Josh Still is on the eve of the biggest day of his life: his marriage to Tanya Hockley. The 23-year-old lives with Tanya down in Stone Cross, near Eastbourne, works for Conservative MP Nus Ghani, has degrees from LSE and Yale; and has a huge passion for sport. It was a wide-reaching conversation …
- How, when and where did you met Tanya?
Tanya and I met in America – I was studying at Yale, and she was on a placement there. We met at a mutual friend’s British-themed party, which is definitely something quirky to tell people
- What was the first thing you guys spoke about?
I don’t remember our first words, but I remember we spoke at length that night about the dissertation Tanya was writing about whether a robot could have a soul. I remember saying ‘what if humans don’t even have souls?’ I don’t know if I’d still say that now…
- Given what you’ve just said – do you consider yourself a Christian?
Yes, I’ve now been confirmed as such. That’s not to say I don’t have questions and doubts – I think that’s very normal, and signing up to dogma will never be my thing. I’ll also always be very sceptical of authority & systems that enable certain human beings to exercise too much power over others. There’s been too much of that in the church, and even the most cursory reading of what Jesus actually taught will tell you that’s not what he wanted. I think my faith is more personal to me – I don’t pay too much attention to what bishops & archbishops etc. are saying. Because while I say yes, I don’t think it’s the only way. I think all religions essentially do the same thing & ask the same questions, but that every culture & human society does/did religion in its own way. Maybe they all glimpse part of the broader truth?
- What advice would you give to people who are sceptical about the idea of religion?
I don’t want to tell people what to believe. I don’t think you need faith to be a kind and caring person, which is ultimately what matters. What I would encourage though is for people to always challenge the simplistic narrative that they’re fed. Our society & our media deride religious views as antiquated and irrelevant, which when you look into it more closely, isn’t really fair. As society modernises and becomes ever more capitalist and technologically driven, we’re becoming ever more anxious & depressed personally, and our jobs at work are becoming more insecure. We’re told that appearance; money and status are what matter. A tiny elite control so much of the wealth. Distrusting other people & being cynical are considered virtues. I think both as a society, and especially as individuals within it, we could use a bit more religion. It proves that there is a better way to live life, and gives us a message of hope and redemption.
- Has Tanya, or your experiences down on the south coast, directly impacted your thoughts on any other issues?
Yeah I think so. I’ve developed and matured as a person, no doubt. And intellectually, I’ve changed a lot as I’ve learned more about the world, but I think my core principles are the same. It’s just while I once thought that socialism was a good way of achieving them, and religion wasn’t, actually I think I got it the wrong way round. I now hate the idea of a government filled with people following their own agendas & interests telling me how to live my life & particularly if it’s ever run by the modern-day intellectually stunted left-wing activists that have decided that they know the right things to think, and so freedom of speech is now outdated. That will never be true. Different opinions are good, unpopular opinions will always be how you improve society & unpleasant opinions are the price that you pay for that. In the media, I always make sure I read the most controversial columnists from all viewpoints, because they’re the ones that have something interesting to say. I know I’m a bizarre mix really – I’m a contrarian religious advocate of the freedom of the individual who wants to leave the EU but let more refugees in. Which is crazily different, but I actually like that, and I look forward to seeing how my mind changes as the facts change in the future!
- What about the idea of marriage?
It’s good for us, and I like the idea of God blessing our union. Whether it’s best for everyone else is for them to decide, but I do find the modern trend of increasing divorce very sad.
- How do you think you will feel when you see Tanya walking down the aisle?
I’m sure I’ll cry. I cried on the train reading the end of a tale of two cities the other day, so I’m sure I will at the happiest moment of my life
- What are your plans immediately after the wedding?
Night at the ritz, 2 weeks honeymoon exploring America & being off work – sounds good to me!
- And then, general future plans – do you want the typical happily married with 2 kids and a dog or do you see you guys following a different path?
I’m not sure about the dog … But yeah, I’d want kids in a few years. I think it’s one of the most innate and powerful human desires that we have
- Do you have any ideas for names?
Yes, but I’m not giving them away yet!
- You’ve been to university on both sides of the pond, how did the experiences differ?
I think both could have been better. The academic systems were very different, and I found Yale’s harder – but maybe that’s because it was Yale! But I didn’t like the undergraduate drinking culture, nor the idea of what university is now – for middle-class people to get good jobs. It should be about education. And Yale was just too powerful – it owns like half of new haven, and their fees are ridiculous. But it pretends that if it can stop its students saying mean things about Native Americans, it’s all lovely and progressive. Absolute bull.
- For people who have never travelled there, just how different is America?
Well, we speak the same language & we have a shared history. So it’s closer to us than most European countries are. In a lot of ways, it’s the same but with different twists. But the cities look very different – the roads run in straight lines, there’s lots more cars and, of course, lots more ghettoes and racial segregation in a way we don’t understand here
- What is it like working for an MP? What are the most difficult aspects, and what are the more enjoyable ones?
I think the difficult and the enjoyable aspects are both to do with meeting people. MPs attract the local fools, who it’s never fun to deal with. But you also meet some incredible people too, which can be really quite humbling. And incredible when we can actually do something to help them.
- Do you still get a sense of wonder every time you walk into parliament, or is it now just your office?
It’s now just an office. And I hate that! I still do like taking people on tours though – if you’re ever interested (ed – I told him I was)!
- Do you ever miss Nottingham?
Of course. I grew up there & love coming back. Most of my friends & family are up there too, as you know. I think Nottingham will always be a part of who I am. And Nottingham forest – a big club that wants to be successful, but doesn’t always succeed, and is small enough to be an outsider rather than part of the elite. I identify with that.
- Talking about Forest, just what can they achieve?
Quite a lot actually. I want you to shoot me if I ever become one of these fans that’s happy to accept middling along in 16th place for the next 5 years. Look at how sporting a city Nottingham is – we could sustain a PL club without question. And our squad, if they all stay fit, is definitely good enough to compete for the top 6. I want us to aim high. But we need to finally appoint a good manager rather than the dross we’ve had to put up with for most of the next 15 years, and then Fawaz has to back him with money and time, and hire people who know how to run the club and leave it to them. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Look at Wes Morgan, captain of a Premier-League winning side. He was in League One with us for 3 years so it shows you just what can be achieved. And we’ve produced players like Lascelles, who’s now a PL regular, and discovered Antonio, who is too. It can definitely be done!
- How do you feel about sport in general? Has it reached a point where it’s too based around money and winning or is it still an enjoyable spectacle?
Well, now I’ve stopped going to Forest so much, I find myself rapidly losing interest in football generally – which I think has sold its soul. But I think sport will always be a big love in my life, and I’m trying to get more into sports like tennis, rugby, county cricket, ice hockey etc. which have been far less corrupted by money so far. And I’m really enjoying it. Not to mention tennis, the best sport in the world, which is superb both for gender equality, and for the fact that only about the top 50 men and women in the world earn big money. Which I’m fine with, as they have insane ability. But the rest have to earn a living, so they’re more relatable for the fans.
- Finally, a bold question which I like asking people , how can we make the world a better place to live?
I don’t think there’s a set template. I think that everybody needs to do it in their own way. Take a look at yourself and discern what your calling is in life, and listen to the best parts of your nature, and you’ll know what to do. There’s a million and one different ways to help people and to change the world, and we need people to do all of them!
Josh and Tanya will get married tomorrow (14th May 2016) at St Luke’s Church in Stone Cross.