McNab, whose latest thriller, Down to the Wire, was published earlier this month, continues: “I’m throwing my support behind the Daily Express Books Change Lives campaign because putting books in the hands of the people that need them the most is the difference between being the kid who keeps themselves at the back of the class, because they’re embarrassed they can’t learn, or getting the job that pays more because they can fill in their job application.
“But reading gives you much more than just knowledge and power. It provides empathy and imagination. Being able to travel anywhere in the universe and at any time in history to learn about other people and their situations helps you understand what’s beyond your own world.
“It helps you realise that we are all much the same. It’s the difference between being able to read a bedtime story to your kids, or not.”
Yesterday the acclaimed historian and novelist Dame Antonia Fraser launched our campaign to help promote the power of reading in the hardest-to-reach places.
Express Editor-in-Chief Gary Jones said: “Books and reading are crucial in so many ways so I’m delighted the Express has been able to throw its weight behind Give A Book for our 2022 Christmas charity appeal. It’s a remarkable, inspiring organisation that works minor miracles and I’m confident our generous readers will show their support.”
Your support means the charity will be able to distribute even more books in schools, prisons, mother and baby units and among disadvantaged children.
McNab can relate directly to the impact that books can have on marginalised people. When he joined the Army in 1972 at the age of 16, he was found to be “functionally illiterate” with a reading age of 11.
Having been abandoned as a baby in a Harrods shopping bag and arrested for a string of burglaries while growing up with foster parents, he read his first book during basic training.
“I was in a classroom, alongside about 20 other boy soldiers, with an old sweat of a captain standing up front,” he recalls today. “He said, ‘You’re not thick, you’re just not educated. But, from today, all that changes’.”
McNab, who would go on to become the British Army’s most highly decorated serving soldier by the time he left the SAS in 1993.
The first book he read was a Janet and John tale aimed at primary school children. Twenty years later he wrote the greatest-selling war story of all time, with more than 10 million copies of Bravo Two Zero sold to date in the UK alone.
For the past 20 years, the SAS hero has been opening the horizons of non-readers.
“Reading gives you knowledge, and knowledge gives you power,” says McNab, a tireless campaigner for literacy who was awarded the CBE for his services to literacy and charity in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2017.
“I visit prisons, schools and workplaces, and see the difference reading has made.
“Recently, I met a bus driver who could not read, even road signs. He would drive by memory alone, which caused problems when there were roadworks.
“But learning to read didn’t just help him in his work. He can now read to his grandchildren because he started reading by sharing the same bedtime storybooks.
“Some of the prisoners I’ve met couldn’t even read a newspaper and after starting to read have become evangelical.
“It isn’t just because they knew that once released from prison they had to compete for jobs, but they realised there was nothing wrong with them and that they weren’t stupid, as they’d been told.”
In Leicester, he met a council worker who could not apply for promotion because he couldn’t read and was unable to fill in the application form. He put his arm in a sling and went along to answer the questions verbally; that old trick.
“But the council realised and have now taught him to read. It’s been life-changing for him. It doesn’t matter what you read; whether it’s a book, a billboard or a magazine.
“Learning to read gets things done, and reading means you get to do more of the things you want to do, rather than being told what to do by people with more power than you.
“Books are an agent of change in so many ways.”