The QT

Friday 19 July 2024

Friends united in finding answers for you

Two brothers with ties to Newcastle United have joined forces with one of their closest friends to front a new organisation focused on supporting your growth and unlocking your potential. Is This You? Simon Rushworth thinks it could be
  • Raft of resources — including free books — bolster online and offline support
  • Ex-Newcastle United star says it’s good to talk
  • Coaching can ‘fuel ambition and encourage professional and personal growth’
Is This You? combine online learning with face-to-face coaching

High achiever, crippled by ‘success anxiety’? Rising star looking for a guiding light? Business leader losing out on precious family time? Life and soul of the party but somehow struggling professionally? Is this you?

It’s the question friends and colleagues Phil Gray, David Beharall and Steve Beharall are determined to answer and it’s a question that sits at the heart of an ambitious new venture aimed at building confidence and creating opportunities.

“We want to find out who you are right now and who you aspire to be in the future,” explains David Beharall, who lived his boyhood dream as a professional footballer with hometown club Newcastle United before a career-ending injury inspired a life-changing leap into the world of websites and digital marketing.

“We’ll train you and work on a few things that we think will get you to where you want to be. Then we’ll ask the same question again: is this you and is this who you want to be? Ok, what can we do now to get you to the next level?”

Is This You? is a question, a call to arms, a brand and, its founders hope, a beacon of hope for those facing a career crossroads, personal challenges or a combination of both.

A partnership built on an unbreakable family bond and an enduring friendship puts trust at the heart of its intriguing offer. As such, there’s a refreshing authenticity underpinning Is This You?.

Is This You? founder and director David Beharall in his Newcastle United days. Credit: David Beharall/LinkedIn

“Everybody needs to pay the bills and keep the lights on and this is a business,” adds Phil, a former international triathlete and ironman. “But if someone needs our help then we’ll help them. That’s how Is This You? operates. It’s an ethos founded on our own experiences — both professionally and personally — and a recognition of the challenges that everyone faces.”

Is This You? might appear to be a natural fit for those seeking to strike the perfect work-life balance, aspiring to climb the career ladder, looking to put friends and family first or, from an organisational perspective, striving to improve the culture or environment in the workplace. And it is.

However, David’s keen to point out that it’s much more than that. It’s also a home for those riding a wave of success and hitting their targets with ease. “I see a group of people who we speak to regularly who are doing really well,” he adds. “The perception is there’s no problem. Nothing to see here.

“But these people are not talked about enough. They often suffer from heightened anxiety because they’re just waiting for everything to fall down around them. Given their outward success, that’s often difficult for friends, family or colleagues to comprehend and difficult for them to communicate.

“I remember being named in Newcastle United’s FA Cup final squad, meeting the Queen and coming home to a beautiful flat in the Wills Building in Newcastle. I had a professional contract, the support of good friends and family and yet there was an underlying sense of anxiety. It felt weird.”

Is This You? founder and director Phil Gray (left) with Hugo Viana (centre) and Robbie Elliott in Porto during 2012’s Bike For Bobby fundraiser

Phil recognises some familiar emotions in his friend’s honest appraisal. “In 2012 I took part in a fundraiser called Bike For Bobby and I spent four weeks cycling across Europe alongside the ex-Newcastle United defender Robbie Elliott,” he adds. 

“I had a lot of time to reflect on how things were back home. I realised that I was miserable, busy all of the time and never in a position to spend time with my young family. Looking back, I realise that I was depressed.

“Bike For Bobby opened my eyes to what life was all about. Now I want to help other people to see what’s possible.”

Phil and David base Is This You? and its core values on their own, unique support network. “Over the years David has often called me for a five-minute chat that’s turned into a two-hour pep talk,” smiles Phil. “I’m always here for Phil,” responds David.

The two best friends started out as neighbours. Once David signed his first professional contract at St James’s Park, his sister suggested it was time he flew the family nest and bought his own flat. Little did she know that finding her brother a trendy apartment in the former Wills factory, off Tyneside’s Coast Road, would herald the start of a beautiful relationship.

“I’d only just moved in when Phil popped up and introduced himself,” recalls David. “Over the course of a few years we became good mates. I’d nick his doormat and he’d nick my doormat and, after a while, we started to connect on business stuff.”

David (left) and former Newcastle United team-mate Aaron Hughes meeting the Queen. Credit: David Beharall/LinkedIn

Phil is keen to roll the story back. “I didn’t mind losing my doormat,” he adds. “It was hearing my doorbell ring at 3am and finding a load of Newcastle United first teamers asking where the party was — that’s how I remember things in the early days! After a while it was just like an open house in both flats. David and I just hit it off.”

