The machine that is Doctor Ben Carson steamed into town this week and wowed everyone.

Ben Carson is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. Everyone seems to have heard of him. I had not, until recently. Truly, I must have been living under a rock.

But I was asked to do an interview with him on stage at a Starship fundraising do for an upgrade of their neurosurgery unit, which has suffered over the years from the wear and tear of the demands placed on it for the wonderful work the team does there.

In case you don't know, Ben Carson grew up with his brother Curtis dirt poor in the ghetto of a big industrial American city. His mother was one of a family of 24 children in the backblocks of Tennessee and at the age of 13, she ran off with a preacher, married him, and they moved to Detroit, where he found work in one of the big factories there. Their two children, Ben and Curtis, adored their father. He used to take them to visit some other children he knew. Then it turned out that Dad was a bigamist and those children were his other family. Ben's mother turfed his father out.


The children were broken-hearted. Mother, therefore, had a hard row to hoe with these boys in their early teens. She may have been illiterate but she was very wise. Mother decided not to go on welfare because, as Ben says, she had observed that people who went on welfare invariably failed to get off it.

Ben started acting up at school. He had a very bad temper. He could erupt. Mother was ambitious for her boys, however, and she rationed them to two television programmes a week and made them visit the public library, where they had to borrow two books a week each, read them and write her a report on them. She was stern about this. There was no shirking it. The boys would write their book reports for her and their mum would pretend to read them, although she could not, of course, but she pretended to. These boys were going to get an education. This was the mid-60s.

Ben found, through the reading, which is why he travels the world promoting reading, that he started to get really interested in stuff. Before his mum's library regime Ben was always bottom of his class. His classmates called him Dummy. With the reading, his grades started improving and within 18 months he was top of his class.

Somewhere around this time he discovered God in his life, a faith he retains to this day and shares with his wife, Candy.

Next thing he wins a scholarship to Yale and he's doing a degree in psychology, after which he realises that he's always wanted to be a doctor so off he goes to medical school, after which he heads into neurosurgery and discovers his life's passion.

What's more, he finds that he is very talented in the operating theatre. He would take the most impossible, doomed patients, try to work out what might help or save them, cut their heads open and put his gifted hands and eyes to work.

And before long, he is seen not only as a master craftsman but a thinker and a pioneer as well. Ben Carson is a holder of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

At the age of 33, this young man from Detroit is appointed the head of paediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland, the finest, most brilliant hospital in the United States. One of his earliest and greatest accomplishments was to lead a team of more than 70 in a 22- hour operation to separate 7-month-old German twins conjoined at the back of their heads. It was an operation of exhausting precariousness never done before.


Also, in those days, when you separated conjoined twins, the doctor had generally to decide which one you were going to let die. God Almighty! In this case, both twins survived. When they went back to Germany, their dad couldn't cope, he ran off, mother didn't cope and they became wards of the state. When that operation was finished, after the 22 desperate hours, Carson and his major colleague - they had each worked on one of the twins after separation - went back to Ben's office and before they each finished a sentence they'd both fallen sleep, not to wake up for some three hours.

But it's Ben Carson's messages that are the most inspiring. Carson says the more we know about the incredible human brain, the less we know. He says the most normal, ordinary brain can achieve the most remarkable things. This is why we have to invest in our children. Turn off the television and get them reading. He says a person who is a dedicated reader is a person who will achieve in life. Reading fills the brain.

But he's got another message he received from his wonderful mother. The person who will have the most important effect and influence on our lives is ourselves. No one else. If we want to do well and have successful, rewarding and productive lives, we must do it ourselves, take charge of ourselves.We cannot blame others.

And ain't that the truth?