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Birth and death, in the same episode...

I was born on the 12th of June, 1980 in Stobhill Hospital, just outside Glasgow. There were complications during labour which basically involved the birthing fluid going back up whichever canal it's meant to come down. The result of this was that my mother died which cut off my oxygen supply. So the surgeons had to get me out pretty speedily! They were quick, but just not quick enough - the small amount of brain damage I'd suffered up until that point meant I'd have Cerebral Palsy for the rest of my natural life (though how you could call my life 'natural' is a mystery to me!).

At that time it was fair to say that my family were in a bit of turmoil. With my mother dying, it left the question of who was going to raise me. They tell me that everyone fought to get me, but if you ask me, they're just saying that in retrospect now that they see what an incredible guy I am! (If you haven't worked out by now that this bio is written 'tongue in cheek', then get some help!) Anyway, because my natural father had to work and was having a hard time coping, his sister, my natural aunt, took me and started to raise me with her other son and daughter. I've always called her Mum and her husband (my uncle) Dad so when I talk about Mum and Dad from now on, it's them I'm referring to. My brother Scott and sister Julie (natural cousins - confused yet?) were about 12 and 8 (in that order) when I was born so there's always been an age gap between us.

Anyway, back to me (hey, if you can't be egotistical in your own biography...). I was raised as a normal kid in 1980s Glasgow. My mum was a child minder (the kind of nanny where the kids go to the nanny's house) so there were always other young kids around when I was growing up. I went to my local nursery school when I was around three and stayed there until I was five. Probably the strangest thing about being a physically disabled kid (the first at that nursery, in fact) in a mainstream nursery was that I didn't feel like one! At the age of four, it didn't really make much difference that I couldn't walk - the other kids weren't at that different a height to me on my hands and knees as they were when they were walking!
 

  
Me, age four or five, dressed up as Miss World - what WAS my mum thinking??? (or the dog, for that matter!)

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School beckons (and just how big was that bag?!?) 

Then when I was five, as is the norm in the UK, I moved up to primary (elementary) school. Various meetings were held at this time between my parents and 'the professionals' (educational psychologists, teachers, etc.) to discuss what would be the best move for me and it was felt that I could've been quite vulnerable in a mainstream environment. A special school in Glasgow called Richmond Park was identified because at that time, it delivered a mainstream curriculum to pupils between the ages of 5 and 12 who had a physical disability. So off I went to Richmond Park for the first day of my 'formal' education, which, 17 years on, I am still enduring! Looking at this photo has got me thinking that maybe if I'd carried a school bag which was more in proportion to me then thing's would've turned out differently!

My experiences at Richmond Park were as positive as they probably could have been. I got on well academically and, thanks to the positive attitude towards technology which was fostered by my class, and subsequently my head teacher, Maggie Pollard (now O.B.E.), I was given the chance to significantly develop my I.T. and communication skills (so when people complain about the fact that I never shut up, I tell them who to blame!). To start with this took the simplest of forms - at the age of six I was taught how to type using an electric typewriter. Although this sounds antiquated now, in 1986 it allowed me, for the first time in my life, to communicate using the written word. To say that my own writing wasn't legible is a little bit of an understatement - I still laugh when shop assistants check my signature with the one on my card and give a look as if to say "they don't match" - no two of my signatures EVER match (but it's definitely un-forgeable!)!! Once I had learned how to type, I was ideally set up for when computers started to be introduced in to the school - instead of having to learn how to type with them, I could get on with learning how to use them. As each new I.T. development came out, I could always stay that one step ahead of the game, and I'd say that this has put me in great stead throughout my life - for a few years during and after university I was doing freelance network-related work in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The school's enthusiasm for I.C.T. also meant I was one of the first people to use a very primitive form of e-mail. To be able to use this to communicate with other young people throughout the world who didn't know how difficult it might've have been for me to type and, for the first time in my life, didn't even know that I was disabled, was an enormously powerful experience. Richmond Park didn't just serve me well in terms of my technological skills, it also taught me quite a few social skills.

 

   
Standing outside the physio department at Richmond Park. I then decided walking was overrated!

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 Me and the girls at Lips, New York City, 2000. A sign of things to come?!? (Aged 20, but in here for the NYC reference)

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You've got to fight, for your right, to...

