Charles overcame his stammer to become Canada’s finest speaker

IT could be said that Charles Marcus’ journey from a life of ridicule and rejection to becoming one of the world’s top motivational speakers is a surreal one.

But surely there are no adequate adjectives to describe how this Mancunian turned his life around and, today, numbers such brands as American Express, Mercedes-Benz, McDonalds and Sony among his clients, having overcome 25-years of severe stammering.

“I am still the same Charlie Marcus and I haven’t forgotten where I have come from,” said the 66-year-old, who has lived in Canada since 1990.

“People who have known me all my life would tell me, had I changed. I am very proud of my Manchester Jewish roots.”

Charles’ story began in the north Manchester suburb of Whitefield.

The only child of Myra and Labe Marcus, a kosher butcher, he believes the catalyst for his stammering was an incident in the late 1950s.

Charles was with his parents at Alton Towers, Staffordshire, in the days before it was a world-famous theme park.

Aged just four, he was lost for several hours in the surrounding forest.

And, just a few months later, he developed a stammer which plagued him for a quarter-of-a-century.

A pupil at Whitefield’s Higher Lane Primary School, he endured several years of bullying as a result.

“Kids can be very cruel,” said Charles, whose voice carries a mid-Atlantic lilt, having lived in North America for nearly 30 years.

“I don’t remember a lot about that period to be honest. I think I have blocked it out because it really wasn’t a good time.

“In those days, there wasn’t the hope that stammerers have now and there was no counselling available at school, as there is today.

“My parents did their best, but I don’t think they knew how to handle it.”

He went on to Manchester’s King David High School, where he wasn’t bullied, but found life becoming more difficult, as hard as it is anyway during a person’s formative years.

“People didn’t understand the inner turmoil and stress I went through. I couldn’t ask a question or answer a question in class or speak up for myself,” Charles said. “I couldn’t function like a person was supposed to.”

At 15, while in his fourth year in secondary school, his parents split up and he moved with his mother to Ottawa, Canada’s capital, as she had close family living there.

Despite anxiety over his stammering, Charles had an active social life, hanging out with his contemporaries, such as Howard Yaffe, Stephen Blackston, Barry Lee, Howard Wayne, Maurice and Iain Backman, Harry Gordon and Ricky Kintish.

“The Jewish Telegraph’s Mancunian readers who were around in that era will remember those names,” Charles continued.

“The 1960s were a really exciting time to grow up in Manchester and I went from that to moving to Ottawa in mid-February, where the temperature was minus 30.

“It wasn’t a sophisticated city then, either, and we lived in the middle of nowhere.

“I was badly bullied at school because of my stammer and my English accent, and because I am Jewish — it was just a complete nightmare.”

It became so bad that he returned to Manchester, where he decided to take up hairdressing, training at an academy in the city centre.

But he was soon on the move again, spending 15 months in Israel, where he lived on various kibbutzim and doing ulpan, before travelling through southern Europe with friends.

Instead of returning to Manchester, Charles headed back to Canada, settling in Toronto and landing a job at a Vidal Sassoon salon in the city.

Itchy feet got the better of him again and he came back to Manchester, in 1976, and then returned to Israel.

“I wanted to recapture how it was in my youth,” Charles recalled.

“I went to a kibbutz on the Golan Heights, but it wasn’t the same.”

The lure of his native city proved too much and he opened a hair salon in the Prestwich area in 1978.

Life was still extremely difficult for Charles, however, due to his severe stammering.

Chatting with customers all day long is part and parcel of a hairdresser’s day. And it left Charles mentally worn out.

He explained: “I used a lot of avoidance words, but it was hard to do because life was hard enough as it was. It was like living in a dream world.

“I would go back to my flat exhausted after a day’s work, but also mentally exhausted, having tried to keep a semblance of fluency.

“I felt embarrassed, even though, of course, the stammering wasn’t my fault.

“I didn’t talk to my close friends about having a hard time as it just wasn’t spoken about.”

Charles found himself on a downward curve by the mid-1980s.

His friends had married and were having children, and his stammering was spiralling.

It meant Charles was spending most of his free time on his own in his flat, becoming “introverted”.

But it was one night home alone, in 1986, which changed his life.

Charles was watching the BBC documentary series QED, which featured a Scottish speech therapist called Andrew Bell.

He offered week-long courses in Kirkcaldy, near Edinburgh, for people with stammers.

Charles managed to get hold of Andrew on the phone but, because his stammering was so bad, his father had to speak for him.

It led to Charles attending the course in Scotland which, he recalled, was one of the most “emotionally and hardest weeks of my life”.

“I learned to speak slowly in an effort to control the stammering,” said Charles, a lifelong Manchester City supporter.

“His philosophy was that you have to look after yourself first and that you are the most important person in your life.

“I applied myself to all of his techniques and, within a year or two, I was able to find a level of speaking I was happy and comfortable with.”

However, not happy in Manchester, he sold his salon and returned to Toronto as the 1990s began.

He went into hairdressing product sales as a salon consultant and was so successful that he increased sales in one 18-month period in his territory by 346 per cent and opened 242 new accounts.

It led to him winning a number of international awards.

Charles began to share his story at various groups and clubs and he joined his local branch of Toastmasters International, where he honed his speaking skills.

He decided to quit his sales role to see if he could make it as a professional speaker.

And, nearly 20 years later, Charles is acknowledged as one of the top 60 motivational speakers in the world by Hunger2Succeed . . . and Canada’s finest.

He has also written a best-selling book called Success Is Not a Spectator Sport: How To Take Action and Achieve More.

Today, Charles travels around the world and has spoken to audiences in more than 30 countries — including Iran, India, Greece, Turkey, Mexico and Kuwait.

“When I sit back and think about it, I always felt ashamed and embarrassed,” Charles explained.

“Now I am sharing my life and I find it humbling when people can relate my story to their situation.

“My story really seems to resonate with audiences all over the world.”

Charles is married to organisational and business psychologist Mary and they have two teenage children, Rachel and Daniel.

The family, who are members of the local Reform synagogue, live in the town of Oakville, which is halfway between Toronto and the Niagara Region.

“Mary always jokes that she is educationally smart and I am street smart,” Charles laughed.

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