Patrick Marriott | Interview | Podcast | Maria Franzoni | MFL Global

Maria Interviews Patrick Marriott

This week Maria interviewed Patrick Marriott, who was a regular soldier for 36 years. During this time, he served in approximately 30 countries and deployed in operations to Northern Ireland, Egypt and Israel, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Among other appointments, he commanded his regiment, the Queen’s Royal Lancers’, on operations in Bosnia and the 7th Armored Brigade known as the Desert Rats in Iraq. He was Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst before retiring in 2012. Patrick now serves as a Reservist Major General, sharing the highest level of Service Complaints Board for the Army Board.

Maria:

Major General Patrick Marriott was a regular soldier for 36 years. During this time, he served in approximately 30 countries and deployed in operations to Northern Ireland, Egypt and Israel, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Among other appointments, he commanded his regiment, the Queen’s Royal Lancers’, on operations in Bosnia and the 7th Armored Brigade known as the Desert Rats in Iraq. He was the Divisional Chief of Staff for the first UK Armoured Divisions attack into Iraq in 2003. He was Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst before retiring in 2012. Patrick now serves as a Reservist Major General, chairing the highest level of Service Complaints Board for the Army Board. He is the Scottish Chairman of the charity Combat Stress and the Chairman of Tykes, a charity helping young carers in Sutherland. Very, very welcome Patrick.

Patrick Marriott: 

Thank you very much.

Maria:

What a career! So, I’m going to start with your amazing career in the military and ask you, have you come from a military family?

Patrick Marriott:    

Yes, I think is the honest answer there. Both my parents were in the Navy so they thought I’d mutinied and gone across to the Army. But you go back about three or four generations and I don’t think we’re bright enough to do anything else. So we’ve all ended up as soldiers. And I have two sons who are also in the Army. So we’re stuck in a rut.

Maria:    

Stuck in a rut. And actually I was going to come on to your sons, George and Harry, who have followed on and are Lieutenants in the Royal Lancers. How did you feel when they decided to carry on the family tradition?

Patrick Marriott:    

Well, they were under no pressure to do so. And actually, I made that really clear to them. They could’ve chosen what they wanted. They did look at lots of other things and they came back and ended up joining the old regiment, as it were. But no, I’m very happy with it and so is my wife. We know what the risks are, we understand it. I think I have more sympathy for my parents now I’ve got children in the Army as well. I can look back on them and know what they went through.

Maria:    

Yes, true. And in your 36 years you’ve seen many conflicts and you’ve had many experiences. Is there one that stands out to you today as a major event?

Patrick Marriott:  

I think there are two. The first one would be the very first time I deployed in operations in Northern Ireland as a very young and not very wise officer. And I learned an awful lot of things there, primarily through my own incompetence and mistakes. And people were very forgiving. And, indeed, in many of my talks I talk about that, and those early lessons that set one up for life and the importance of them. The second is undoubtedly Iraq and that initial attack into Iraq. For better or worse, for right or wrong, off we went and I don’t think you ever forget that really. You’re at the tip of the nation’s spear for a brief moment and it’s a sobering thought and quite a frightening one as well.

Maria:     

It is, I agree, absolutely is. Well, what do you think was the most challenging thing for you in your military career?

Patrick Marriott:  

I think the most challenging thing was just somehow getting through Sandhurst actually. I was amazed I got through. I was an Army scholar but I was underweight. When I went to Sandhurst I was seven stone nine pounds, which was well below the line for military service. So the Army put me on extra milk. And I was on extra milk for the first 20 years of my Army service. I should never really have been there. So the big challenge was being rather a small person and still carrying the weight that all my kind friends carried. I had to do the same things. That was the biggest challenge of the lot.

Maria:  

Thank goodness you weren’t lactose intolerant. That would’ve been a disaster.

Patrick Marriott: 

Well, it didn’t matter too much because I sold most of my milk to the more expensive officer cadets around me, which was quite good news and kept me in pocket while I was at Sandhurst. But sadly, that’s why it took me 20 years to get up to the right level.

