Sunday, 14 July 2013
It was just after midnight when the phone rang.
Will Mellor jumped out of bed and stood bolt upright, staring at it.
He knew he had to pick up, but he was scared because the sense of dread exploding in his gut was telling him that phone call was going to change his life for ever. And it did.
Because when Will finally found the courage to answer, it was his dad telling him his sister Joanne was dead.
“I know now what people mean when they talk about their blood running cold,” says Will. “I just remember feeling dizzy and then my legs collapsing under me. I kept saying to my dad, ‘What can I do? What can I do?’
“But I couldn't do anything. My sister, this amazing woman who was the heart and soul of our family, was dead. And none of us had seen it coming. I will never forget that feeling of shock. Even thinking of it now, I get dizzy.
“I’m walking down a street watching people laughing, eating, getting drunk and I think, ‘You have no idea what me or my family are going through.’
“There’s a hole in our lives and in our hearts where Joanne used to be and nothing will ever fill it.”
Will, his mum Shirley and sister Janice spoke after an inquest ruled that Joanne’s sudden death from heart failure last September was due to natural causes. Her death was unexpected and came shortly after she’d been diagnosed with diabetes
Joanne, 44, who was born with Marfan’s syndrome and had both physical and mental disabilities, died just three weeks after returning from a holiday with other disabled friends. The trip was organised by a company recommended to the family by Stockport Council’s Disability Unit.
The Mellor family demanded an inquiry to find out whether carers at Chrysalis Holidays, which provides breaks for disabled people, had contributed to Joanne’s death by ignoring written instructions from her doctors on what medication she should take for her heart condition. Doctors had insisted she have five warfarin tablets a day and had written it all down in a special book which was handed to Chrysalis. But a carer with no medical training decided to give her just one a day. Why?
“Because that’s what I’d done with people in the past,” he told an inquest.
Three weeks after that holiday, Joanne collapsed and died of heart failure.
And while the coroner said there was no evidence the bungled medication had caused Joanne’s death, she told Will’s family that what had happened was unacceptable and she would be writing to Chrysalis to tell them that.
“You know what kills me?” says Will, his dark eyes clouding with sadness. “I cannot bear the fact that during Joanne’s last three weeks on this earth she was plagued by anxiety and fear because of what that carer had done”.
“In her head she’d always believed that if she didn't take her pills she’d die. And that was because 20 years ago she nearly did die. I was just 17 and had come home from the pub with my dad. The phone rang and we were told Joanne had collapsed on her way home with some mates. I remember I just ran out of the house and kept running till I got to where she was.
“I was already crying when I turned the corner and saw her lying in the road. She was all grey and wide-eyed and there were people standing around her. I fell to my knees, weeping like a baby.
“I asked her if she was OK. And this incredible woman who was at death’s door just looked into my eyes and said, ‘Why are you crying, son?’ Joanne always called me ‘son’ because I was the youngest. That was Christmas 1992 and it was one of the worst of our lives. Doctors told us she might not make it so we had Christmas in hospital... Mum, Dad my four sisters and me”.
“Joanne loved disco lights so we put them up all around her bed and we had a party for her. And did my sister love to party,” he laughs. “She’d always make a speech to say, ‘Thank you for coming and I love you all.’ Then she’d drink lots of Guinness and belt out Pretty Woman, her favorite song. But even though she pulled through that, her heart was weak and she had to have a special valve fitted. It was after that she changed.”
“She lost her confidence and was always terrified she’d collapse again and die. Her physical disabilities got worse around that time too and she was virtually confined to a wheelchair.”
“That’s why she was religious about her pills. She told us she told that carer at Chrysalis Holidays time and again she needed five every day – even though he denied this at the inquest.”
“She even gave him her special book where it was all written down by doctors, but he didn't read it. And you know why?” says Will, 37. “He wasn't seeing Joanne, the person my family adored. He was just seeing some disabled person who, he decided, didn't know what she was on about.