And they did connect over business. 

“I was speaking to [former Newcastle United defender] Nikos Dabizas about this the other day,” says David. “He remembered me sitting in the dressing room at St James’s Park reading the Chronicle’s business section while the other lads were reading Loaded or playing cards.

“I remember Alan Shearer asking me what on earth I was doing. I didn’t think anything of it. It seemed normal to me and I’d go back home and be fascinated by what Phil was doing in terms of growing the family business.

“At one point I even went to a presentation about a pyramid scheme. I was on good money at the football club and it wasn’t really about the money. I just wanted to learn more about business and I discovered that Phil could fill in the blanks.”

Steve Beharall (far left) celebrating Newcastle United Foundation’s partnership with Newcastle Building Society. Credit: Newcastle Building Society

As David was rubbing shoulders with Newcastle United’s entertainers, his brother Steve was working under Alan Irvine as a coach at the club’s Academy. Fast forward 25 years and Steve combines his role as founder and director of Is This You? with a full-on, full-time position as chief executive officer at Newcastle United Foundation.

“There’s always been that synergy between the three of us with the football club at the heart of that,” muses Steve, who has led the foundation through a transformative period, including overseeing its move to the state-of-the-art NUCASTLE, just a stone’s throw from St James’s Park.

“Phil has always been very entrepreneurial in his approach and our Dave’s background — after he retired from football — is in agencies. Both of them have experienced the pitfalls and challenges facing start-ups and they’re bringing a wealth of experience to Is This You?

“What do I bring to the table? I’ve spent the last 25 years trying to help children, young people and adults realise their potential and I see Is This You? as a natural extension of that. Between the three of us there’s a real balance there.

“When you really know the people that you work with you can cut through some of the tougher challenges quicker and get to the point faster. 

Steve Beharall, CEO of Newcastle United Foundation, is excited to be working with his brother David

“Coaching has always played a big part in my life and I’ve needed ongoing support and advice in order to become CEO of a foundation. I can see Is This You? delivering the same kind of support and know-how and I’d like to focus on talented and motivated 18-25-year-olds. There’s a real gap in the market in terms of giving that age group the confidence and the tools they need to grow professionally and personally.

“Me, Dave and Phil are just three Geordie lads who want to use our collective experience positively. It’s about trying to get people to think about challenges in a different way — not as obstacles to growth but as opportunities for growth.”

It’s clear that Is This You? will benefit from the mutual admiration and respect that underpins the Beharall brothers’ special relationship. “All three of us have experienced the ups and downs of life together,” adds David, whose heartwarming post about his daughter’s cancer diagnosis in 2021 has been viewed more than 630,000 times on LinkedIn with 37,805 of the social media platform’s users adding a comment. “Phil, Steve and I will always pick each other up and support each other.

“What Steve’s doing at the Foundation is phenomenal. It’s inspiring to so many people.

“I know he’s my brother but I have a lot of admiration for him and what he’s achieved with the Foundation. There’s so much positive energy around that place and I want to harness that within Is This You?”

Phil Gray (right) with Robbie Elliott following the conclusion of 2012’s Bike For Bobby. Credit: Phil Gray collection

Perhaps it’s because all three of Is This You?’s founders share a common passion for football but David feels it takes 90 minutes for the organisation’s coaches to get a true feel for the people and the management teams they set out to empower.

“It’s the perfect amount of time,” he insists. “It doesn’t take 10 months to unlock someone’s true potential but it does take some time. I just need an opportunity — just a little bit of light. Typically, 90 minutes with any human, in any context, is time well spent.

“One of the best answers I get to the question ‘Is This You?’ is ‘I don’t know’. That’s great. I can accept that. And if the person on the opposite side of the table feels accepted then we’re already making progress.

“A huge form of acceptance for me is just a little bit of silence — just listening and acknowledging that life is challenging.”

Is This You? launches the first in a series of books later this month covering topics ranging from self-awareness to developing action plans. Linked to the organisation’s suite of online materials, the freely available books will complement the in-person and virtual support provided by David, Steve, Phil and their team of trusted coaches.

Phil has the final word. “This is somewhere that — when I look at who I am and what I what I’m about — I need to be,” he adds. “There’s an opportunity to achieve something positive with people who I completely trust and who are my friends. They’re my tribe. I’m going to get energy from that situation. This is where my passion lies. This is what I want to be doing.”

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