Leo (real name Howard Richards) was born into a normal, everyday family in 1991 and had a big sister Genitta and mother Patricia Richards.
Like many families, the parents split and from the age of 3, Leo was the only male in the house.
In the younger days, they had fun and Patricia did everything she could to make sure her children didn’t want for anything.
Leo and Genitta used to follow their Mother around and watch her as she performed. Patricia was a very successful Gospel singer and regularly travelled and performed around Europe. Not that she would tell you about it as she is very very humble about her achievements or experiences.
Everything was loving and close until one fateful day when Leo was 11 and he returned home after playing football with his friends.
He found his Mother lying motionless on the floor after suffering a stroke and epilepsy at the same time. Leo felt useless and did not know what to do so could only phone the emergency services for help and stay on the phone til they came.
From that day onwards, things changed dramatically.
Patricia had suffered a severe stroke and for months was paralysed, lost her speech and could hardly communicate so Leo and Genitta became their Mother’s carer and Leo was very much the ‘man’ of the house at the tender age of 11.
Patricia Richards had been the most inspirational person in Leo’s life so to be now caring for her, feeding her, dressing her, pushing her around in a wheelchair and much much more was very hard for such a young lad to comprehend.
But it became the normal way of life and so they simply got on with it.
With so much to contend with at home, Leo did not want to be at school. He wanted to be at his Mother’s side all of the time and began to rebel in lessons. His attention span disappeared as all he could think about was his Mother in hospital, or at home or wherever she was at the time.
It was only natural that Leo began to fall way behind with his education and by the age of 13/14, was finding it hard to read or write properly.
To make things even harder during this period of his life, Leo was bullied to such an extent that he even contemplated ending his life …. A feeling that nobody should have to experience, especially someone of such a young age.
The bullying carried on for around 2 years and the main reason was of Leo’s skin colour. The culture at his school was such that the ‘darker’ your skin, the ‘uglier’ you were and Leo was one of the darkest in the school.
It got that bad for Leo that he even tried to bleach his skin.
He never spoke to anyone about this either as it was a pride thing. He even began calling himself ‘Chalky’ to try to deflect the bullying which actually worked. If Leo was taking the ‘mick’ out of himself, well the others didn’t need to!!!!
Things were looking bleak for Leo until one person, a teacher, saw something in him and decided to make a difference …. Mrs Farrell.
A warm and caring teacher that brought Leo out of himself. She saw something in Leo that other teachers didn’t … she really cared.
Mrs Farrell took Leo out of ‘normal’ classes and made him attend her ‘special needs’ classes which on the face of it sounded embarrassing … it was actually the making of the Leo we see today.
She saw the creative side in Leo and although Leo was struggling to read and write, she said that Leo would end up writing poetry or music … a great insight from Mrs Farrell. You see Leo used to write ‘right to left’ instead of the normal ‘left to right’ … something of a genius I would like to believe.
They began to explore poetry, poetry became music, music became songs and this is where Leo began to put pen to paper about his experiences, his anger, his upset, his Mother, his emotions and kept writing and writing and writing.
Some of his most powerful songs were written throughout this period and when you listen to the lyrics, you can almost feel as you were right next to him when he was going through the experiences.
Being around Leo, I have had first hand knowledge of his ‘ups and downs’ that he still feels from time to time but I can see in his eyes that it has built up a resilience in him that is unbreakable.
It would be easy to just disappear into the background, run with the wrong gang, end up in jail or worse, but Leo has turned the worse times in his life into the making of him and has a drive in him to pass this message onto as many youngsters as possible.
Leo has such a genuine and hard working ethic that we have also embarked on a Stay Positive School Tour – bringing his message to life whilst performing some of his own material ….. follow this link to find out more about the School Tour.
Leo’s creative side was first recognised by a very special teacher – Mrs Farrel, who sadly has now passed away. But it was her who brought out the best in Leo and it is to her that we all owe a massive debt of gratitiude to her for unearthing a very rare and inspirational character …. Howard Richards.
Thank you Mrs Farrell xxxx
His first song – Break Free was based on the years of being a young carer from the age of 11
He has produced and released many songs until now – Stay Positive being one of the songs he is renowned for
Leo left school with no qualifications at all but still didn’t break or give in, although he came very close to it a few times.
He returned to college after an interview with the Recruiting Personel who again, saw something in Leo. He didn’t really have anything to offer other than his passion. But I guess they saw it in his eyes and agreed .
He wanted to do something to give back and it stemmed from finding his Mother on the floor. He decided that he wanted to be a Paramedic so the college took a chance after hearing his reasons and offered him a place with a probation period of 6 months.
Leo worked harder than ever before and still struggled with taking it all in. Thinking that others were better than he was, the bullying still echoing in his mind. He nearly walked off the course twice.
The teachers encouraged him yet again and he continued, with their support to finish the course. He gained his qualification in Maths, English and other studies but the most surprising one to everyone was …. Paramedic Science. I wonder why? Patricia Richards, his Mother.
Thankfully nowadays, Patricia Richards is well and is back to being their burning light who inspires them to do well. Although Patricia is still on lots of daily medication, she counts herself very lucky … never once complaining of anything.
Patricia is old school. A truly stand up citizen. She simply gets on with the hand she is dealt and continues to bring her children up the best way possible with love, respect and utmost care.
The whole family are a credit and a joy to know and be around xx
Leo has a long term career in front of him and we would like to take this chance to thank all of his followers on twitter @ukleonardouk, and facebook – Leonardo Music for the natural support and words of kindness throughout. It is you that inspire him to carry on.
Leo, you are one of the most genuine, caring and honest people I have had the pleasure of meeting so to be your Manager / Mentor throughout your career is the best honour I could have bestowed on me.
‘Manager’ is a title … I am merely ‘guiding a friend’ and enjoying the journey with you so much.
When you say that I am like a Father figure to you …. I am humbled. I will never let you down Leo, will never steer you in the wrong direction and will be open and honest with you and your family always xxx
Written by Mark Tolliss … Manager / Mentor but above all … loyal friend xx