This Life: A passion for compassion

John Hamilton might be head of health and safety (and wellbeing) at Leeds Metropolitan University but in his spare time he likes racing fast cars up hills. The 39-year-old father-of-two is also in charge of ensuring all Leeds Met's 3,000 staff and 30,000 students have a happy 2011. Neil Hudson spoke to him.

We are starting a beat the blues campaign for January, which is aimed at staff and students of the university, but the idea has really taken off, so much so that we have now sold our 'wellbeing' website idea to several other organisation, including some other universities and local authorities, among them Leeds Council. The idea is we have a really simple, friendly website – – which people can click on to get advice and help for all kinds of things, from financial advice to help in keeping your new year resolutions. It's about building healthy relationships and sign-posting where people can get help. In the first three months of the website, we had 6,000 hits.

One of my first jobs was working at the Alhambra theatre, Bradford, showing people to their seats. I was a student and I needed the money but I also liked the atmosphere in there, plus I effectively got paid to see shows.

I am most proud of my kids, who are nine and 12, because they are getting to the age now where they are expressing their own opinions and I'm amazed at just how sophisticated they are.

To relax I go watch Bradford City every other week, if you can call that relaxing.

Something that might surprise people is I like racing cars, which might seem odd for a health and safety officer but it's something I've been into since university. I race my own car, a Fiat 500, which I built, in the Harewood Hill Climb every year. It's a twisting uphill course based on the fastest time. The Fiat was the cheapest car I've ever bought – 250 from ebay and it's a replica of one that raced in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1997.

I'm from Watford originally, so I only came up here when I went to Bradford University and now I work for Leeds University. I think Leeds has all the best bits of London without actually being London. Now I am up here, I'm not going back. A couple of months ago I had a 'Yorkshireman party' to celebrate the fact I have lived up north longer than I lived down south.

My philosophy on life is you should choose to do something for which you have a passion, you are good at and will make you money. Also, it's about being compassionate, which is part of my job. I always try to tell managers that if someone is upset by something, it doesn't matter if it's in their professional or personal life, it still has an impact on them and it's in our best interests to help them sort it out.

The best piece of advice I can give you is to write stuff down, rather than carry it around in your head and try to follow that. It's not life-changing but it will help you become more organised. I also think we should try to live in the present – it's the only thing we have, because the past has gone and you can't change that and the future hasn't happened yet.

If I could meet anyone it would be Sir Ernest Shackleton, because of his leadership skills and the sacrifices he made during his polar expeditions. He never lost a man and the way they survived was amazing. I became interested in him after I saw a programme on television and it was so amazing I thought it was a drama, when I realised it was real, I was astounded. One of the things Shackleton used to do when interviewing people who would go with him is, in the middle of his questions, he would ask them if they could dance or sing. He did this partly to see how they would react to being thrown.

One thing that made me cry was when Derek Redmond was running in the Barcelona Olympics when his hamstring went and he just got up and limped to the end, helped by his dad. He waved officials away just so he could cross the finish line – it summed up the Olympic spirit.

I'm really influenced by the humour of my children at the moment. My youngest daughter came up to me the other day and said: 'Knock, knock, who's there? Atch' I said 'Atch who?' And then she said: 'Bless you'.


Food: Tikka masala

TV Programme: The Apprentice

Book: I'm reading Are You Dave Gorman? Other than that any Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child.

Actor: David Hyde Pierce, who plays Niles Crane in Frazier.

Star Sign: Scorpio.