“It took every ounce of my strength at that inquest not to grab him and say, ‘Do you have any idea what my sister’s been through? How hard she’s fought to stay alive? How scared she was of dying?’ I wanted to scream at him that he’d degraded her by refusing to listen to what she had to say.”
“He treated her like she was an idiot and in her 44 years on this earth no one had ever treated Joanne like that. People who knew her loved her because she was a beautiful person. The terrible irony is that while lots of disabled people don’t have a voice, Joanne did.”
“She had a loud voice and she told that man what pills she needed. But he didn't listen. It’s hard to believe it’s a coincidence that three weeks after coming back from that holiday – and having missed 20 tablets we were told were vital for her heart valve to work properly – she dies.”
“How many more disabled people has this idiot not listened to? How many more vulnerable people are being mistreated by these holiday companies?”
Will bangs his fist on the table, literally shaking with anger. His sister Janice, a few feet from her baby brother, puts a comforting hand on his knee and tells him to calm down.
“The last nine months have been hell for us,” says Janice. “Because we've had to live with the uncertainty of how Joanne died. It was the one week of her life one of us wasn't with her... and this happens.”
Will’s mother, Shirley, who has been listening quietly, starts to sob: “I keep thinking this is all my fault,” she says, her sad eyes brimming. “That we let her down. I said she could go on that holiday after Stockport Council recommended it. They said it was fantastic and Joanne said she really wanted to be with her friends. So I said yes.
“Now we know that even though the council has been sending disabled people there for 10 years, no one had bothered to properly check it out.”
Will’s anger bubbles to the surface again: “How can it be that people with no medical experience or training are allowed to take care of society’s most vulnerable people? I swear I will do whatever it takes to make sure that what happened to Joanne doesn't happen to another disabled person.”
“The law has to be changed so that these places are properly monitored. And why is it that some of the people who work with the disabled don’t actually care about them?”
“I know there are some fantastic carers out there. My sister is one of them. We just need to make sure that private companies are subjected to the same rigorous checks as council homes.”
Will’s passion about the disabled is clear: “I have two kids and I made sure they got to know Joanne. I also make sure they get to meet other disabled children. Because what’s wonderful about kids is they don’t see the disability. They see the person first. Why can’t the people whose job it is to take care of them see that?”
“My family has been cheated. My mum and dad have been robbed of their daughter and the rest of us have been robbed of the sister who was our rock. Everything revolved around Joanne. We've always been close as a family but we all saw more of each other than we probably would have done because of her. She was the glue that kept us all together. Our job, our lives have always been about making Joanne happy, making her smile. And when she did, we were all happy. Our house was always filled with laughter because of her. She was genuinely funny, which is hard when you’re in constant pain like she was. In the last 10 years she had chronic arthritis and curvature of the spine but still, she wanted to laugh and live life to the full.”
“Yes, she knew she was different. She knew she’d never have the lives we had... kids, a husband. But she was always surrounded by people who loved her. There was an army behind Joanne and we know that isn't always the case for disabled people.”
“And even though we didn't talk about it, we all felt that maybe Joanne wouldn't live as long as the rest of us. But to lose her in this way, with all these unanswered questions, is beyond painful. Which is why I want to start a charity in her name and my first port of call will be Samantha Cameron, whose son Ivan died from cerebral palsy and who is an ambassador for Mencap.”
Joanne, who died last September 10, was buried at the family’s local church in Bredbury, Stockport.
“The turnout was amazing,” says Will. “We’d already had calls from Angela Griffin and Sheridan Smith, who both adored Joanne.”
"Some of the Hollyoaks cast were there. There was standing room only in that crematorium. Even the vicar cried when he delivered the eulogy.
“I know as a family we have to try and move on but it’s hard because there will always be something missing. Birthdays, Christmases, family get-togethers will never be the same because the person who was the best of us won’t be there. I know I speak for my whole family when I say we were privileged to know Joanne. She made us all better people.”
