‘It’s not a tragedy’

TV Times - - Interview - A World With­out Down’s Syn­drome? Wed­nes­day / BBC2 / 9.00Pm Judy Ewens

ac­tress and writer Sally Phillips on the joys of hav­ing a child with Down’s syn­drome

Sally meets Halldora, 32, one of the few peo­ple in Ice­land with Down’s


Iwas told it was go­ing to be a tragedy but it feels like a com­edy,’ says Brid­get Jones star Sally Phillips on her el­dest son’s Down’s syn­drome di­ag­no­sis.

And, says Sally, 46, some of 12-year-old Ol­lie’s an­tics are straight out of the BBC sit­com Miranda, in which she played posh Tilly.

‘There was a time at the air­port when Ol­lie got on to the bag­gage carousel – it was not a mil­lion miles away from the scene when Miranda gets her necklace caught in the con­veyor belt at a sushi res­tau­rant.

‘But it was not the end of the world. All the peo­ple wait­ing for their lug­gage just thought it was funny.’

TV Times is talk­ing to Sally be­cause she’s made a one-off doc­u­men­tary,

A World With­out

Miranda Down’s Syn­drome? on BBC1 this week, which she co-wrote and presents. While Ol­lie fea­tures in the film, as do her two other sons, Luke, nine, and Tom, four, it’s not re­ally about him. In­stead, she ex­plores the po­ten­tial im­pact on so­ci­ety of a new screen­ing test for Down’s.

The Non-in­va­sive Pre­na­tal Test (NIPT) can de­tect Down’s syn­drome in preg­nan­cies with 99 per cent ac­cu­racy. Nine out of 10 Bri­tish women now opt for a ter­mi­na­tion if they are given a pos­i­tive di­ag­no­sis. Sally wor­ries that peo­ple with the ge­netic con­di­tion might even­tu­ally be screened out of the pop­u­la­tion.

‘In Den­mark it’s a govern­ment ob­jec­tive to make the coun­try Down’s-free by 2020. In Ice­land

100 per cent of peo­ple choose to ter­mi­nate af­ter a Down’s di­ag­no­sis. We have a won­der­ful his­tory of ac­cep­tance, di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion in the UK and it would be won­der­ful if we didn’t go down that route.’

Sally also fears that, with all the ad­vances in screen­ing, not enough thought is given to the ef­fect this could have on those liv­ing with Down’s.

‘One ex­am­ple is school­ing.

Chil­dren with Down’s do much bet­ter in a main­stream en­vi­ron­ment, but who’s go­ing to bother to in­vest in that if it’s an un­spo­ken ob­jec­tive to re­move them from so­ci­ety?’


Sally was screened when she was preg­nant with Ol­lie and was told that the chance of him hav­ing Down’s was one in 10,000.

When he was born she be­lieves it was ob­vi­ous to the med­i­cal staff that he had the con­di­tion but he was 10 days old be­fore she and her hus­band, IT spe­cial­ist An­drew Ber­mejo, were given the di­ag­no­sis.

The way she re­acted, she says, is typ­i­cal of par­ents in her po­si­tion.

‘You ei­ther feel it’s a ter­ri­ble tragedy and you grieve for the loss of the child you imag­ined you were go­ing to have, or you be­come a tiger mother, de­ter­mined to fight prej­u­dice and say­ing, “Noth­ing will stop us”. That was def­i­nitely me.’

Sally moved on from the com­bat­ive stage when she re­alised that hav­ing a child with Down’s syn­drome was not a catas­tro­phe.

‘Ol­lie is very funny, very lov­ing and very kind. He has above average emo­tional in­tel­li­gence and can spot the one per­son in the room who’s feel­ing un­com­fort­able. He’s the only one of my three chil­dren who asks, “Mum, how was your day?” And he gen­uinely wants to know.’

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mother’s pride: Ol­lie has a spe­cial place in her heart

We have a won­der­ful his­tory of ac­cep­tance

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