s just done it in 78 – two days ahead of schedule.

His passion for adventure started young. “I was given a huge amount of freedom growing up,” he says. “Because I spent my childhood living, working and receiving a home education on the family farm, I built up a pretty sound sense of my identity – and by the time I started school, cycling was very much a part of it.”

At 12, Mark cycled 145 miles from Dundee to Oban. At 15, he soloed John o’ Groats to Land’s End. “I was never a racer getting fast-tracked into a national squad,” he says. “For me, it was just a case of using my summer holidays to go on adventures that naturally got bigger as I grew older.”

The adventure of a lifetime

Upon graduating with a degree in politics from the University of Glasgow, Mark was looking at a job in finance down in London. Before making the move, though, he wanted to live out his biggest dream: circumnavigate the globe.

“I thought if I only had one chance to do something like that, then I might as well live it out there and then. What’s more, at that point I assumed that the world record would be something ridiculously fast and coveted, but it wasn’t really: it was 276 days.”

Completing the ride in 194 days, Mark simultaneously set a new world record and realised that he could make a career out of doing what he loved most. “For somebody who had only ever worked in the pub pulling pints, it was incredible to be able to go out and do something like that.”

The record put Mark in the spotlight. Six years later (in the wake of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow) he started planning a second, very different attempt to circumnavigate the globe. This one would be fully supported and would be completed in less than 100 days.

“A lot of people said it just wasn’t possible, that it was just pie in the sky,” says Mark. “I went out to Africa though, and as a bit of a training ride I broke the record cycling from Cairo to Cape Town. On the back of that I started to put together a team, and through testing with them I started to set my sights on getting around the world in 80 days – a childhood dream.”

On 18 September this year, that dream became a reality. Cycling approximately 240 miles per day, he covered a total of 18,032 miles in 78 days – some harder than others. “The crash where I broke my tooth in Russia and gave myself a hairline fracture in my elbow – it’s at moments like those where you really question whether or not you can get back on the bike and carry on. Likewise when you’re utterly exhausted, when day-on-day you’re running on empty. Psychologically it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

Everyone has their 80 days

While the expedition reset the world record, that wasn’t Mark’s sole aim. The blueprints of his projects over the years prove that he’s never simply striven to break records or replicate what others have done – the goal has always been much higher. “I think the hardest thing in life is really having a bit of objectivity and your own interests and talents, and asking yourself, ‘What am I capable of?’ The temptation is to always follow the accepted norm. It’s a sad thing that young people should be conditioned to do that.

“People worry about children falling out of the bottom of the education system. I worry about the opposite: bright people who end up in careers that aren’t of their own designing”

“The big word for me is choice. People worry about children falling out of the bottom of the education system. I worry about the opposite: bright people who end up in careers that aren’t of their own designing. Education is a wonderful thing, but it’s absolutely hopeless if it’s not paired with choice – and what a lot of young people miss out on after brilliant educations is the chance to get into the driving seat of their careers. If young people can soak up all of the wonderful freedom and education we have here in Scotland and marry that with the real ability to analyse their own interests and choices they can make, then they’ll end up setting targets and finding their own happiness. I hope I’ve inspired people to ask themselves, ‘What are my 80 days?’”

Needless to say, much of Mark’s own career is devoted to supporting Scotland’s youth – whether as the Patron for Orkidstudio, the Patron for the Saltire Foundation or the Rector for the University of Dundee. Through these appointments he’s committed to giving young people the confidence to think about what they want to do in life. “It doesn’t matter if someone chooses to work for the world’s largest corporation or plough their own furrow – what matters is that it’s their choice.”

Mark might not be getting back in the saddle to set any new world records soon, but he is going to be involved in another world first next year as Scotland celebrates Year of Young People 2018. “I couldn’t be happier,” he says. “This is the area where I really do focus my efforts, and I’ll certainly be right at the heart of what VisitScotland has planned for the year.”

In the meantime, does he worry that someone might beat his around the world record? “Honestly, I hope someone does. People are going to take what I’ve done, learn from it and better it – and that’s the way it should be.”

Mark’s journey in numbers

Year of Young People 2018

Emma Ruse, a member of the sounding board for Year of Young People 2018 and an aspiring Scottish actress, discusses the year, its themes and its aims

I was already working with YoungScot (one of the organisations behind the Year of Young People) on one of their other projects when I saw the opportunity to join Communic18. Three-and-a-half years previously I joined Youth Arts Voice Scotland, helping to manage the national youth arts strategy.

The work I’m doing with Communic18 is similar, albeit much broader in scope. We’re co-design leaders for the Year of Young People, creating ideas in tandem with all of the stakeholders – in this case, young people themselves. We’re also here to advise organisations looking to work with young people and get involved with the Year.

The Year is such a unique opportunity. No other country has ever dedicated a year to young people before. It’s about celebrating what Scotland’s young people are capable of, and inspiring everyone by showcasing what they’re doing at the moment. The themes are Culture and Education, Enterprise and Regeneration, Equality and Discrimination, Health and Wellbeing, and Participation. Each member of Communic18 is leading a team for one of these themes, so it’s a chance for us to each share what we’re passionate about and to help that specific sector.

The launch event is taking place in November, and during it we’ll be revealing our plans in full. With Edinburgh being the capital there’ll be a lot of things going on here, but we’re also looking to really diversify geographically. This Year is going to be about Scotland’s youth as a whole – absolutely something worth celebrating.

We’re not forgetting about the supporting adults though. We, Scotland’s youth, couldn’t exist without them. There’s quite a bit of stigma around adults and young people, and we want the Year to break down barriers. Ultimately it’s about mutual understanding so that we can appreciate what they can give and that they can appreciate what we can give.

“It’s about celebrating what Scotland’s young people are capable of, and inspiring everyone by showcasing what they’re doing at the moment”