Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Jade Ewen: My blind parents inspire me to be successful - Metro

Jade Ewen: My blind parents inspire me to be successful 

One third of the Sugababes and former British contestant at the Eurovision Song Contest Jade Ewen talks to Metro about what it was like to grow up with blind parents. 

Jade EwanJade Ewan's goal is to one day buy her parents a house (Picture: Richard Goldschmidt)
My dad is registered blind, he has retinitis pigmentosa, and my mum is partially sighted – she can’t see out of her left eye. When I walked to school, the other children would recognise us and point out the guide dog. That was their first experience of realising what it meant to be blind but it was all just normal to me.
I never received any negative comments from other children. They’d sometimes ask questions out of normal childish curiosity. They liked the dog. They said we had a real-life Andrex puppy and wanted to stroke it all the time. My dad had to explain they couldn’t when the harness was on because that’s when the dog is in work mode but once the harness was off, it was fine for them to play. Growing up, we started helping out around the house and I learnt to cook quite early on because my dad couldn’t cook for himself.
Music rather than television was our main source of entertainment. My mum loved Motown and all the divas such as Whitney. My dad liked Elvis – who my mum hated – and Queen and Elton John.
I started going to dance lessons when I was four and ended up going three times a week until I was 19. I got a scholarship to theatre school at 11, which was a dream come true. My parents were extremely supportive. They’d spend their benefits on my dance lessons and uniform. My younger sister did athletics and they supported her too. They wanted to give us a positive outlet and didn’t want to see us struggle as they had. Dancing was a source of escapism. As I got older, I felt restricted. My parents couldn’t drive, which meant I couldn’t go to things like parties or sleepovers if I couldn’t get home safely by myself. I felt a bit suffocated and dancing became something that was mine that I could express myself with.
I was 16 when my mum became ill with a condition called myasthenia gravis, which affects the nerves and causes muscle weakness. It had a big impact on the whole family. I’d never seen my dad cry before and he’d break down. Despite her sight problems, my mum was very strong and got on with things, so when she became so weak I felt very lost. It happened when I was doing my GCSEs. I had time off to revise but couldn’t because I had to look after my family, take my brother to school and help my dad. My mum was in hospital and, at first, they didn’t know what was wrong with her. It was awful and a lot to deal with.
Jade Ewan's familyJade's mum became ill with myasthenia while the Sugababe was a teenager (Picture: Collect Pics)
I got a job on TV in Australia. At the time, I thought I couldn’t go because there was no one to help with my family. When the production company found out about my situation, they very kindly flew my parents, brother and sister out there for the four months I was working. It was the best thing I could have done for them. They’d never been overseas before and having that break brought us closer together. It’s easy to get trapped in a vicious circle. If you haven’t been anywhere apart from your council estate and the hospital, your mind becomes stifled.
My parents are proud of my success because it proved all their time and effort was worth it. Now I can say I turned my dreams into reality and have prospects for a good future. They come to Sugababes shows, especially when we have a live band for big festivals. My dad loves our guitarist and the guitar solos. When he hears the fans respond to us, he gets quite emotional.
My goal is to be successful enough one day to buy them a house and give them whatever help they need whenever they need it. Everyone has something that drives them to be successful and my family has provided me with mine.
My parents showed me you can’t give up at the first hurdle. Even now, they still face obstacles every day and remain positive and do things with a smile on their faces. As a fully able-bodied person, I can’t make excuses and feel I have to make the best of every situation.
My dad’s condition is hereditary. It’s something I’ve grown up knowing about. I can have tests to find out if I carry the gene that I could pass on to my children but whether they might have the condition would also depend on my partner. I don’t think about it too much. When the time comes, I’ll look into it more.
Jade is supporting Royal National Institute of Blind People’s Read For RNIB Day. Find out how to take part and attend the Read For RNIB Day Wonderland in London on Oct 18, 19 and 20

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