Behind the photo: how olly gave my little boy a voice
Jemma Smedley, 39, was told her son couldn’t speak – but a miracle happened
My son William was just nine months old when strange things started to happen.
When I picked him up, his whole body would stiffen. His eyes flickered, and he couldn’t sit up or smile.
‘Something’s not right,’ I said to my husband Richard, then 30.
Our GP referred us to a specialist at Derby Children’s Hospital, and the next day, in September 2006, he was put on an EEG machine, monitoring electrical activity in his brain.
Seeing my baby hooked to wires was terrifying. Within half an hour, they’d recorded William having 17 seizures.
Tests revealed he had severe epilepsy. ‘William may never walk or talk,’ the doctor explained. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Richard and I sat, devastated, as we tried to come to terms with what we’d been told. ‘We have to do whatever we can to help him,’ I said.
He had physiotherapy and speech therapy. But William didn’t start toddling until he was two and a half – and aged four, all he could do was mumble. He wasn’t forming words, but we came to understand him.
William’s older sister Leah had been diagnosed with autism and ADHD, so we knew about the warning signs and weren’t surprised when, aged five, William was diagnosed with learning difficulties and autism. Still, it didn’t seem possible he could face any more. The life we had hoped for him just seemed to vanish into thin air.
He was on medication to control his seizures. And aged seven, he started at a school for children with disabilities.
One night in 2014, I went to an Olly Murs concert in Sheffield. He was great and I bought the album to play in the car. William loved music, and although he couldn’t sing the lyrics, he’d kick his legs to the beat. Soon, I was playing the album every journey because he enjoyed it so much.
That August, Richard and I were taking William to visit my parents in Yorkshire. For once we didn’t have any music on, but suddenly, from the back of the car, we heard William clearly shout, ‘Bacon and eggs.’
Richard and I looked at each other, shocked. It was the first time we’d ever heard him say coherent words.
‘Clever boy,’ I gasped, not even thinking why he was saying such random words. But then it came to me. There was a track on my Olly Murs album called Busy that mentioned bacon and eggs. ‘He’s asking us to play the song,’ I said, clicking on the CD, and William started jigging about.
‘Olly has taught our son how to speak,’ I laughed.
Richard and I bought him all of Olly’s albums and we’d watch his videos online together. William started copying Olly’s dance moves, even wearing a trilby hat like the pop star as he span round the room. For a little boy who couldn’t balance six months earlier, it was an incredible achievement. We used the songs in his speech therapy, which was so successful he started having conversations with us. He even won the school talent competition, where he sang Dear Darlin’, another song of Olly’s. In May this year, William, now 12, finally had the chance to meet the man himself. We booked tickets for his concert at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham and arrived at 9am in the hope of meeting William’s idol. After four hours of waiting by the backstage door, a van pulled up and Olly emerged. He came over and gave William a huge hug. Seeing the look on my son’s face was so overwhelming, I burst into tears. ‘Thank you for your music. He learned to talk because of you!’ I cried. I don’t think he could truly understand just how grateful I was, but his songs had changed William’s life – and ours too. William might not have the future we dreamt of for him, but thanks to Olly, it’s looking a whole lot brighter.
‘William even won the school talent competition!’
William was so excited to meet his idol Olly
The music has changed William and Jemma’s lives
William having more EEG tests