Maria:     

When I look at leaders, especially leaders from the military, I’m amazed at the loyalty and respect that they get from the ranks, from the men and women who serve under them. And they literally … These people, they risk their lives for their leaders. How do you get that level of loyalty?

Patrick Marriott:   

Well, that is leadership. And that’s what the Army specializes in. It’s the most important aspect of being a soldier, and it’s the critical aspect of being an officer. Everyone leads, no matter what rank it is. But for an officer, you have all the additional responsibility. So really, you’re taught, and you start by being taught at Sandhurst, which is why it was such an incredible privilege to go back to Sandhurst at a really difficult time, three years whilst we were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to I suppose try to inspire and lead and pass on what I knew to the most extraordinary generation of young officers.

Maria:      

I’m saddened, though, by the fact that you hear of veterans who are homeless or jobless after having served their country and risked their lives. What do you think is going wrong with the system that that’s happening?

Patrick Marriott:  

It’s a tragedy, but it’s always been there. All through our history I’m afraid, when we go into peace time soldiers tend to get forgotten. We’re the last in the budget. We’re not normally very popular. And I’m afraid it’s something that will always happen. That said, we should quite rightly be doing more about it. And I think the charities are trying to do as much as they possibly can. It’s very much more in the front of everyone’s eyes really now because the media has picked it up. But I think it’s always been there and I think sadly many of the homeless people in this country aren’t soldiers either. It’s just they tend to be picked up as soldiers because that feeds the press. And it seems an added indignity to them all.

Maria:      

And do you think that there’s a problem transitioning from a military lifestyle into being a civilian?

Patrick Marriott:   

Yes, I do. There’s always been that problem. The Army, in particular, does not wholly reflect society. It cannot do that because the Army needs to recruit tough, quite brave, and often the sort of people who would not necessarily get on well in a more peaceful or gentle time. But when you’re up against it those are the kind of people you want. You want people holding bayonets who are tough and fairly ruthless if you are going to defeat the enemies of our country. And when you then bring those people back home it’s understandable that they find it difficult, because they are the very people who would have probably found it a little bit more difficult to settle into society anyway.

Maria:  

That’s a very good point, actually, a very good point. You’re still involved with the military. You’re a Reservist Major General. What does that role entail, and what do you do?

Patrick Marriott: 

Well, I left, I thought in 2012 having finished at Sandhurst, and disappeared up to this wonderful part of Scotland. And then I was asked back by the Chief of the Generals staff to go back in to chair tribunals who deal with the highest level of service complaints within the Army. So if anyone in the Army has a justified complaint and they wish to put it forward, there’s a whole process for doing that. And the most difficult and complex cases often end up with me or one or two others. There’s a small team of us that deal with it and we seek to apply judgment to those cases.

Maria:    

Excellent. So if I’ve got a problem I can come to you like sort of the Judge Judy of the military.

Patrick Marriott:  

Well, yeah.

Maria:      

Something like that.

Patrick Marriott: 

Something like that. Something like that. Right.

Maria:

You’ve got a lot of hobbies, Patrick, an awful lot of hobbies.

Patrick Marriott:

Yeah, loads.

Maria: 

And I know you particularly have a huge love of the countryside, and in fact so much so that you’re trying to share that with the younger generation. And you led a trek for children coast to coast. They all survived, which is wonderful. Tell us about that. Tell us about the ages, how that came about and where you took them.

Patrick Marriott:  

Well, I’ll go back a little bit. When I left Sandhurst I was imbued with this great word, leadership. Not because I’m a great leader, but because I’d witnessed great leadership in my time in the Army and then I had this extraordinary generation of cadets who we sent off to Afghanistan and Iraq as leaders. So the whole subject became immensely important to me, more important than it perhaps had ever been. So when I retired I knew more or less what good leadership looked like. And if you look around now at young people across the whole country, many of them don’t get the opportunity to be brought on as leaders, and yet they have great hidden talents. The task of leadership in many ways is to bring out qualities from people that they already have in there.

