john & george

friday lunch time i was minding my own business crossing shoreditch high street in the east end of london, when i heard a mans voice “george no, george come here!” i’m not sure what made me look to see who it was, but i sure am glad that i did. standing there before me was john dolan with his faithful friend george. i knew him, he did not know me from adam “are you john dolan?” i asked ” might be” “well is that george?” “yep” and there it started we chatted for a while, what a charming, humble man. i’m so glad to have shook his hand.

who? i hear you say, well let me tell you their story.

john was the youngest of 5 children of gerry & dot, living in a council flat in islington. however at the young age of 10 his world was completely shattered and turned upside down when his father gerry told him that his parents were actually his grandparents and that his sister marilyn was actually his mother. it had a huge impact on john, and from there he went off the rails. his boyish cheekiness quickly turned to delinquency. he hated school from the bullying that he received and began to play truant.

he never had a job, some occasional work for jimmy, his biological father. john fell heavily into a depression and his criminal activities landed him six months at feltham young offenders’ institution for petty theft. when he was released, his parents refused to take him back. john was now homeless. he turned to burglary to make his way.

his father blamed john for the death of wife. she had died from cancer shortly after the police had raided the house, in search for john’s stolen goods. gerry would shout and hurl abuse at john, and by the time john was in his late 20’s his confidence was completely shattered and he was a complete wreck, he sank deeper into depression and he took comfort in heroin.

for 20 years john would find himself between being homeless and in and out of prison. by 2009 he had over 300 criminal convictions & 30 stints in prison, he had however now managed to get himself a council bed sit. it was at this time when george first entered his life. john had befriended a young homeless couple, who had bought george of a mad scots man for a can of larger, however when they were offered a flat they couldn’t take george with them so they gave him to john.

george changed john’s life forever. john was at first terrified of being responsible for the dog when he could barely manage to look after himself. however he noticed that george would always look him straight in the eye when he spoke to him, the bond between them began. john then realised that if he went back to prison he would lose george. so john gave up crime and began to beg for money, to make sure that george always had a roof over his head and was warm. finding the whole situation of begging degrading, john was unable to look at the passers-by in the eye. with george in front of him, john decided to pick up a pen and draw, he then didn’t then have to look at the people taking pity on them and could bury his head his sketch book.

after a few months of repeatedly drawing the buildings opposite them john’s drawing confidence grew and he began selling his work to passers-by for a few quid.

he was invited to do some drawings for a book called shoreditch unbound, his work was showcased alongside other shoreditch residents such as gilbert & george and tracey emin.

a local gallery owner, richard howard “griff” griffin, asked john if he would draw some large streetscapes of the city for him. griff then invited other street artists includign thierry noir and run to draw on john’s pictures. these sold for £50,000!

last autumn, john finally weaned himself off heroin, next on his list is to get his teeth fixed.

credits : howard griffin gallery other than the photo of john dolan & george which is of course mine


  1. September 27, 2014 / 20:37

    Wow, they’re amazing drawings. It’s so great to hear when something inspires people who’re struggling to turn their life around. Thanks for sharing John and George’s story.

  2. September 29, 2014 / 07:44

    What a moving story! It’s amazing how such a small thing can change a person’s life. John is incredibly talented. His sketches are really something – the level of detail is wonderful, I could look at them all day. Good on him for turning his life around despite everything.

  3. September 29, 2014 / 08:51

    What a really inspiring story. It is a shame that the people who are in the situation he was in will probably never access this website though 🙁
    I am so glad to hear how he has turned his life around. The drawings are amazing – look at all that detail!

  4. September 29, 2014 / 09:22

    I love this story Vanessa – so lovely to hear affirming words that people can turn their lives round, no matter how late in the day. And wow – what a talent he has!

  5. September 29, 2014 / 11:34

    What an amazing story. Really inspiring. The twists and turns of his life are film-worthy but he sounds like a down-to-earth fella.

    His artwork is incredible. It makes you wonder just how much un-tapped talent there is out there.

  6. September 29, 2014 / 12:10

    What an amazing post! Gave my goosebumps reading it – an amazing guy and so lovely that George the dog gave him the stability his life needed! A remarkable guy! So glad you turn around – what a story!x

  7. September 29, 2014 / 17:00

    What a fab story – so inspiring and heartwarming.

    Thanks for sharing the story and those brilliant pictures x x

  8. September 29, 2014 / 21:34

    Amazing story. How absolutely wonderful that another life has helped John see what he needs to do. I went on the food tour in Shoreditch and I am sure I saw some this work. Thank you for linking to PoCoLo 🙂 x

  9. October 7, 2014 / 00:34

    What a great story…I love the happy ending! It’s funny how an animal can change your whole life..

  10. October 7, 2014 / 06:19

    What an amazing, tragic but heartwarming story. The power of a dog’s love. I was captivated by this post and with John’s story. So pleased you told this. #whatsthestory

  11. October 7, 2014 / 06:20

    The Mothers say – What an amazing post. John seems such a brave and amazing person. His sketches are extraordinary. Such a sad story of an amazing life and man 🙂 #whatsthestory

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