“When most men have a midlife crisis they go for younger women and motorbikes, I went for a BSc with The Open University,” says comedian and OU student Joe Pasquale.
It was when he won I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, back in 2004, that Joe considered studying with the OU. “After doing I’m a Celeb I realised there was so much more for me to learn. I learned to fly, how to box, ran a marathon and had always been thinking about doing a degree with the OU.
Comedian and OU student Joe Pasquale
Why the OU? “Well, it’s the only choice for someone like me, there’s nothing else out there like it.”
Brian Blessed convinced me I wasn't too old for study
After thinking on it for years – worried he’d fail, was too old for study, he’d make a fool of himself etc – it was the actor Brian Blessed who told him to get his act together and register, he says.
“We share a love for geology and architecture and I told him I wanted to do an OU degree but wasn’t sure I was cut out for it, that I might be too old. He told me I was a mere child compared to him and should absolutely do it – although he used stronger language than that – so I did.”
Joe chatted to Platform, the Open University’s community website, after popping into the OU’s regional office open day in East Grinstead, to talk through his options for his Natural Sciences degree.
'To be honest I don’t have anything bad to say about the OU'
The best thing about the OU? “The quality of the materials, they’re just excellent, but to be honest I don’t have anything bad to say about the OU. Maybe I’d like more time with my tutor because I’m always apologising for ringing him up so often with questions, but he’s only too happy to help.
“I love the tutorials and was surprised to see people even older than me there. I’ve learned more in the last year with the OU than I have in my previous 49 years and I really mean that; it’s just so rewarding.”
'I’ve learned more in the last year with the OU than I have in my previous 49 years'
Joe’s experience with the OU is a far cry from his school days. Knocked down by a car when he was 13 and with a year off school, Joe missed out on choosing his best subjects and had to put up with what was left “HE and crap like that.” He didn’t enjoy it and didn’t do well.
“Now I’m always putting my hand up to answer questions in tutorials,” he said. “And I never did that in school, I had no confidence. And I’m always telling my wife not to throw out my science experiments. Don’t throw out the mouldy soup, it’s a science experiment! Don’t throw out the jam jar of mud from the garden, that’s my science experiment, I’ll tell her.”
Joe, who turned 50 this year and lives in Rochester, fits study around his family life and while he’s on tour. “For me, there are less distractions while I’m on tour; my manager drives the car and I sit in the back and do my homework plus I get some time before I go on stage. At home, there are more distractions – family, dogs, parrots, but I make sure I put the hours in because I want to get it right. I try and stay a month ahead if I can.”
'Choose a subject you enjoy, and back up your work on the computer'
His tips for anyone considering OU study? “Back up your work on the computer, I’ve been caught out a couple of times that way. And choose a subject you enjoy, I read the course reviews on the website first, and also stick to your study calendar. Schedule your time and stick to it.”
And while he takes the studying very seriously, for him it’s an extension to a so-far fun-packed career – comedy tours, I’m a Celebrity, Celebrity Mastermind, Celebrity Total Wipeout, Children’s Royal Variety Performances and more.
'If Baldrick can do it, then so can I. I want to present science programmes'
Joe’s also studying to enhance his career, hoping to teach geology on TV. “If Baldrick (Tony Robinson) can do it, then hopefully so can I. I want to present science programmes but I want to do it properly, to be taken seriously, and have the knowledge behind me, which is why I’m doing this degree. I’d like to do a PhD with the OU… become a Dr Pasquale one day.
“I’ve also learned confidence while I’ve been studying with the OU,” he says. “I’m not scared of anything anymore.”
Joe’s already completed S104 Exploring Science and is now doing S186 Volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis with his eye firmly on a BSc degree. “I like the look of the Frozen planet course and the one on diabetes as my daughter has diabetes.” And he hopes to complete his Natural Sciences degree by 2014.