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Celebrating our 140th Anniversary



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A man of his time

Thursday 28th April 2022

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 edition of Sorted Magazine and is reproduced here in full with their kind permission.

Launched in 2007, Sorted is a bi-monthly men’s magazine packed full of packed full of celebrity interviews, entertainment, gadgets, music, movies, grooming, fashion, football and a whole lot more.

Find out more, including details of how to subscribe, at sortedmag.com


The Boys’ Brigade has just celebrated its 138th anniversary by appointing a former nightclub bouncer and addict as its new President. Whatever is going on? Step forward Dez Johnston, who tells all to Chris Kerr.

Dez Johnston is a tough-looking man. He’s got tattoos aplenty, an untamed beard and an even wilder back story, one with a devastating low and an even more remarkable rise. And he just happens to have become the new guiding light of the 138-year-old Boys’ Brigade.

As it tries to raise our nation’s sons into mature, accountable, and faithful men, the Boys’ Brigade is looking to this former addict – who admits he has lived life to the full – to galvanise it and shake it up so it’s able to meet the many challenges that lie ahead.

He took up his appointment as Brigade President after Lord Griffiths of Burry Port retired last September. With his feet barely under the desk, he has set about galvanising the Brigade’s employees, volunteers, corporate sponsors and more than 40,000 enthusiastic youngsters who are affiliated to its branches throughout the UK.

“The Boys’ Brigade was started by a Thurso man in Glasgow in 1883 so being a Scot, there is a bit of heritage there,” says Dez, who is now an ordained minister who speaks with passion and purpose. “We aren’t just marching and playing football. We are so much more. It’s actually about creating a journey, where boys can become amazing young men.

“The structure that the Boys’ Brigade provided helped Sir Alex Ferguson to develop the character, skills and talents he needed to become one of the great football managers.”

Who’d ever have thought Fergie, the undisputed king of British football would have been a product of this proud organisation? Perhaps there’s more to the brigade than an outsider would ever know?

While Dez is proud of his Scottish roots, growing up there wasn’t easy.

“I grew up in a small village in the northeast of Scotland called Rothes, which is in the middle of nowhere,” he recalls. “Just 1,200 people lived there, and 400 of them went to my high school, so everyone knew everybody’s business. It was like a melting pot and I wanted to get away from it.

“I thought my ticket out was becoming a millionaire, superstar DJ. So, I went for it, playing at every event I could, from weddings to nightclub gigs. I did it all. It was my therapy.”

Although he didn’t realise it at the time, this lifestyle would lead Dez down a much darker path.

“Our small village had five distilleries and five bars so, coupled with the DJ lifestyle, I was drinking a lot,” he admits.

Things got worse after his parents divorced when he was just 17. He moved out of his house to go his own way.

“All of the kids my age wanted to party at my flat. I loved it,” he says. “I was a disc jockey at the weekends and it just became this cycle of partying all weekend and into the week. I just wanted to be at the centre of it all, all the time.”

By the time Dez reached his 20th birthday, he was taking drugs on a daily basis.

“That was the point I really became an addict,” he recalls with clarity. “I moved to Glasgow, but nobody wanted me to DJ. Why would they hire someone who was more mangled than the partygoers?”

To pay for his growing habit, Dez worked 90-hour weeks, which included being a doorman in the evenings who threw his weight around.

“I was really unhappy,” he admits. “I was committing these acts of violence as part of my job, and that just wasn’t me. So, to numb the pain, I would take more drugs and drink more alcohol. I was out of control.”

In freefall, Dez had nowhere to go but rock bottom.

One-night he met his dealer and purchased an entire weekend’s worth of cocaine. He went home and consumed it in just 10 minutes!

“My heart was beating so fast, I thought it was going to jump through my chest,” he says. “I knew that was it. I was going to die. So, I cried out to some higher power to save me. I had no clue who or what that was, but I was desperate.”