When I'm giving my talk to groups of teachers I always tell a story about one particular incident at school when there was an issue concerning lunches. Due to the fact that around 60 of the 80 pupils at the school were either in wheelchairs or had some sort of mobility problem, the majority of pupils had their lunchtime meals brought to their table by school assistants. The problem was that the older end of the school was always served first, and given that there were only ever two different meals to choose from, the whole set up smacked of injustice to me, even at the age of 7. On this particular day the choice was between fish fingers and pizza and although it might sound unusual for a young person, I never liked pizza. So when it was finally time for my table to get their meals the only choice left was pizza and I, always one to fight for that which was right and just, decided to grab my walker and march up to the head teachers office (notice that I didn't deal with anyone lower down the chain of command!). I knocked on the door and when the head teacher (who was Maggie Pollards predecessor) answered I proceeding to 'demand my rights'. I was then asked, in no uncertain terms, who exactly I thought I was and told to go away immediately!! I went home for the weekend and felt extremely guilty for upsetting my head teacher and being 'bad'. Maybe, just maybe, if that'd been the end of the story then I would never have spoken up for my rights again, but when I returned to school on the Monday, for the first time ever we, the younger end of the school, got first turn at school dinners! Lesson for the future - you have to fight for what you believe in to make things change.

At around the age of 9 I made my first trip over to the U.S.A. My maternal grandparents moved over their to start up a marine business about one year after my natural mother died, and although they frequently came over here and took me away for short breaks in Scotland to Troon or Arran, I'd yet to fly stateside. My first holiday over there started with a week staying in Walt Disney World in Florida which, as well as being just a fantastic holiday for a 9 year-old, also laid the foundations for my love of the country as a whole. In subsequent years (I've been over every summer except one since my first visit) I visited Virginia and Washington D.C. (where my grandparents live), Sarasota in Florida where my aunt, uncle and cousin live and which has become my second summer home, Toronto and Niagra Falls in Canada, Las Vagas (where I returned to for Christmas 2001) and New York. I also spent a week in Rome, Italy with my gran, aunt and uncle one summer when we wanted a break from all things yankie. Maybe I could take advantage of some Cancun or Jamaica vacation packages soon too. I'm sure that I could write books on my experiences of each one of these destinations as I loved them all for different reasons, but I've definitely fallen in love with New York City. I've been there five or six separate times now and I'm sure I'll never grow tired of the place - the city has a life and gives me a sense of inclusion unlike I've felt anywhere else in the world. It also has enough bars and restaurants to keep the connoisseur in me busy for a while and it can more than satisfy my love of theatre. More on that later.

So, to get back to my school days/daze, I was now reaching the age of 12 and it was time to move on to my secondary education. As my primary education had been given to me in a special school environment, it seemed pretty logical that I should move on to a special secondary school with the rest of my class. Looking back now with the gift of hindsight, I wonder whether or not this was the right move for me, and I'm certain that not enough questions were asked as to what my other options were. Having said that, I always say you should measure the past by where you are at today and given that I'm pretty happy with where I've ended up, I can't put down the path that got me here too much. So as the school bell rang on my childhood, I move on to Ashcraig.

Time for a change, me thinks

My years at Ashcraig started off well - I enjoyed the new academic challenge that secondary education brought and got on pretty well. Now I know what I'm about to say is going to make me sound really big-headed but I remember the first time that I got under 100% in a class test. I remember thinking I'd more or less failed - looking back years later I have to giggle...if only I'd know back then what really failing was! One downturn in my life at this point was that my dad (the one who I lived with, not my birth father) died of Tuberculosis. He had been ill for a few years and despite having spent much of that time in hospital, he later found out that his strain of TB was different from the strain he had been treated for. I was always close to my dad and used to spend lots of time with him telling me all sorts of stories from his past, so his death really hit me hard for quite a while afterwards. But life goes on, and the next few years passed until about the final term of my third year when I was 15.

Leading up to this point I'd been gradually feeling more and more out of place at Ashcraig. In most of my classes I was the only student sitting the high (Credit) band of exams so I didn't feel that I had a lot in common with others in my class on academic terms. I also felt out of place socially - the catchment area for students going to Ashcraig covered the whole of the west of Scotland which meant you were unlikely to live anywhere near the people who you were friends with at school. This made meeting up out with school difficult and making any close friends at all was close to impossible. This issue, to me, is one of the main arguments for inclusive education - being at school with the same people who live in your local area has to be one hundred times better than trying to make disjointed friendships.

