An Evening With Colin Firth and Barry Norman: A blog by Virginia Beardshaw

2012 kicked off on a real high for I CAN with ‘An Audience with Colin Firth’ on 6th January. Spellbound is the only word to describe I CAN friends and supporters as they listened to Barry Norman using his encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema to interview the Oscar winning star about his career.

We started and finished – of course – with The King’s Speech.

Playing George VI left a visceral impression. Colin said that acting the role felt like the early stages of learning a foreign language – you feel stupid, limited, unable to make jokes or express your feelings because of your difficulties communicating.Your real self is suppressed – in shadow. He found the frustration that built up physically exhausting, and mentally draining.  

Colin commented that children with communication difficulties were ‘the real heroes’ because while he could walk away and leave George VI’s communication problems behind, they are left to cope with the anger, frustration and misery.

Who better than an I CAN audience to understand this? Almost everyone present had direct experience of how communication difficulties impact on every aspect of a child’s emotional and social life. But Colin’s insights deepened our understanding in a new and unexpected way.

The rest of the evening was great fun.  One hilarious anecdote followed another as we learned the truth about Mr Darcy’s famous clinging shirt; the fear that froze Colin and Pierce Brosnan when rehearsing Abba’s greatest hits on the set of Mamma Mia and trouble at St Trinian’s. 

It didn’t take us long to discover that Colin is cheese to the aloof Mr Darcy’s chalk:  he is warm, witty, and deeply thoughtful about the parts he plays. His generosity to I CAN in devoting a Friday evening to us and our cause spoke volumes.  Thanks too, to Barry Norman for lending his time to interview Colin Firth – their rapport and shared passion for cinema added an extra dimension to an evening that was already well outside the ordinary.

And Colin is even better looking in person than on screen.

Thanking Colin personally for the difference he and The King’s Speech have made to children with communication difficulties, particularly those who stammer, made the evening extra special for me. It was also good to start 2012, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Year, by explaining to everyone that the reason Her Majesty the Queen has been I CAN’s Patron for the whole of her reign is because of the agonies her father, George VI, suffered speaking. When I joined the charity in 2005 I was told that this was not something we could mention publicly because it was a painful family matter.

The King’s Speech and Colin’s outstanding portrayal of George VI has ‘outed’ the issue of children’s speech, language and communication in a way to that is hugely helpful to I CAN and our colleagues from BSA and beyond, making us even more determined that no child should be left out or left behind because of a difficulty with speaking and understanding.  

Enormous thanks from all of us at I CAN to the Soho House Group, Samantha Norman and Anne Clayton for making this very special occasion possible.