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Instant Success

Maggio 2011
Dalle prime apparizioni a Zelig agli onori di Rai3, la parabola ascendente John P. Sloan è una vera success story. Tutto ebbe inizio (e continuerà) su queste pagine!

di Mark Worden

File audio:

John Peter Sloan
John Peter Sloan

Speaker: Mark Worden (Standard British accent)

Last year John Peter Sloan became a media star in Italy. Until then he combined his work as an English teacher with appearances as a comedian on the Zelig TV show.
Things changed, however, when his book, Instant English, entered the best-seller lists. Since then another course, Speak Now, has also been a massive seller. And yet, as Speak Up readers know, he is also a frequent contributor to this publication. For two years he wrote a humorous monthly column about his Italian adventures and his difficult girlfriend, Conci. The series drew to an end last month, although John says it may return in the future. In the meantime he will be writing a blog for the Speak Up website. In this interview John Peter Sloan talks about his career and about Conci. As he explains, his relationship with Speak Up began in March 2007, when he was promoting his Culture Shock theatre show for Zelig in English:


John Peter Sloan (Standard British accent)

It started with Zelig in English because I was really fortunate to have my show, that was basically written in the classroom, accepted by Zelig, but I... we didn’t have any money, we had no budget. I felt it was something important; the show, simple English,  funny, make it funny. And I thought it was really important, but we couldn’t advertise because we had no budget. And so Speak Up was the lifesaver, really. Grant Benson, the D.J. in RTL, who’s my friend, and also yours, Mark, told me about you, Mark Worden. He said that “I know Mark Worden, he’s in Speak Up and maybe he’ll help you out.” And so you came to interview me! My first ever interview, about the show, and you gave us two pages dedicated to it, and I’m really grateful for that, and we got some people in. And that’s how it started and, after that, I started my collaboration with Speak Up, which is very, very important to me because it was the first, I mean, you guys were the first that really believed in it. I mean, this is not now just to promote Speak Up! But it’s really true, I’m just answering your question, right?  And, after that, we explored ways of even doing more together, you know. I mean, me being English, and being in Italy, and doing something new was perfect, I think, for Speak Up and Speak Up was perfect for me because the readers of Speak Up are the kind of people I want at the shows, I mean, they’re the people that I target, and so the idea, really, because the live show was based on Culture Shock, it seemed natural to write about that, like the diaries of an Englishman, which is very similar to the show.


I guess the biggest character in the whole story was Conci, and she seems to have a cult following almost as big as... as yours. The big question is this: Who is she? Does she actually exist?

John Peter Sloan

Conci: does she exist? It’s an interesting question because she does and she doesn’t, in that she’s actually like a... a Frankenstein of parts of – or experiences with – ex-girlfriends. I’m a fan of the women from the South. I love women from the South of Italy because they’re just so unbelievably sensual and passionate. I just love the way they are. They’re very maternal and I think that, you know, being English and not... and my mother was English, so she wasn’t maternal at all!
The most surprising thing about the whole Conci thing is that she has fan clubs, she has a fan club in Vigevano, there’s another fan club in Napoli, and I don’t understand that because I intended Conci to be terrible. I think she’s awful! She’s a terrible woman, I think, but they love her! What does that say about Italian women, when they love someone like Conci? What does that say about them? In a way it’s kind of a confirmation of what she represents, I think.


Regarding your career, before you got into the whole English language business, you were in fact a musician, is that right?

John Peter Sloan

Yeah, I was a singer for 17 years, it was my job for 17 years. I left England really early, when I was about 16, and I travelled and I sang for a living.
I was lucky, because, being English, you know, I didn’t really need to know the languages because, at the time, I was singing like covers of like U2 and Simple Minds. At the time they were quite new! And now it’s like revival! But music, a little bit like English, is like a passport to the world, you know, you can go anywhere with it. And I did that for a long time and then I had a difficult period because, when you’re in that kind of business, it’s difficult to keep your sanity, I think. You kind of let yourself go and you get a little bit self-destructive, as well, with alcohol and various other other things.
So, at a certain point, I decided to stop and, you know, I fell in love with Italy and I wanted to do something normal. What I did was what every English person does. You know, what’s a decent paid job in Italy?  So I started to teach, but I took my stage experience and my instincts as well, of communicating with people because, when you sing live every night, you communicate a lot with people in front of you, in an entertaining way. And so I took that into the classroom. I’m really anti-boredom: if I find something boring, then I don’t want to do it.
And so I tried to make it interesting  and had a laugh with them: instead of standing in front of the blackboard and writing things, I would sit with them and it would be like friends in a bar kind of atmosphere, but it really worked13, by accident.
You know, a lot of people think that this method of Instant English, they call it “revolutionary” and “genius” and, to be honest...  I didn’t sit there and think, “How can I really make an impact in Italy? Oh yeah, I can come up with a totally new way of teaching English!” that... it wasn’t like that at all. It happened because I was just myself. And then everything snowballed from there, but I’m still really surprised because, for 17 years, I sang and we were very popular. I never, never had any period of that 17 years without work. I was always working and, even in Italy, I was here with a rock band called The Max and we were very popular, but I never had the success like now, and when I really tried to be successful, and tried to get to a certain level, it was hard and I didn’t get there. And then, with teaching, which was supposed to just have been to pay the rent, I end up on TV! I mean, it’s crazy. I... I think it’s mad, really, I do. I mean that, I do. I’m still kind of surprised.

If you want to see a video of our interview with John P. Sloan, click here


Many newspapers have a column where readers talk about their personal problems. An “expert” then answers with advice. Usually this expert is female and so she is known as an “Agony Aunt.” Well, John Peter Sloan is going to be an “Agony Uncle” for Speak Up! Yes, you can write to him about your problems in love, life, everything. Write to him (in English, please! and put “Dear John” as the subject) at: webmaster@speakupmagazine.it The most interesting questions and answers will be published in Speak Up!


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