Then one day I was speaking to one of my class teachers at Ashcraig and they asked me why I hadn't gone to my local mainstream school. The most astonishing thing that struck me when I was asked this question was that I couldn't answer him - I didn't really know why I hadn't gone to my local mainstream school. Of course the usual arguments sprang to mind - that a mainstream school wouldn't be able to offer me the support and therapeutic services that I could get at Ashcraig - but, when I thought about it, no one had ever really discussed the idea of going to a mainstream school with me. The more I thought about moving to my local school, about going to school with the people I was friends with in my local area and about finally having some academic competition, the more I knew this was something that I just had to do. My mum quickly realised how much I wanted to move and when she and I approached both of the schools and the education authority, they were very supportive and behind me the whole way - looking back now my only gripe is that they shouldn't have been behind me, but rather in front of me, leading the move. They should have been able to spot that a special school environment wasn't the best place for me and they should have been the driving force in the move. Instead, that role came down to my mum and myself - and it turned out that we had quite a battle on our hands.

Maybe using the word battle is a little unfair - especially given, as I've said, that everyone was behind me all the way - but that was certainly how it felt at times. It was decided quite early on that I should finish my Standard Grade exams at Ashcraig and then move to Lenzie Academy to do my Highers (Standard Grades and Highers are the exams sat in Scottish schools before moving on to any kind of further or higher education, or employment). Over the course of my forth year at Ashcraig there were many, and I mean many, meetings with the head teacher of Lenzie Academy, educational psychologists, guidance teachers and many other 'professionals' (does that make me sound cynical?) to discuss the arrangements for my move. If everyone was behind the idea that I should move schools then why were all these meetings necessary? These meetings would have been worth the aggravation had it not been for one fact - not a single thing changed at Lenzie Academy from the time these meetings started to the day I first attended a class at my new school. Well maybe one thing did change - maybe attitudes were altered - but if it really takes over one years' worth of meetings to change attitudes then my whole life is going to be a bit of a uphill struggle! However, attitudes were beginning to change and in June of 1996 I was integrated in to Lenzie Academy.

I use the word 'integrated' on purpose - to me, integration and inclusion are two different things. Integration happened the day I started at Lenzie Academy - you could, if you were feeling particularly nasty, integrate a sheep in to a pack of wolves! I doubt very much whether the sheep would ever feel included though - inclusion takes time to come about and isn't, in my view, tangible. It's something that you know when you see or feel it and it comes from somewhere within (this is all getting a little too profound!). Inclusion is what we should all be striving for and inclusion eventually came about for me at Lenzie Academy.


Not the best of school portraits - I look as though I've 'fallen' in to it!


Photo taken from article published in the Evening Times (1997) - click here to download the full article as a PDF (1,484 kb)

Big bad world, here I come!

I really don't think that I'm exaggerating when I say that the move from Ashcraig to Lenzie Academy was incredibly difficult. To go from a special school of 120 students, from an environment which, by it's very nature, is protective towards it's students, to a mainstream school of 1,600 students is a big culture shift. I already knew some of my fellow students at Lenzie Academy, and the rest were very friendly, but to be the only physically disabled person in such a large school was never going to be easy. There was never an issue concerning bullying - I'm often asked about this and I reckon it was because I started at the school when I was 16, at an age when my classmates were becoming (arguably!) more mature, and because I believe they saw me as being equal to them in academic terms, bullying or any sort of intentional exclusion just didn't happen. However, being the only physically disabled person in the school meant that people often just didn't know how to interact with me. This is where inclusive education has such an important role to play in wider society - until disabled people are 'out there' and people realise that they are no more different from anyone else than anyone else, each individual will have to assert themselves singled-handedly while squashing people's misconceptions about disability in general. While I acknowledge that the social aspect of my move in to mainstream education was probably the most difficult part of the transition, it was also undoubtedly the most important. Most people I know will try to sell inclusive education (like it needs to be sold!) on it's academic merits but I wholeheartedly believe that the greatest benefit for disabled students, and for their non-disabled peers who have no prior experience of disability, is the social interaction that inclusion brings about. I can't pinpoint the moment when the social side of my new school became as easy for me as it was for anyone else, but a some months after I started at Lenzie Academy I can honestly say that I felt like an included student of the school.

