The unsung heroes of 2016

2016 wasn't all doom and gloom. Here at Reader's Digest Towers we like to look on the bright side, so the editorial team have each selected their favourite unsung hero of the past 12 months. 

Leonardo DiCaprio

Fiona Hicks, editor

Leonardo dicaprio
Image via Huffington Post

My unsung hero of 2016 is Leonardo DiCaprio. Now, before you think his recent Academy Award-win makes him rather 'sung', hear me out. After missing out on winning an Oscar six times—and waiting a staggering 22 years—he used his triumph in February 2016 not to spew luvvy gratefulness, but to shine a light on our misguided societal values. 

In the middle of the glittering, opulent ceremony, he made a flawless segue in his speech. "Making The Revenant was about man's relationship to the natural world," he said. "A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history…Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating."

The undertone to his comments was remarkable. In the face of the multimillion-pound film productions, actors' egos and couture dresses, he was effectively saying, "This is all very nice and everything, but let's talk about something the really matters." Far from giving the impression that he'd been waiting to grasp that statuette, he made it all seem a bit of a joke. What a star.

 

Yusra Mardini

Anna Walker, associate editor

Yusra Mardini hero
Image via Wiki

Yusra Mardini is only 18 but she has already triumphed over unbelievable odds. The Syrian refugee represented the Refugee Olympic Athletes team in the 2016 Rio Olympics swimming 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly. Although she didn't win a medal, her achievement outside of the Games is incredible—especially considering her age—and the stuff that true heroes are made of.

Before she left Syria, Mardini was already backed by her country's Olympic Committee, but her homeland was becoming more and more dangerous. She soon found herself training in pools with the roofs blown off by bombs. It wasn't safe to stay there anymore.

She fled her country for Greece, via Turkey. 20 people left in a boat designed for just six and it wasn't long before their engine failed. Yusra saw no option but to swim the boat to safety, in order to stop it from capsizing. Along with three other refugees, she swam for three hours straight.

“We were the only four who knew how to swim,” she said of the experience. “I had one hand with the rope attached to the boat as I moved my two legs and one arm. It was three and half hours in cold water. Your body is almost like… done. I don’t know if I can describe that.”

After settling in Berlin, a coach named Sven Spannekrebs quickly recognised her potential and began training her with the 2020 Olympics in mind. Thanks to the inclusion of the Refugee Olympic Athletes team, however, her route to the games was much quicker.

Read more about inspiring Olympians who beat the odds

 

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Farhana Gani, culture editor

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a passionate man, and thankfully for the planet his passions extend beyond the kitchen. As a food activist he has launched a war on waste, opened our eyes to the realities of battery farms, shown us that ‘wonky’ vegetables are just as good as perfectly formed specimens and shocked us with footage of how empty our seas are becoming through overfishing.

In 2016, his campaigning took a new turn, beyond farming and eating. His BBC One series Saving Africa’s Elephants showed how the wild elephant population is being decimated by the ivory trade, highlighting the fact that Britain, unlike France, has not banned the sale of ivory within our borders.

In colonial times, we killed a million elephants in Africa, and a huge trade in Victorian-era antiques escapes the government’s recent initiative to ban ‘modern-day’ ivory trading, feeding the demand for elephant tusks and rhino horns in China and Thailand. Hugh’s show prompted prominent MPs and conservationists to petition the government to impose a total ban, via an open letter published inThe Telegraph

Thanks to campaigners like Hugh, our wildlife may be allowed to live with us on our planet a little longer…

Read more: Elephants, big animals with even bigger emotions

 

Jherek Bischoff

Eva Mackevic, assistant culture editor

Jherek Bischoff

Even though 2016 was a year abundant in brilliant albums from music giants such as David Bowie or Leonard Cohen, it was a quiet masterpiece from little-known artist Jherek Bischoff that moved me to the very core.

A man of many talents, Bischoff has been a musician, songwriter, producer, arranger and a member of numerous bands since 2000. Sixteen years on, he released his latest album, Cistern—and it is a sonic experience like no other.

Recorded with a chamber ensemble and inspired by his time improvising in a two-million-gallon cistern underwater, it is an awe-inspiring, studiously arranged collage of longing guitar passages, meticulous string arrangements and dramatic, piano-driven climaxes. It is a journey deep into self-examination, contemplation of space and time; a tale of crisis, suffering and salvation, showcasing Bischoff’s remarkable sensibility and a masterful ear for composition.

In a world where cathartic, therapeutic music such as this is so essential to keep us all sane, I breathe a deep sigh of relief each time I listen to Cistern—Jherek has got us covered.

 

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