EDS UK presents its first patron...
Interview by Lara Bloom
Some of you may know Cherylee Houston. Cherylee made history when she became the first full-time disabled actress on the famous TV soap Coronation Street.
Not only is this a fantastic representation for disabled people, it is even more special for us as Cherylee suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome both in real life and in character.
Cherylee, 35, has been in a wheelchair since she was 23 having been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Type Hypermobility type. As a teenager her acting career began appearing in school plays and later she trained at the Arden School of Theatre in Manchester. It was only after she graduated at 23 that her EDS was diagnosed.
Yet she has always been determined that her condition will not prevent her from having an acting career. After a succession of knock-backs her persistence paid off and eventually in 2003 she landed a part in the daytime TV soap Doctors, playing a girl with multiple sclerosis.
More TV work followed, including appearances in The Bill, Holby City, Emmerdale and the cult comedy series Little Britain, where she played the girlfriend of wheelchair-user Andy, played by Matt Lucas.
Cherylee hopes once viewers fall in love with her character, Izzy Armstrong, they won’t notice her wheelchair. Cherylee says: “Attitudes (towards the disabled) are only just changing and TV is one of the last domains. There are nearly 10% of us (disabled people) in society, but hardly any of us on TV. I’m really proud to be working on Coronation Street and really excited too. But for me, more than anything, it is about being good at my job.”
We are incredibly honoured that Cherylee is our Patron and we are excited about working together to continue to make our invisible, visible. It also shows us all that we can still succeed and fulfil our dreams no matter what cards life deals us. Cherylee’s success as a high profile actor on one of Britain’s most long lived and a successful TV soap opera proves that EDS sufferer’s and other disabled people can, and should, pursue careers and dreams to achieve their aims. It can be done!
Cherylee took the time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for us –
How has ITV helped make the set accessible for you?
Before I started at Corrie, they invited me to have a look round the set and the amenities, so they could figure out any changes that might be needed so they could implement them before we started work.
They have boards that they lay down for me over the cobbles as Ehlers-Danlos and cobbles don't mix.
Growing up, were you a fan of Coronation Street?
Coronation Street was royalty and religion combined in my house, you had to be quiet when it was on. Even when I had left home I knew never to phone when it was on.
What was your first big break into acting?
I got my Equity card when I was 18 as the front end of a pantomime horse,
Cinderella's double and the wolf at The Dukes Playhouse, Lancaster. I worked a little bit before I went to drama school, then because of my disability it took a while to break into employment. I worked quite a bit with Graeae, a disabled theatre company and had the occasional bits of television. I'd say my first big part was Dorothy in ‘I'm With Stupid’ on BBC3, before that I had had a few guest leads in Doctors and Holby City.
How was it decided that your character would suffer from EDS?
Coronation Street decided that it would be easier for my character to have my disability as they realised that playing someone else's access requirements when you have a set of your own would make it pretty tiring to say the least!
How do your family and friends handle your EDS?
I'm very lucky in the fact the people around me tend to adapt to my access requirements at the time and don't really make that a focus ever.
What can you tell our members that will inspire them to never give up on their dreams no matter what their body may feel like?
I find that the thing that gets me through life is the fact that if I am enjoying myself or achieving things I want to achieve, that makes the symptoms of
EDS much more bearable than if I had just them as my focus. I try to distract myself as much as possible. I realise that isn't possible all of the time and sometimes people will have bad periods where EDS has taken over. But if you're there it's always nicer to have found yourself there from having done something you've loved or have wanted to do.
Please note, EDS UK is not involved with ITV or Coronation Street in any advisory capacity