Comedian and TV presenter Alex Brooker talks about living with disability in an honest and moving new documentary for BBC2 this Sunday
TV presenter Alex Brooker was just 13 months old when he had his right leg amputated at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Born with serious arm and leg deformities and the oldest of six brothers, he spent the first ten years of his life undergoing operation after operation.
‘I have never let my disability hold me back or define me but I realised there is a lot about it that I’ve been in denial about’ says Alex who is a regular host on C4’s comedy panel show, The Last Leg and last year took part in a challenge to swim the English Channel in C4’s Sink or Swim for Stand Up To Cancer
Now in a very personal and intimate BBC2 documentary, Alex Brooker: Disability and Me, he revisits key moments from his past and meets other disabled Brits including childhood friend Andy and champion Paralympic swimming champion Susie Rodgers, to explore what it’s like living with disability in the UK today and to share their personal experiences.
We chatted to Alex Brooker, 36, who has two young children with his wife Lynsey, to hear more…
Why did you want to make the documentary?
Alex Brooker: “As I’ve got older and had my own children I realised I’d never really confronted what it means to be disabled. I’ve avoided facing the future, I’ve put off going to the hospital to have X-Rays and been in denial in many ways. It was when I did Sink or Swim last summer and I was in Lake Windermere training for the swim across the Channel that it really hit me hard that my body just wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do. I realised then it was time to face up to reality.”
You return to Great Ormond Street with your mum Elaine in the programme, how did that feel?
AB: “My mum started crying as soon as we were outside the doors! It holds such deeply intense memories for us both and as a child it was like my second home. To be there again and see how far I’ve come in terms of my life, it was hugely emotional. My dad passed away last year and there was so much I wish I’d asked him about what it was like for him having me as a child.”
In the programme you reunite with a friend from your primary school who has spina bifida. What was that like?
AB: “I first met Andy when I was 5 or 6. We were the two disabled kids in our infant school and knew we were different to the other kids because we’d have to go off at lunch time to the nurse’s office to get looked after. It was lovely to see him again as adults, share our perspectives and talk about how disability has affected our lives.”
Has becoming a father changed your perspective?
AB: “Definitely. Even though my disability is not genetic I was terrified every time we went for baby scans. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to hold my daughter properly with my arms when she was born, when infact that was completely fine, and as they’ve got older I’ve started to worry how my kids will view me. It was actually a few weeks ago that my daughter said to me for the very first time, ‘Daddy, you’ve got two fingers haven’t you’, and I explained I was born like that. She couldn’t have cared less. She hasn’t even mentioned since. To her I’m just Daddy.”
Sink of Swim was such a huge challenge. Has it made you want to tackle other challenges?
AB: “I’ve been doing loads on the Peloton bike during lockdown and been smashing it so I wouldn’t mind doing something with a bike one day and I wouldn’t mind doing another swim. When I did the Windermere swim and everyone saw me crying on telly it took me 45 minutes to do 500m. I recently did 1100m in 27 minutes. It still bothers me that we didn’t finish the Channel, I think about it every week, we got so close.”
What do you think was the main think you learnt from doing this documentary?
AB: “Not to be so afraid. That may sound strange because I probably always seem so positive on TV but I look at my bent leg sometimes and think, ‘My god, what’s it going to be like in 20 years time?’ Making this and talking to other people I’ve faced up to a lot of things. I’ve had my first X-ray in 17 years, I know there are treatments I can have to help with the pain, I’ve shared experiences with other people and most of all I’ve realised just how important talking is. I’m one of the few disabled people on TV and I want to use that in a positive way, to help others get a better understanding of what the reality is.’”
Alex Brooker: Disability And Me is on Sunday, July 5, BBC2 at 9pm