Now to say that Lenzie Academy was not very well suited for me in terms of physical access is a bit of an understatement! The school was built on two separate floors with no lift (elevator) in between, and each corridor had two or three steps at the beginning and end...for no apparent reason! So a lift was needed, as were quite a few ramps. This issue of alterations to the school building formed the majority of the discussions that were held at the various meetings I went to, both before starting at the school and during my first year there. Plans had been in place to make the required adaptations to the school building before I started saying that I wanted to move there, but the timeframe for these modifications was quite loose and, as ever, financial resources had a big role to play. Now I realise this may sound a little naive on my part, but when people start saying that money is the biggest hurdle when it comes to inclusion, I'm initially very suspicious that this excuse is being used to cover up some other issue and then I conclude that even if it's the truth, at the end of the day, I don't care! Most causes or commodities of any real value cost money, so my response to anyone who says that this is what is stopping them from making any situation more inclusive is to ask them whether, if the question was over life changing/saving medical treatment, would they still be comfortable giving the reply that it "cost too much"? I think it's clear that inclusion changes life, not only for the person(s) being included but also for everyone around them, so why is it OK to say that inclusion isn't "feasible" because buildings cost too much to adapt or support workers are too costly to employ? Rant over, for now!

When I started at Lenzie Academy the required adaptations hadn't been made yet, so it was decided in conjunction with the school that I should only take two subjects that year instead of my intended four. Luckily the English and Mathematics classrooms were the most accessible so in my fifth year I sat Higher English and Higher Maths. After some initial stumbling blocks, such as the realisation that transcribing mathematical statements on a computer was very time consuming so a scribe was required during my maths classes, these subjects went well and I ended the academic year by gaining an A pass for English and a B pass for Maths.

Sixth year at Lenzie Academy was nothing short of a riot. Of course, I had my academic subjects to do - Higher Computing Science and Modern Studies as well as Sixth Year Studies Statistics (yawn!) - but the emphasis for this year of my life was squarely on having a good time. For a period of about six months, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, sometimes Sunday night was spent at someone's house partying or going out in to Glasgow. For the rest of the folk in my class I'm guessing this all felt quite normal - like a natural progression from what they'd been doing before - for me it was a whole new ball game and I was loving it! I won't go in to too many details about what I was doing at these parties as I'm sure you can use your imagination - I mean, I was 17!

One of the major factors that made this year work so well for me was that the school had finally built the required lift and ramps. This now meant that I could go wherever I needed or wanted to - if my friends were gathering at one particular spot, I could 'gather' with them. I now, finally, was an included member of the school.

So I passed my remaining exams and now it was time to head off to University - before I did though, a holiday was definitely deserved. Three friends (including Susan pictured opposite) and I headed off to Tenerife for two weeks of drunkenness and sun. It wasn't quite as wild as it appears on TV - that holiday was to come a few years later - but one particular incident where Michael dropped me down a flight of stairs as I smuggled a glass of vodka out of a bar, and the ensuing cuts right down my arm, just about typifies the experience!

At one of these debaucherous parties. I was clearly having a good time but Susan doesn't look very impressed!



 

Click the play button above to see a short clip of an advert called 'Talking Scotland' that I did in around 2003.




My first flat - Kelvinhaugh Gate - bit of a strange photo to have, eh?

University life

When people ask me what I studied at university, I tend to respond "everything". When I started in October 1998 I intended to take computing science, management and psychology (everyone was taking psychology at that time!) but, if I'm being completely honest, as soon as I found out that psychology lectures took place at 9am, I quickly went off that idea! So my first year consisted of computing science, (which I breezed through and really enjoyed) management, (again, enjoyable if a bit pedestrian) and philosophy (which feckin rocked!!). For second year I continued computing science and management but had to drop philosophy and so thought I'd have a crack at theatre studies. Further on I'll talk about what I'd done up until this point in my life with my local amateur theatre club, but this interest in theatre wasn't something that'd come from out of the blue. I loved studying something that had been a passion for my whole life and, despite the course being very academic, this was actually my first experience ever of performing in front of other people.

During my second year at Glasgow University (which, by the way, was the only one that I really considered when picking where to study - the only other major uni in the west of Scotland was Strathclyde, and five minutes in to my meeting with them I was told "our computing building isn't accessible, so you can't come here" - fine, stick, see if I care! :-)) I moved out in to a flat/apartment. The short version of the story goes like this - Glasgow Uni built a new residence for students called Kelvinhaugh Gate. This included a wheelchair accessible flat which I was asked to look over and give my opinion on. I did this, and then asked when I could move in!