A spokesman for Chrysalis said: “We extend our condolences to every member of Joanne Mellor’s family.
"Chrysalis has openly and frankly admitted from the outset... that a mistake was made. As a result of the incident practices have been reviewed.”
Stockport Council said it was “fully aware of the concerns of the family”, adding: “We have been in touch, and will communicate further.”
Wednesday, 5 June 2013
Sunday, 26 May 2013
Sunday, 19 May 2013
Will Mellor has spent 24 of his 38 years onscreen, having started out at the age of 14 in Children’s Ward. He has starred in everything from long-running sitcoms to Bafta-winning dramas, and even been a soap-opera villain.
Here, he talks about his latest drama, Dates, reveals some dating advice, and recalls a not-so-successful date with the woman who’s now his wife.
You star in Channel 4’s new series Dates. What’s it all about?
It’s nine half-hour long episodes, they’re mini-plays, really. It’s basically about people going on first dates. Some are dramatic, some are funny, some are sad. They’re all very interesting. My story carries over three episodes, others are just one-off episodes, with characters who don’t come back.
So your episodes sort of book-end the series?
Yeah, my story with Oona Chaplin book-ends the whole thing. And Ben Chaplin is in the last episode with us as well.
Are Oona and Ben related?
No, they’re not, actually. Although Oona is Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter.
Oona is a big part of your story. Did you enjoy playing opposite her?
It was fantastic. We basically got together for rehearsals, because a piece like this has to be well-rehearsed. The one thing that John Maybury, the director, said to me was “I don’t want to see any acting.” That was music to my ears. This is a very naturalistic piece. It’s also nice to do something where the silence is very loud, where you can feel that nervous energy and discomfort. I’d never met Oona before, and she came bounding in, a bundle of energy and very quirky, and I could straight away see how her character could be likable. Because you can read her character on the page and it doesn’t read like she’s a nice person at all. But when she plays the part, you can see she’s got a reason why she is the way she is. And you find that out later on, down the line. But she’s magical, and stunning to watch. I think we had something special between us in rehearsals, straight away it was just on fire. And we just couldn’t wait to shoot it. And every day we had a really good time doing it. The job was very important to us both.
Can you tell, as an actor, when you’ve got chemistry with someone, and when it’s going well?
Straight away. Sometimes you have to work at it. But I think I’m pretty easy to get on with – I hope I am – I ain’t got no airs and graces, and we got on well straight away. Oona’s the same. She’ll throw her arms around you within the first seconds of meeting you. She’s very open, and I’m very open, so that got all of the bullshit out of the way straight away.
So did you improvise some of the dialogue?
Yeah, we did a little bit of improvisation. Only in certain bits. Oona would throw something in there, and I’d come back with something, and if the director liked it, he’d put it to the writer. We got that into our characters and what we were doing that if someone threw something in there, we just carried on with it. It wasn’t that we were trying to change anything, because the scripts were fantastic. The way the director shot it really helped us as well. He didn’t do take after take, he would just shoot. We did one ten-minute take, where the cameras just kept rolling. It was more like a play. And when you do it like that, you’re living it, and it becomes so much more natural. It really helps bring out your performance.
Apart from the odd line here and there, it’s basically a two-hander. Have you ever done anything like that?
Yeah, I did one with Sheridan Smith on Two Pints of Lager. We did a full episode, just me and her. It was very daunting, but it was a fantastic piece. We actually ran it in one half-hour take, and then we got to the end of it, and then did another half hour, with no breaks. It was amazing, but very nerve-wracking, because you’ve got an audience in front of you. And although they’re watching it as a play, you’ve got the cameras there and you have to hit your marks, and remember all your lines. We had a lot of rehearsal, maybe ten days rehearsal for it. Whereas the one with me and Oona, we had just two or three days to prepare for it. But it paid dividends, what we got in the end, for Dates. We shot the whole thing in two or three days. If you think about it in film, and they’re doing two or three minutes a day. We did 25 minutes in under three days. But it was good, it kept you on your toes. I love working at a fast pace, there’s nothing worse than sitting around all day waiting to go and say one word.
