Original traveller: Steven Bartlett
Podcaster, presenter, entrepreneur, investor – and now advocate for the pursuit of happiness? Steven Bartlett is the ultimate self-made multi-hyphenate. Tim Hulse meets him
When he was an 18-year-old university drop-out, living in a studio flat in an insalubrious part of Manchester, Steven Bartlett was given a new diary by a friend. On the front page, he boldly wrote the words ‘My Personal Goals’ in a spidery hand, and then listed his ambitions: to be a millionaire by 25, to own a Range Rover, to be in a long-term relationship and to “work on my body image”.
Not much more than a decade on (Bartlett is now 31), it’s fair to say he’s knocked those goals out of the park. He is a multimillionaire businessman, a regular on Dragons’ Den and the host of a hugely successful podcast. As a result, he can buy pretty much any car he wants. He has a partner and is thinking about babies. And he’s looking pretty svelte into the bargain.
But Bartlett is the first person to say that in many ways none of this matters. As he points out in his ironically titled book, Happy Sexy Millionaire, while he once believed the things he aspired to would make him happy, he “couldn’t have been more wrong”. He now believes the key to happiness is being content with who you are, and pursuing the things that genuinely matter to you, rather than the things you think should matter.
In Bartlett’s case, this manifests as a kind of restless entrepreneurialism. He started his first company, Wallpark, a community website for students, back in 2013, not long after writing that list of ambitions. (In what would later be revealed to be an ironic plot twist, he applied to be on Dragons’ Den in the hope of getting some investment, but was turned down.) Not much later, he co-founded a social media marketing company called Social Chain, which made his name.
His current ventures include a marketing and communications company, Flight Story, and thirdweb, a platform for creators in Web3, the much-hyped successor to the worldwide web. On a smaller scale, he’s branched out into doing theatrical events that mix songs, stories from his life, poetry and excerpts from his podcasts. The Daily Telegraph’s reviewer described his show at the London Palladium last year as “the most bonkers night I have spent in the theatre”.
“I want to keep enjoying myself every day, challenging myself to reach higher highs and struggling more towards meaningful goals in my life,” he tells High Life.
He credits his Nigerian mother for his entrepreneurial spirit. Something of an eccentric character, she used to scream a lot at Bartlett’s quiet, English father. But, she was also a serial entrepreneur, launching a chain of businesses that included a supermarket, a beauty salon and a furniture shop. “All of them went under, but what I learned from her was that it is possible to have an idea and then create it,” he says.
“I want to keep enjoying myself every day, challenging myself to reach higher highs and struggling more towards meaningful goals”
Bartlett was born in Botswana and moved to Plymouth with his family when he was two years old. He and his brothers were close to being the only Black kids at school, and Bartlett talks ruefully about desperately trying to fit in with his white, middle-class friends. It created a feeling of shame that he now believes drove his early striving for money and status. These days, he’s happy to inspire a new generation of creators and entrepreneurs from a BAME background.
“If what I do inspires someone to make a decision that will make them happier and more fulfilled, thats a fantastic thing,” he says.
He started his podcast, The Diary of a CEO, in 2017, and the choice of subjects has long extended beyond business leaders to include pretty much anyone who has had notable success in their chosen career. Recent recipients of his gentle questioning have included outgoing Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, comedian Jack Whitehall, and Dr Robert Waldinger, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, which gives some idea of the range. The podcast has become a fixture near the top of the streaming charts, with a listenership of many millions.
“It’s pretty mind-blowing,” he says. “But it’s just numbers. It doesn’t seem real until I go out on the street and suddenly someone goes, ‘Oh my God, I couldn’t believe what Davina McCall was saying on your podcast!”
Bartlett has just published a new book that encapsulates the 33 main lessons he has learned from his many hundreds of podcast interviews. You can also listen to The Diary of a CEO on the British Airways in-flight entertainment system, and will spot him in the latest safety video, talking to his mum on his mobile before take-off. “I never imagined I’d end up in a safety video, and it’s such an honour,” he laughs. “I love the airline and I fly British Airways all the time. So to have that and also have the podcast on board, it’s just awesome.”
The Diary of a CEO: The 33 Laws of Business and Life (Ebury Edge) is out now. The Diary of a CEO is available to stream on board now
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