The flat was lovely and I had a good time there - but it was pretty isolating at times. Every other resident had to share a communal living area and kitchen with five other students but I had the accessible flat 'all to myself'. This had obvious perks but looking back I would've preferred to have shared with other people. I also had no practical support when I moved out on my own - being 19 years old I thought I could handle it all by myself - plus my social worker was pretty damn inept! (So much so that I was promised housing benefit to pay my rent then 15 months later, with a £2,000 bill, it was discovered that I wasn't actually entitled to it! Fear not, I took the council to court and won!) This all made my second year of university very physically difficult and I slipped in to a period of loneliness and fairly deep depression. At the time, I felt like I just couldn't cope with living on my own and began to wonder if I could actually do anything. In retrospect, however, it's clear that my problem was simply that I was trying to do everything - at the same time. As soon as I approached the uni and asked for help and counselling, things began to resolve. The computing science department were being particularly unhelpful at this time - organising lectures in barely accessible venues and providing little support - so I dropped this subject, finished my level two management course and moved back home to live with my mum. I remember this year of my life as being a particularly lonely one - with the question of whether I'd ever find a 'mate' being a constant pre-occupation - though eventually I pulled through.

My second second year at uni was much more successful - I stayed at home getting the support that I needed and studied theatre and philosophy, which I loved. At this time I also became involved with the Students Representatives Council as the Disabled Students Rep - this built up a great social network and I also became very active on uni committees that were looking at access and inclusion issues. So everything was going swimmingly during this year and in to my third year, my junior honours year. For my junior honours I had to specialise in either management or theatre studies, and after minimal consideration I figured that, as a physically disabled young guy, my opportunities in the theatre were somewhat limited, so I opted for management. About a month after I made this choice, my life took a drastic change in direction!

Chilled and bronzed in Faliraki, Greece, June 2002

 

"Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington"

If you'll allow me, I need to flashback at this point to fill you in on my interest in theatre. Now, to say that I was born on the side of a stage might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's probably fair to say I've spent the majority of the rest of my life there! My family have always been involved in theatre - my sister Julie joined the local drama club, the Kirkintilloch Players, when she was 10 and then she convinced my mum to get involved. It's fair to say though that my dad was never too enthusiastic - being of an older generation he tended to question the 'orientation' of any man who 'pranced around a stage'. After joining the Kirkintilloch Players, my mum went on to do 12 consecutive years playing the 'village idiot' in their annual pantomime, becoming a local legend. Both she and my sister have been in a range of productions, including 'The Dancing Fusilier' by Mike Tibbetts, with which the club won the British One-Act Play festival in 1997.

My involvement in the Kirkintilloch Players started off as as avid audience member and critic from as young as I can remember being. At the age of 11 I became involved with backstage work, painting sets and so on. I then went on to help organise and eventually coordinate all of the props used in the annual pantomime. When the local 60-seater theatre was refurbished a new lighting and sound system was installed and as I was one of the few club members with I.T. knowledge, I became very involved in the technical aspects of theatre. I designed and controlled the lighting and sound for many Players' productions including 'Whose Life is it Anyway?' by Brian Clark, 'The Ghost Train' by Arnold Ridley, 'The Steamie' by Tony Roper and 'The Cagebirds' by David Campton. The last of these was also the first play that I co-produced, in 2001/2002, for the Players' entry in to the 2002 Scottish One-Act Youth Festival. We didn't win, but I really enjoyed this move in to the more creative side of theatre. After this I worked intensively on a production of 'The Sound of Music', which I co-produced and had responsibility for lighting, sound, and music - phew! The show went very well, mainly due to the superb direction of my sister, and was raved about by the public. So, as you can see, I had been involved in just about every aspect of amateur theatre - and I'd gone to see amateur and professional theatre on a regular basis, especially Broadway musicals like Wicked, Avenue Q, Rent and Blood Brothers - but I've never treaded the boards myself.

Now this might well have been because I couldn't act, but no one, including myself, could judge this because I'd never had the opportunity to give it a go. As a disabled person, the idea of going on stage with the Kirkintilloch Players just wasn't realistic - their audience base is pretty mainstream and, well, old! Had I tried to integrate in to one of their productions I imagine the audience would of found it very hard to get over the fact the they were watching an actor in a wheelchair who has slurred speech, which would've distracted completely from the play itself. As I've said above, my university degree included theatre studies, so I did get the odd chance to act. The subject, however, was very academic, so my opportunities to perform were few and far between. This would have been where my story ends, had it not been for a talk I gave in March of 2002.

