A terrible loneliness

The Artist and Sociodramatist Ken Sprague was my psychodrama supervisor when I was training as a psychotherapist.

He was a great activist in the 1960’s and often attracted the attention of MI5 for his activities and interests. During my training he told me the following story about his role in bringing Yuri Gagarin to the UK.

Ken and a group of others invited Yuri to Britain during the cold war. I think his motive was twofold. Firstly to celebrate Russian communism and secondly because Ken had a real love of life, people and history. He saw Gagarin as ‘The Christopher Columbus of space’. Ken also believed that each of us could step far beyond our everyday existence and become a great human being.

Prior to Gagarin’s visit he told me that he had phoned Westminster and ‘The Palace’ and asked them to offer a State welcome to Gagarin. He was given short shrift for the suggestion and there was an obvious desire to play the achievement down.

An alternative was needed and the left wing Manchester Council offered to host the visit. They invited the Manchester citizens to come and see the great man on the steps of the town hall in Albert Square. The expectation was that a crowd of around 1,000 would turn up.

Ken and the others meanwhile were scrabbling around for a suitable state-visit car. They found a member of the gentry who had a  Rolls Royce with an option for an open top and, for a price, hired it for the day. They left the top at the home of the aforementioned peer and headed off to collect Yuri from the airport in order to ship him to the town hall. Ken recalled that that day the rain poured down as only Manchester rain can. By the time they reached the centre of Manchester Yuri, himself and the car were completely soaked. Ken recalled that their feet were submerged in rainwater.

On their way into the square they pulled over at a barbers shop in order to dry Yuri off before presenting him to the crowd. Hot towels were ordered and Yuri was rubbed down. Whilst he was being dried Ken says that he asked Yuri to tell him ‘what was it really like to be the first man in space?

Yuri answered “a terrible loneliness”

When the car reached the square instead of 1,000 people Ken said that around a quarter of a million people had turned up! There was a heroic welcome and the national media including the right wing press portrayed Yuri as an international hero.

The same day the palace rang Ken’s office and an invitation was sent for Yuri to come to London for a State welcome.

Ken finished this story by saying to me. “You see Martin, you can change the world even if it is terribly lonely sometimes.”

Martin Gill is a registered UKCP Group-Psychotherapist and HPC registered Dramatherapy, psychotherapist and film-maker/ Director.

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