Before he could hear an answer, Dez passed out, not knowing whether he would ever wake up again. Fortunately, Dez did wake up, which was a miracle in itself. But something more incredible had happened while the stupor had claimed him.

“I no longer had a craving for cocaine. It just completely disappeared. In fact, to me it was like a food that I didn’t like. My addiction to it was over and I threw out the leftover cocaine from the night before.”

You may think this was Dez’s road to Damascus moment, where he saw the light and gave his life to Christ? Well, think again…

“Actually, I just thought I was the greatest human who had ever lived because I had survived an overdose without needing the hospital, and I had overcome my addiction overnight,” he states, while shaking his head. “At one point I convinced myself I could knock out a rhino!”

Luckily for the endangered rhino, there aren’t many in Glasgow!

God didn’t give up on Dez though, Christians would talk to him wherever he was, from customers in the shop he managed, to the smoking areas of nightclubs. This was unheard of in Glasgow. Then something totally unexpected happened.

“One day, I hired a Christian woman to work in the shop, mainly because I knew she wouldn’t steal anything,” says Dez. “I noticed she had this security and quiet confidence, everything I was missing. She didn’t get it from the things I thought you needed, the fast cars and lavish lifestyles. I was amazed.”

Dez asked her out, only to find his advances rebuffed.

“She said ‘no’ because I wasn’t a Christian,” he explains. “So, I picked up a Bible to prove her wrong. The great thing was I got to read about men like Noah, who got so drunk because he couldn’t handle the stress and Moses who had no confidence in himself. I could relate to these men. And I came to Ecclesiastes 3, where it talks about a time for everything and I realised that my time of violence, drugs and the overdose were over. A new season was about to begin.”

And so, it proved to be. Dez became a believer, and everything changed after that. Not least his luck with the special lady, who went on to become his wife.

“I gave up my doorman job and my area manager job, and before I knew it I was working in a youth café,” he continues. “This kid came up to me and asked me how much it would cost to buy a Mars bar. I told him the price, and he walked straight over the road and tried to get the money by mugging a guy. I lost my mind, and every fibre of my being wanted to stamp on this kid. I got him by the scruff of the neck and said, ‘Do you not realise that God’s got an amazing plan for your life’. The words coming out of my mouth were not mine and I just remember my heart breaking for this youngster.

“There was a whole group of youth out there who nobody cared about, who came from broken homes, whose parents are addicts and who are stuck in fourth generation poverty. I know these were the kids I had to reach. I had so much hope for them.”

And that’s precisely what he did. In fact, it’s all he did – and before he knew it, this tough-living young bouncer found himself attending Bible School, volunteering at numerous Christian youth events across Scotland, and landing a job as a youth worker at a church on the west coast.

After a while, this role led to an opportunity for Dez to work with Alpha, the global programme that helps people seeking to know more about Christianity, to link up with a local church and discover more. He grabbed it with both hands. And at the same time, he also started working with the Boys’ Brigade.

Fast forward a few years and having developed a deep passion for the Brigade’s work and calling, Dez is now a key cog in steering the organisation as it embarks on the next stage of its journey.

“Young people are now hungry for identity,” he says. “They need safe places to express who they are, and there’s less and less places to do that now. So, they turn to social media to do this, which isn’t healthy. The Boys’ Brigade provides a better alternative. It gives them weekends and weeks out where they will be loved by people.

“The uniform is a great leveller in that regard. It doesn’t matter if you are a game freak, the street church kid, or your mum and dad just want you out of the house every night. It doesn’t matter if you have no money, or lots of it. Once the blue jumper goes on, you are part of something special, something bigger.”

Dez Johnston is a man who fell into a deep trough – yet emerged a better man. He is someone our youngsters can relate to, and a man who clearly has an appetite and the energy to take things forward. He has got a big job ahead of him, but he’s more than equal to the task.

Chris Kerr
A senior legal executive, Chris Kerr works for a specialist national law firm. He is happily married and lives in Wales.


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