I've been public speaking on a regular basis since 1997, usually on the subject of inclusion within education and my experiences thereof. So there I was, giving a talk about the merits of inclusion in the arts to a conference called 'Winning Hearts, Winning Minds (part two)' and in the audience for my talk was the research officer for Theatre Workshop (Edinburgh), an inclusive, professional, producing theatre company that employs both disabled and non-disabled actors. I spoke to Barbara afterwards and she asked if I'd be interested in auditioning for the company. I, not being one to miss any opportunity, said yes but I didn't take it at all seriously. After the event Barbara sent me an application form which I filled in and sent back, purely out of curiosity as I knew that my lack of on stage experience would stop me from even getting an interview. Well, low and behold, an interview and audition followed, which, of course, I attended, again just to get the experience of auditioning. For the audition I performed two monologues, one from 'The Restoration of Arnold Middle' by David Storey and the other from a Scottish play by Tony Roper entitled 'The Steamie'. The second monologue was called 'Isn't it Wonderful to be a Woman' (PDF), a very tongue-in-cheek piece which made sure that, if nothing else, the director wouldn't forget me! After the first audition I was asked to come back the next day - the only problem was that I couldn't. OK, so maybe it's confession time - the reason I gave for not being able to go back was that I had to go in to hospital the next day. The truth, however, was that I was due to fly to Faliraki, on the Greek island of Rhodes, that same afternoon! I figured, since I had absolutely no chance of getting the job, that it would be stupid to miss out on the chance of a holiday. As you can see from the photo above, I had a fantastic holiday so I knew I'd made the right choice (this was the wild holiday that certain TV programmes would have you believe!). Two days after I flew back home, while recovering from the abuses of the week, the phone went and it was the theatre company's manager to say I got the job!

So from August 2002, I took a year out before the final year of my degree and started a contract as a resident actor with Theatre Workshop (Edinburgh). I remember the first day, being involved in a warm-up game with another actor who happened to be a fairly gruff, hairy, 40+ year-old guy. This game involved putting body parts together (elbows, knees, etc) and trying to stay balanced. It struck me that if this was what acting was all about - snogging old men that I didn't really know - then I had little to worry about! During that year I played a variety of characters, from Spanner, an eco warrior at the G8 Summit in Genoa 2001 (the show was called 'Nothing Ever Burns Down By Itself') to Simon, a writer trying to help a Rwandan refugee to tell her story (I Have Before Me A Remarkable Document Given To Me By A Young Lady From Rwanda - and the long title award goes to...!). The experience was invaluable in developing my craft as an actor and cemented my desire to forget all this dull management stuff and pursue this career. As the year came to an end I prepared to go back to uni to finish off the final year of my degree - I'd come this far, after all. Just before I did go back though I was offered a Scottish tour with a Glasgow-based theatre company called Birds of Paradise. 'The Irish Giant' wasn't nearly as risqué as the poster (opposite) made it look - the poster prompted the people of Skye to boycott the show - but it was a lot of fun and showed me that I really did have a potential future as an actor.

My final year at uni went without much fuss - if I'm being completely honest I'd admit that my heart wasn't really in it and I was still doing small bits of acting and modelling work at the same time. I got my degree though and in the July of 2004 I graduated from Glasgow University. In the afternoon of the same day as my final exam I started rehearsals for a major tour of Brecht's 'The Threepenny Opera' - there was going to be no rest!

 

 

A proper job?

So for the rest of 2004 and beginning of 2005 I went from one acting job to the next – playing a Spanish sailor shipwrecked off the Scottish coast (The Last Little Fish in the Net) one minute and a mildly aspergic land reformist (Brazil 12 – Scotland 0) the next.  I also entered the Norman Beaton Fellowship BBC Radio Drama competition which is open to all professional actors that haven’t entered the business through drama school. Radio drama isn’t the most obvious choice for an actor with a speech difficulty but by my reasoning, if you’re going to portrait disabled characters on the radio, then your run-of-the-mill wheelchair user will just sound like everyone else! I progressed through each round of the competition, getting to the final in London where I was up against some major UK TV stars and the like. I finished as a runner-up, winning one drama recording contract with the BBC. During 2005 I also took part in the BBC’s Talent Fund for Disabled Actors (I’m a big supporter of the licence fee :-P) which saw me through to the final 25 in a UK-wide search. This group of 25 took part in training courses and were heavily promoted to BBC producers – the fruit of which will hopefully pay off in a film, starring moi, to be shot in 2008! So things career-wise were and are going very well.

