Ben Swift

Senior Employment Coach, Growth Planning & Housing, Westminster City Council

Having worked on many ground breaking adverts and now doing something quite different, I think I have become more critical of the craft. A good ad to me is something that makes the impossible real. I am a big fan of Jonathan Glazer and Walter Stern’s work. They are fantastic at casting. Their characters, whether a star or an extra, are all believable, imperfect and vulnerable; in other words, normal. They show the ‘normal’ in a way that is ‘abnormal’ so reality becomes an aspiration due to the ethereal landscape the character is placed in. Jon and Walter do not use models - they turn their backs on the gloss.

I think my favourite adverts are Guinness ‘Dreamer’ and ‘This Girl Can’ for Sport England. Both show diversity in such a positive manner without realising the diversity banner. That’s what diversity is, nothing to shout about nothing to be proud of. It should just be normal, not tokenistic.

I was a bit of troubled kid. Being dyslexic meant that I really struggled with processing information. I dropped out of school when I was about 13 and spent most of my time fooling about on the local estate. My youth and early adult life were spent getting high. I remember looking back on my life and realising I had achieved absolutely nothing. I decided to get out.

I got a copy of The Knowledge and went around Soho dropping off CVs with my friend Paul. Two days later, when I got call from one of the runners at Academy asking if I could do a day’s work I jumped at the chance.

I remember my first day as if it were yesterday. I walked in and everyone looked at me in utter shock. It transpired they hadn’t meant to call me but they kept me on for two days, then a week, then a month, then on a permanent basis. Everyone wanted me out but Lizie Gower kept me. Lizie was amazing - for the first time in my life I had someone I could look up to. I worked a 14-hour day and gradually earned the respect of all the staff. I became an integral cog and worked really closely with the directors, supporting them on the creative side of their work.

I eventually left Academy to work as a Freelance Director and Creative Consultant. I decided to go to university in my mid 30s which led to a job as teaching assistant in a special school where I became emerged in learning disabilities, becoming an expert in autism. From there I worked in advisory and mentoring roles within the public sector, specialising in adolescent to adult Asperger’s syndrome. I moved into employment and diversity about 6 years ago and am now based at Westminster City Council. I am creating partnerships with the APA to create internships in the film / SFX and advertising sectors for BAME and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I am now currently in the process of setting up a social enterprise called Urban Upstarts to support moving into the Film and Advertising business.