Everyone has great qualities, but leadership brings it out. And I seek to train as much as I can youth around here and everywhere as leaders. And one of the best ways you can do this is by giving them to experience leadership. And leadership is all about experiencing things. There are lots of people who talk about practical aspects of leadership, but actually that’s not what people want. What people want is, “How do I do this? What is it? How can I lead my organisation, my company, whatever it is, better? Give me some practical clues.” So everything I do is really about practical leadership.

And the coast to coast walk, which took quite a long time for me to plan and then do … and I’ve walked it twice myself now … was all about giving a wonderful group of youngsters up here and in all nearly 60 took part, an opportunity to lead and to have a challenge to get from one side of Scotland to the other carrying weight in difficult circumstances, to take lots of risks and to lead for little parts of that journey. And they all did it. And actually I know that they all became much, much better for it. It’s lovely because they’re immensely grateful. I love them very much and their teachers and mentors and parents have been very kind about it, actually. We’re going to do it again in three years’ time assuming I’m still struggling on.

Maria:

Is that how long it takes to plan something of that nature?

Patrick Marriott:    

No. I can re-plan that and put it out in just a couple of months, I think, because I know all the levers now. I understand that, and I’ve got lots of wonderful friends who helped me do it. But actually, we raised quite a lot of money for local charities, and to keep going back to ask people for money you need to have a little pause otherwise they get bored of you.

Maria: 

And what was the age group of the kids?

Patrick Marriott: 

The age group was … The youngest was about 12 and the oldest was 18, but we had some real youngsters who we took out for single days and including quite a lot of special needs children and some who were completely deaf, in fact. And they did about 25 kilometers, the really young ones. And then the ones who were about 15 to 18, they did the whole thing, which is about 120, 130 kilometers.

Maria:    

How long did that take in total?

Patrick Marriott: 

We could have done it quicker, but we did it in five days. So they averaged around 20, 25 kilometers a day.

Maria:  

That’s still pretty good going, actually, I think.

Patrick Marriott:

Oh, it is. They’re carrying quite a lot of weight and the weather was horrific and they waded through rivers. They did all sorts of things they would never, ever had got the opportunity to do. It was immensely satisfying. I love it to bits.

Maria:    

That’s brilliant. You must be very proud of that achievement. And I’m going to talk about something very different now. We’ve all heard about boys and their toys, but I think you have taken it to the next step because I understand you have a full sized, working cannon.

Patrick Marriott:  

Well, it’s not full size. It’s about half to quarter size but it is a working cannon. And yes, I fire it periodically. I think retired generals are allowed a few eccentricities and that’s what character is all about. It’s an auction prize. For any charity that pledges me, they can have a shot of my cannon. And we do that quite a lot. And we celebrate children’s birthdays or firing off races in the village. We just fire it whenever we want, actually. It took quite a lot of permissions to get all that and I am allowed to carry quite a lot of gunpowder, actually. The police are very kind and generous with their permissions.

Maria:  

That is really eccentric. I love that. And where do you keep it?

Patrick Marriott:  

I have to keep it locked up. It’s technically a firearm, so it lives with its wheels off in a lockable cupboard and then deploys for ridiculous adventures.

Maria:

I love it. I love it. Fantastic. So I understand with all of these things that you’ve done, you’re now turning your hand to writing and you’re writing a book.

Patrick Marriott:

Yes. I am writing a book but it’s a very private book and it’s for my family. John Buchan, who was a great Scot, wrote a wonderful book after the first World War called These for Remembrance. And he wrote it for his children and nobody else, and it gives little vignettes of about half a dozen characters who were all killed in the first World War, and whom he loved, and whom he really wished were around to pass on some of their lessons to his own children. But they were not there, so he decided to write this book privately. And it’s a very personal and very special book. It’s very special because he didn’t write it for any publisher, so he could put his whole heart into it. It wasn’t for any audience other than for his children.

