What's under your hat Michael?
Updated: Nov 7, 2019
It’s not every day that people with learning difficulties appear in a primetime TV advert, let alone deliver the all-important opening lines. Celebrating 25 years of funding good causes, The National Lottery birthday advert boasts a cast of hundreds and centre stage is our Student Ambassador Wendy, with her friends Sam and Graeme either side. All three have Down’s Syndrome, but they are defined more by their mind-blowing achievements than any disability. In just 4 years they have starred in two acclaimed Sunday Nights at the London Palladium, broken a Guinness World Record, performed to the Royal Family, made a ground-breaking debut at the Royal Albert Hall in front of an astonished audience of 3000 and opened World Mental Health Day at the Royal College of Psychiatrists two years in a row. They take it all in their stride and steal the hearts of everyone they meet.
When her twin brother went to university a gap was left in Wendy’s life, so her mother took her along to The Music Man Project. After her first lesson, Wendy looked at her mum, with a smile on her face and said, “This is me”. Her words are particularly poignant because the director of the National Lottery advert is none other than Michael Gracey, acclaimed director of The Greatest Showman. The Music Man Project is a modern incarnation of the same classic story, where everyone can entertain and inspire - and in turn educate and enlighten, regardless of their learning disability. In a plot as uplifting as any Hollywood musical, Wendy, Sam, Graeme and hundreds of other Music Man Project students across the globe are performing our music and creating their own Greatest Showman story for a once-forgotten society.
For centuries, people with learning difficulties have faced inequality, prejudice, ignorance and low expectations, as well as the challenges of their own unique circumstances. More recently, many influential people and large Arts organisations have doubted them and doubted my vision for a pure music education and performance service that could musically connect people with learning difficulties. My answer was to aim even higher and make ever more outrageous predictions. I promised grand productions with no budget to achieve them, wrote songs about our next performance venues before they were booked and even announced a world record for the largest triangle ensemble before buying a single triangle - and we ended up needing 1521! Some would call this ‘humbug’ but our students and their families do the impossible every day just to survive.
Our invitation to open a major TV advertising campaign for The National Lottery is great progress and Camelot’s willingness to promote performers with learning disabilities is to be commended. Wendy, Sam and Graeme were met with professionalism, patience and respect by everyone on set, from the casting agents through to the director, Michael Gracey. Michael was wonderful with them, laughing joyfully every time Graeme announced how he transformed into Gary Barlow after make-up! By the end, our superstars were sitting on his director’s chair offering advice. Michael’s trademark is his beanie hat which he never removes in public, but he secretly took our student’s behind the set to revel what was under his hat, swearing them to secrecy!
True to our guiding principles of high expectations and big ambition, our next target is a performance on Broadway with the dream that our wonderful musicians will one day share the stage with The Greatest Showman himself, Hugh Jackman.
… and then there is always Las Vegas!