What was it that attracted you to doing Dates in the first place?
The script and the idea of it. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s so different, without trying to be different. It’s got no bells and whistles on it, there’s no explosions or special effects, it’s just two people talking on their date, that’s it. I was a bit scared about it at first, wondering if people would buy this as a piece of television, because it’s so different. And it doesn’t necessarily have an ending. I thought “If we get it wrong, it could be terrible. But if we get it right, I think it could be amazing.” And thankfully, I think it’s gone really well.
Did you do any research into the role? Did you look into the world of internet dating, or talk to mates about their dating experiences or anything?
Not really, no. When I read about this character and his background, he’s never really been on a date in his life, because he had been with his wife since he was at school. So he wears all the wrong clothes, and his hair is all flicked over, everything’s wrong. But it’s so wrong that it’s right, it makes him endearing. It was really more about working out his past, who he is, and how he would feel in this situation than anything about the dating scene.
Have you had your share of terrible dates over the years?
Not many, because I've been with my wife, Michelle, for 15 years. One of my worst dates was one of our first dates, though. We met in a bar, and she’d brought a mate and I’d brought a mate – you know, as you do – back-up! And I took her to Café de Paris, I was about 22 and trying to be all flash, so I booked us a table and bought champagne. And it was all going great, and she went off to the toilet, and when she came back, I saw this woman who looked just like Michelle, but she was bouncing of every wall and throwing up everywhere. And I thought “What is going on here?” And she fell onto me, and she was going “I’m so sorry!” And I’m thinking “What’s happened?” And her mate started accusing me of having drugged her drink. It turns out that she’d not eaten all day (she’s a dancer) and then I’d given her champagne. And so she went from seeming completely sober one minute to being unable to walk the next. Then she left, with her mate still pointing the finger at me, and my mates laughing at me. The next day I phoned her, and she was so embarrassed she thought she’d never hear from me again. But we had a good laugh about it, and 15 years later we have two children.
And you make sure she’s eaten whenever you go out?
Now she eats every time we go out, I can assure you of that!
What advice would you give to someone going on their first date?
It’s very difficult. I’d say be open-minded, because you don’t know what is going to come through that door. And don’t believe everything you see, because one thing this series does show you is that people lie on the internet. Be ready for anything – anything is possible. But be open-minded – love isn't always at first sight. As this first episode shows, if it was on first impressions, Mia would have walked out of that door. But once you get to know someone a little bit more, they might challenge you more than you think.
Describe to me your ideal date.
It would be dinner – I love good food – nice chat, nice drinks, on to a bar. I don’t like clubs, I hate clubs, you might as well just sit in different rooms. Go to a nice bar with lots of people and good, good, good music. I don’t think there’s much more to it.
You were in the recent drama juggernaut that was Broadchurch. What was that experience like?
Unbelievable. We knew it was going to be big. It was something I was so proud of, not for me as much as for my mum. Every time there was a drama on, she kept saying to me “Why aren't you in this?” And I’d say “Mum, it’s not me, it’s not like I don’t want to be in one.” It was a very different character for me, and I read it, and I wanted it that bad, I was so nervous about not getting the job. So I rehearsed it and rehearsed it. I knew the material so well. And I was so grateful when I got the job. Getting those phone calls is the best feeling. It’s really given me confidence to go on and do more drama.
What are the roles that have meant the most to you over the years?
My role in The Street was huge. It was working with Jimmy McGovern’s scripts. I was working across from Vincent Regan, and it was both of our first times playing gay characters, and we were quite nervous. We won the Emmy in America, and the BAFTA, for Best Drama, so that would go down as one of my favorite but most daunting roles. And obviously Broadchurch – I’m hoping I’m in Broadchurch 2. I’m hoping they’ve upgraded me to work with the police now that my character’s proved his worth.
Dates, part of Channel 4's Mating Season, begins in June.