Tommy Mallet: 'I don't read emails longer than five words'

The Word Matters project
BBC Radio 5 Live

media captionReality-TV star turned entrepreneur Tommy Mallet opens up about how dyslexia has affected his life

The Only Way Is Essex star Tommy Mallet says a former colleague who tried to shame him for being unable to read just made him more determined to succeed.

Now running his own multi-million-pound Mallet London footwear business, the 28-year-old told BBC Radio 5 Live's Nicky Campbell about the challenges he has faced with literacy and dyslexia.

"I always knew I was a leader, from a young age, and I always knew that I was going to be a success," he said.

But at his first job, he was bullied.

An older colleague, on a building, surveying and architecture apprenticeship, tried to humiliate him.

"I was reading a newspaper, trying to fit in, and this guy took it off me and threw it over the other side of the room and said, 'Go and pick that up, you can't even read it.'" Mallet said.

But that moment then spurred him on - "because I knew what I was worth".

"That's how it all started for me," he said.

"I feel like it was just something that set the pace to show me I shouldn't have been where I was and I needed to just level up and go elsewhere."

College class

Later in his apprenticeship, Mallet was given the "biggest book" he had ever seen, on design software AutoCAD, and told to go away and learn it.

But now, he was undaunted.

"I taught myself how to use AutoCAD without reading the book," he said.

"And I was better than anyone in my college class at it."

"That sort of gave me the confidence to know that I can get round not being able to do the academic part of it."

More vocal

But Mallet has never been that short of confidence.

"I was nine when I first told my dad I was going to be a millionaire," he said.

"I've never taken no for an answer.

"I always know I have to work out my own way of how to do it because I'm not capable of doing it the way everyone else does it.

"I need to put more hours in than anyone else because I've not naturally got what everyone else has got.

"And I have to be more vocal."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMallet is now "finding more patience" for reading

Today, Mallet's own employees know not to send him an email with more than five words in it - and he has someone to whom he can send lengthy legal and insurance documents.

"I can read anything that's in front of me," he said.

"I can read a text message, it's just anything in-depth."

Getting there

But Mallet is also putting more "energy" into his literacy skills.

"I'm getting better as I'm getting older," he said.

"I'm taking my time - I'm finding a bit more patience, which I don't think I've ever had.

"So I'm getting there."

Social media

An estimated nine million adults in the UK have low-level literacy skills.

They find it hard to do things most people take for granted - such as filling out a job application or following a recipe.

And even though he finds social media "exhausting", Mallet uses it to share his successes and inspire others who are struggling.

"I'm proud of what I've achieved," he said.

"And I'm proud that I get to share it to a wider audience, to show people that it ain't all down to what you get told in school… or what your parents can tell you.

"It all comes down to how bad you want things - and that's all it is."

Restaurant bill

Years after his apprenticeship, Mallet was eating in an upmarket restaurant when he was told the colleague who humiliated him was dining at another table and wanted to see him.

Instead of confronting him, Mallet simply paid off the man's restaurant bill - and asked the doorman to throw him out.

"And that was what happened," he said.

"I showed him he was wrong by getting him sent out of the establishment."

Libraries, community centres and job centres have details of charities that provide free help with literacy skills. For more information, visit BBC Radio 5 Live's Word Matters website or join in the conversation at #BBCWordMatters.

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