Susan Boyle walked onto the Britains Got Talent stage in 2009 and changed everything.This dowdy lady drew cackles and cynicism from the crowd and then she replaced that with gasps and a standing ovation.
It wasn’t a well thought out political speech, or a groundbreaking medical innovation which changed things.
This unassuming lady simply sang a song.
She inspired the collective hairs to rise on the necks on almost everyone who watched her.
Then the cynics began to carp. “She’s a gurning, gaffawing fool” they cried. “She can’t sing that well” they griped. “She’s a hairy angel” they winged.
When details of her life emerged they really went to town.
“She’s learning disabled? Well then she has no place in a reality tv show and she’s being exploited.”
That’s when I got really cross.
The cynics who decried her lack of glamour were predictable.
We live in an age where television stars have to fit a mold, indeed they seem to emerge from some kind of botox/collagen/sillicone injected mold. They arrive normal then they’re buffed and smoothed and packaged and styled and away they go.
I shudder at the notion that our teenagers attempt to aspire to be these demi-gods.
Waif like singers and actors sporting artificially enhanced chests(boys and girls) supported by skeletial frames are sadly the norm now.
But we are spoonfed these images and any deviation, like the ageing of our female presenters is dealt with by the swift admission of a p45 in the post.
It’s The Stepford wives a-go-go. Sure enough the older highly experienced, female presenter is bundled into a bag marked reject and little Miss Perky Pants slips into her still warm seat -next to (it has to be said) a gnarled old bloke who had the good fortune to be born male.
“Hey I don’t make the rules” breathes little Miss Perky Pants.
No you don’t broadcasters do.
They focus group themselves stupid chasing ratings. It was all going swimmingly. Any dissenting voices are silenced with a well timed “Oh you’re just jealous, We’re just giving the public what they want”
What? Do you mean us when you say the public?
Enter Miss Boyle.
She gave us what we want. Talent.
Talent we knew comes in many forms. All Susan Boyle did was show broadcasters and programme makers that the public don’t discriminate. The public live in the real world which is populated by people of all forms of ability, beauty, age and talent.
We don’t live in a TV demographic of 15-25 year olds.
There are 8 million disabled people in this country.
Yet they’re not routinely represented by advertisers or in TV storylines, unless it’s as a victim or “sufferer”.
I’m bored of the pity piece where a disabled character appears only to be saved or helped or pitied and then disappears.
I want disabled people to be featured routinely where the least interesting thing about them is their disability.
Just like in life.
We all know someone with a disability yet apart from Susan Boyle and a couple of other notable exceptions(The excellent ground breaking Cast Offs, David Proud-Eastenders, Cerrie Burnell-Cbeebies,) they are barely represented on TV or in the media at all really.
In my case disability is a very real part of my life. So in November I launched a campaign Don’t play me, pay me calling for greater representaion of disabled people on TV and particularly for the practice of playing disabled by able bodied people to stop.
If you have talent you should have the opportunity to showcase that talent. Just because you don’t fit into a box which you had no part in creating shouldn’t be a barrier for that talent.
Susan Boye showed us that whether learning disabled or physically disabled or not, It’s a human right to dream and make that dream a reality.
Isn’t it a dream for everyone?