So my book is the same in many ways. But it’s not about lost friends, it’s about leadership. And it is passing on I hope, to my poor and long-suffering children, a few tips on leadership which I perhaps failed to do because in the Army I was very busy. I only ever saw my children play a couple of games of sport each because I was forever in Iraq or Afghanistan or the Sinai or wherever. And I feel very guilty about that, and they know that. So I’m going to make amends and they’re going to get a book. And I’m writing it as well as I possibly can, and it’s great fun. It’s full of story.

Maria: 

That’s a lovely idea, to write a book for your children. I think that really is a special thing to do. I hope it inspires other people to do that. So I’m going to move on to your work as a speaker. How did you start speaking to business audiences?

Patrick Marriott: 

I started right at the outset at school, when a very kind headmaster took two of us aside every Saturday morning, and so for about four years I had two hours of public speaking training when I was at school. At the time, I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do all sorts of other things but he obviously saw something in me. And I’ve used it ever since. And I regard public speaking and the ability to communicate to people as one of life’s most important qualities. So I don’t only give talks and I’m not brilliant at it, but I’m not too bad. But I train people to do it as well, and I think it’s really important because it teaches them so many different skill sets and I can pass on so many different lessons and qualities not in a preaching way, but in a way that can inspire them and fire them up. That’s why I do it.

I mean, I’ve covered in my talks moral aspects of leadership. I’ve covered judgment aspects, courage and developing it. I do a lot of developing courage. There are ways you can develop courage in people and that’s hugely important. It’s the great virtue that enables businesses and everything else to succeed. I cover trust, communication obviously. In particular I’ve done a number of talks on leading youth and the younger members of workforces. I think that’s very important. And I cover handling stress. As you explained in your introduction, I’m the Chairman of this charity, Combat Stress. So I’ve done quite a lot of research and work, and so I try to … I do a number of talks if businesses are concerned about stress levels and so on. There are a lot of very simple coping strategies that you can do. And I can help people with that. And I think that’s an important one, too.

And then outside of leadership I cover risk and risk taking, because that’s what soldiers do, decision making, where leaders should position themselves, and that’s hugely important. At different times they’re in different circumstances. I cover friendship. I often talk about the value and importance of friendship. I’ve spoken on historical topics, old and new, sometimes on Iraq, sometimes on the past. And I do a fair amount of training of leaders, primarily to youth, children in schools. I like to do that voluntarily because I feel very passionate about it. But I’ve also done stuff for the NHS, the armed forces charities and so on, which I really enjoy.

Maria:     

That’s great, and I’m sure that once you’re on the stage that you enjoy the passion and you get a bit of adrenaline going as well. Yes?

Patrick Marriott:

Yes, of course I do. I mean, I get terribly nervous before every single one and I think all good professionals do get nervous. But when you are up there, of course it’s very exciting. It’s even more exciting if I know at the end I’ve done a good job. I have to do a really good job not only for the audience as such, but for the people who’ve recruited me and been kind enough to ask me. So I spend a lot of time preparing for them, and though they might seem a little chaotic at times when I’m up there, that chaos comes out of quite a lot of planning.

Maria:  

Fantastic. And how can a client when they’ve booked you, how can they help you to ensure that you succeed?

Patrick Marriott:   

Give me a reasonably free reign, I think is the most important thing. Be very clear about what they want to achieve out of it. So tell me what the sort of end state is. Where do you want your people to be at the end of my talk? And I’ll lead them that way. Don’t then confine me too much as to how I’m going to do it. Just tell me what you want to achieve. And so far, that’s worked okay, I think.

Maria:    

Yeah. We’re doing all right. We’re doing all right. I have no complaints.

Patrick Marriott: 

They’ve been mighty generous.

Maria:   

Fantastic. And finally I’m going to ask you a question that many people have been asked because you are a leadership expert. Would you say that leaders are born or are they made?

Patrick Marriott:  

It’s a little bit of both, like everything in life. They’re not wholly born and they’re not wholly made, but you can develop leaders. And that’s really what I love to do.

Maria:   

Patrick, thank you so much for sharing some time with me. I really appreciate it.

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