On the love life front things were very quiet – I was really enjoying my career and all of the twists and turns that it was throwing at me. I’d been on dates with a few people and I had definitely moved on from the low days of university where I thought I’d never find a soul mate.  I still recognised that, as a disabled guy, it was going to be tougher to find someone who was mature enough to deal with my impairment while still being young enough to be, well, hot but I knew that this would come in good time. That 'good time' came in July of 2005 when I was invited to a community performance of a show that was adapted from ‘Nothing Ever Burns Down By Itself’ which I’d help to devise in 2002. One of the lead characters was played by an incredibly cute guy called Nathan Young, but he was obviously straight and/or too young to be interested in me. During the interval the director told me that Nathan definitely wasn’t straight nor, at 21, too young. After the show we met in the bar and flirted...outrageously! After giving Nathan my number (actually, to hear Nathan tell it, I threw my business card at him!), he told me that he was going to the G8 Summit protest the next day in Gleneagles - I may have then made it sound like I’d been planning to do the same. Truth be told I hadn’t really been planning to go, but I rushed home and worked out how to get up there the following day. I got to Gleneagles by train with my large electric wheelchair (ideal for protesting!) and took part in the march but as the day came to an end there was no sign of Nathan. Just as I was heading for the bus home, a yell of ‘Robert’ came from across the street – Nathan had made it past the blockades! We headed to the pub, hitting it off right away, and completely forgetting that the last bus left Gleneagles hours previously. So it’s 11pm and the only way home is to cross a dual-carriageway to get to a train station! The resounding sight of the day was seeing a group of anarchists and policemen carrying my wheelchair over the railway bridge. We got home safe and sound, and Nathan and I started ‘dating’.

That was two and a half years ago (as of December 07) and Nathan and I are now living together and have recently got engaged! (No date has been set yet though it keeps creeping forward!) We’ve had major ups and downs, many great adventures together and all in all a really good time. Without boring you with the details, we've been for five mile hikes through Central Park in NYC, had walks along Le Seine in Paris and escaped hurricanes (well, not quite!) on a nude beach in Florida! One particular incident, where we drove from Edinburgh to Southampton to drop off Nathan's adopted son, was so outrageous that we created a show from it for the Edinburgh Fringe 2007.

The short version of the story is that we stopped off at Alton Towers during our journey south so that Josh, the 3 year old, could ride 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. When we asked for disabled passes in to the park we were refused entry on the grounds that we didn't have an able-bodied carer with us! Outraged, we argued with them for over three hours, and eventually we were allowed in, but strangely enough we didn't feel much like visiting a theme park by that point. We tried to take the company to court under disability discrimination laws but it would've cost us more to take the action than what any amount of compensation that we could've possibly won. So instead we decided to create a play about the incident! Stephen Keyworth, a well known writer for the likes of Eastenders, took over the challenge - you can read all about the show, called 'A (Gay Disabled Transexual) Love Story Told to a Ticket Inspector at Alton Towers', on ourMySpace page. The end result was a great success - we played to sell-out houses for a week in Edinburgh and received four and five-star reviews. We hope to bring the show back next year, but this, as ever, depends on funding - if there're any connections out there, please get in touch!

 

Nathan and I on Liberty Island, March 2006


 

Bringing you bang up to date!

So I guess we're pretty much up to date! At the moment I'm running a project in Glasgow called 'Agent for Change'. Over the past two years it has looked at why there aren't more disabled actors in mainstream Scottish theatre and, more importantly, what can be done about this. It's a slow process but a necessary one.

I'm still acting, most recently on stage with a show about three disabled men who are drag queens, called 'Heelz n Wheelz'!. (does that explain the photo?) I've also recorded a second aeries of Island Blue and am working on a film project with the BBC. I'm also talking to the National Theatre of Scotland about a possible collaboration - as soon as anything's set in stone, I'll write all the juicy details right here!

I hope you've enjoyed reading the 'story so far' - who knows what's coming next!

Robert (December 2007)