LoveEast chats with maths maestro Bobby Seagull

Author of three books, co-star of a recent television series, PhD student and part time teacher at Little Ilford school in Newham, Bobby tells us about maths, West Ham United and the value of community.

You became famous due to your appearance on University Challenge a couple of years ago, which catapulted you into all kinds of opportunities; what was the most nerve-racking part of that experience?

University Challenge photo with Jeremy Paxman Monday (Photo credit BBC 2)

To be honest, I was more excited than nervous about the whole experience. I just loved being on the studio floor – the bright lights, camera and formidable quiz master Jeremy Paxman just a few feet away. With its audience of 2-3m, University Challenge is a national joint viewing experience. So I was conscious that mistakes would be picked up by social media such as Twitter!

And what was the most rewarding?
Friends know that I am passionate about encouraging people into education, and in particular maths. Without meaning to, University Challenge showed millions of households that I was a captain that encouraged my team-mates to achieve their potential in a positive manner. This sort of sums up my ethos towards teaching and many people had the chance to see this on TV.

You are also known for your passion for maths. What got you interested in maths originally?
As a child, it was my outside school interest in collecting football stickers that ignited my passion for numbers. Aged 9, friends used to always assert whether one footballer was better than another, usually just on anecdote. I used all the data from the sticker book (details about players such as games played, goals scored, penalties, etc.) and used a spreadsheet to analyse them. And then I found that I was able to interrogate the spreadsheet to help inform my opinions with a statistical basis. Some of my friends found this more convincing than pure speculation about players!

Do you think of everything in your life in terms of mathematical formulas? I ask because of your comments regarding the mathematical likelihood of your meeting ‘the one’ when you spoke at the Wanstead Tap recently – which was actually very funny!
In the 1999 science-fiction film hit, The Matrix, the world opens up to the lead protagonist Neo as numbers and he can see his surroundings literally as a series of 0s and 1s. I can definitely confirm that I do not see the world in numbers! But I do notice numbers and try to spot patterns in them – whether the bus number I have to take or even the cost of my shopping. And sometimes, mathematical formulas can help to make sense of a complicated environment by making me think about what the key things are.

The Life-Changing Magic of Numbers book cover

You’ve recently published The Life-Changing Magic of Numbers – tell us a bit about the book.
The book is partly autobiography, partly ode to numbers and a soft manifesto showing why numbers are everywhere – whether in the gym, the kitchen or even my search for love! Every chapter opens with an anecdote from my life, and then I try to show how maths and numbers help to understand that situation. As I love writing puzzles, every chapter closes with a puzzle.

You’ve also recently finished the four-part series, Monkman and Seagull’s Genius Guide to Britain. Will there be another series?
It was a joy to see the public outpouring of support for our quirky TV show. We wanted to showcase the scientific and technological wonders of the UK but in a light-hearted and fun manner. We were so grateful to have had between 1.6 – 1.8 million watch each episode and even trended number 1 on UK twitter with #MonkmanAndSeagull! As for a future series, these things always remain confidential till it definitely happens, but we’re quietly confident!

In addition to all of this, you also teach locally – what year and what’s the best bit?
I teach part time at Little Ilford School in Newham and work across the full range of year groups, from year 7 to 11. The best part is when to you help a child understand a concept that they thought they couldn’t master – you can almost see the light bulb switch on above them!

Bobby takes a look around London Stadium

You played a part in the recent ‘Keep Bobby in Boleyn’ campaign (a community initiative to keep the Bobby Moore statue in Upton Park). Tell us a bit about what ‘community’ means to you.

When I was on the BBC quiz show University Challenge, I introduced myself as being from “East Ham in the London Borough of Newham”. Most people often just leave it as saying they’re from London. However, I’m very proud of my roots and East London forms a strong part of my identity. Being part of community is about celebrating the success of people around you, and doing whatever you can to support others around you so that you can improve everyone’s lives.

Bobby Seagull in West Ham dressing room (photo credit to West Ham United)

Holding Seagull shirt in changing room (Photo credit to West Ham United)

You are a die-hard West Ham fan so I have to ask – from a purely mathematical standpoint, where do you think they will finish this season?
So, removing any emotion, top 6 is practically impossible due to the sheer quality of those sides. I am 95% confident that the club will finish between 7 to 13. Within that, purely on us performing in the middle of that pack, I will say 10th. But of course, 7th is the top end of that dream season!Lastly, what advice would you give to someone who suffers maths phobia? (asking for a friend).
I would say that admitting that you have difficulty is a good first step. The next is to try and do something about it. I’m an ambassador for a charity called National Numeracy. They try to help improve adult numeracy in the country in particular. National Numeracy have an “Essentials of Numeracy” test on their website that allows you work out your current level. It then gives suggestions on how to improve. Try it!

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You can also listen to the podcast, Maths Appeal – find out how on twitter:
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