From avoiding prison to top poet - the Children’s Laureate hoping to inspire others

060922 Connor Allen

If you’d told the teenage Connor Allen he would one day become Wales’ only second ever Children’s Laureate, he’d have found it hard to believe you.

In fact - during a sometimes troubled childhood which saw him grow up without a father in a tough part of Newport - he was fortunate to avoid prison.

Things came to a head when he violently assaulted his mum following a row.

“It’s like having a bottle of coke. If you shake and shake that bottle it’s going to explode eventually isn’t it?”

“I look back and think it was this build up of all these little things that were happening. All the broken promises from my father, the not fitting in, all the micro-aggressions at school, it all built up. 

“I saw red and beat my mum.”

Arrested and charged with assault and battery and GBH, Connor pleaded guilty and narrowly avoided prison. 

But it proved a watershed moment. 

Reconciled with his mum, who he describes as “amazing”, Connor turned his life around and went to university, where he studied drama.

“Shout-outs not just to my mum but to single mums in general. They take on so much burden and they don’t get enough credit.”

“My mum raised two mixed race kids in a council estate on her own and they both went to university. 

“There’s more black and mixed race kids in prison than there are in university in the UK. I was so close to being part of that statistic.”

After graduating, Connor became an actor, then a writer and poet.

It was after a visit to Parc Prison -  where he once feared he might end up as an inmate - that the offer to become Children’s Laureate came in from Literature Wales.

“At first I was like, ‘I don’t even know what a laureate is, why would I apply for that?’”

“But I sat on the stairs and spoke to my mum and she was like ‘what have you got to lose?’ So I sent it off, thought nothing of it, got an interview and now I’m here!”

Just the second person to fill the role, and the first of colour, Connor now sees it as his duty to inspire children who, like him, are struggling to find their place in the world.

“As a teenager I knew what it was like to feel worthless and unloved, and like you’re not worthy.”

“And if I can empower children to realise that they are enough, and they are worthy of love and they are worthy of affection and everything else that comes in the world, I can do that through this role.”

“So by going out to schools and meeting all these young people and empowering them, they might have that energy to believe they can make something of themselves.”

Asked what it is about poetry that appeals to him, Connor’s reply is simple: “empathy.” 

A powerful tool which he now wants to use to empower others.

"I got given a second chance but so many other people don’t. And I guess this is part of it - to inspire the next generation.” 

Connor Allen was speaking to Adrian Masters for Face to Face. You can see the full interview on ITV Cymru Wales tonight at 2245 and online after broadcast.