Brett Lee: from cricket to Cochlear

Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance. 

He is one of the world's fastest bowlers who has smashed multiple cricket records, and Brett Lee's new target is reaching 360 million people to raise awareness about hearing loss. As Cochlear's first Global Hearing Ambassador, Brett is spearheading a 'Sounds of Cricket' campaign to raise awareness of the significant medical, social and economic impacts hearing loss can have on individuals and their families.

Can you tell us a bit about being a Global Brand Ambassador for Cochlear? How did you initially get involved with them? 

First of all, I consider myself very lucky to hold that title; it’s something I take very seriously. I love my involvement with Cochlear, and how their work changes the lives of millions of people around the world.

I got involved with Cochlear a couple of years ago now, it was a chance meeting. I was shooting a movie in Australia and Cochlear was part of a scene. I learnt a little more about them, and liked what they did and stood for. There’s a lot of stuff in between from that day until becoming a Global Brand Ambassador, but the short story is they had a dream to go over and help children in India, a country that I’m very familiar with, having spent a lot of time in the country over the past 22 years and knowing the culture well. There was a personal interest in becoming part of the Cochlear family too – my son had a fall when he was six years old and lost hearing in his right ear. As a worried parent, I did a lot of research of hearing loss and its effects in children and adults. Thankfully my son had a full recovery, but my passion for the condition remained.

Were you passionate about hearing even before learning about Cochlear, and your son’s incident? 

My father was always a person that made sure we had good “listening” practices, as he believed that hearing is so important. In those days, when hearing was gone, it was gone for good. For example, when we listened to the wireless, he always made sure the level was in a normal range. Never too loud! 

I’ve also been in a band for 15 years which has taught me a lot about hearing protection. It’s like the sensation of coming out of a concert and your ears are ringing – you do that over a period of time and it can cause big damage. As you get older you realise the damage you do as a kid can be long lasting.

Do you think healthy hearing is something that is largely overlooked?

I do. You hear about the effects of not wearing sunscreen or sunglasses, or not looking after your teeth, the same should go for hearing. Everything is so important to take care of, but hearing is definitely overlooked.

What can we do to better look after our hearing?

It’s really just exposure and level of noise. If you’re in an environment where the music is quite loud, it can do damage over a large period of time.

What initiatives are you currently carrying out in India, with hearing diagnostics for Children? 

We’re rolling out a lot of PR and Social Media which is great for promotion, it’s making many people aware of hearing loss. We’re also doing a lot of education on hearing loss. Many people didn’t understand in India that if a kid is born in to deafness, that’s the way they will stay. The babies there don’t have their hearing checked, which is massive. The first few years of life are instrumental to learning and development. I’ve seen kids only recover their hearing later in life, the way they’ve learnt and speak is remarkably different than if their hearing was checked as an infant. People are becoming more aware of Cochlear and what we’re doing which is really exciting.

What was your most memorable experience in India? 

I visited a young girl, whose mother had lost hearing in both ears at the age of 30, then lost her sight at 40. She couldn’t see or hear her daughter, but she could feel her. She had the Cochlear implants done and could hear perfectly. It was remarkable seeing the interaction with her daughter.

I’m so proud of what I’m doing – honored to be the face of Cochlear around India. I have never before used my profile to promote something – but I love doing it with this - I want to do other things around the world!

What’s something you think Australians could easily change on in terms of improving health habits? 

The Australian system is actually very good; infants have screen testing when they are born. There are also certain marks and targets that kids should be hitting as they’re growing up. It works in the reverse too. There’s a stigma that when you hit a certain age, around 65, that hearing automatically fades. There’s no reason why that should happen, it’s all about having a good education.

You’ve had such a remarkable career, granting you the chance to travel to many places around the world. Do you recognise any consistent qualities of Australians when you travel? 

Oh, definitely hearing the accent overseas, the Aussie accent is so full on! Wherever you travel in the world you notice it a mile away, but it’s great. When you’re abroad, you instantly become best mates with that person, striking up a conversation in that friendly Aussie way.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learnt from living and working overseas?

I think the most important thing I’ve realised from having an international career is my appreciation of communication technology. Being able to call home and chat at any time of the day is such a huge benefit of modern day technology. It makes you feel as if you’re close to your loved ones. When I first started travelling for cricket, I’d go to the hotel phone, and dial the landline back home, it was a bit of a nightmare. Communication has gone through the roof!