Pop Idol’s Gareth Gates key to curing Ilford man’s stammer

FOR DECADES, Brian Skelton’s confidence was at rock bottom.

In school, children would “take the mickey” out of him as he struggled to get his words out, and his dream career was never able to take off because of his low self-esteem.

While friends went to the pub and enjoyed holidays in Europe, Brian stayed at home battling a condition which had singled him out as different.

“I’ve stammered since I was a boy,” says the 56-year-old as he tells his story.

He attributes developing his stammer to the death of his mother from cancer when he was seven and the death of his father to a heart attack just a year later.

He moved out of the family home in Grange Road, Ilford to be cared for in Barnardo’s village, Barkingside.

“My stammer was quite severe was I was young,” says Brian, now of Valentines Road, Ilford.

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“The children used to take the mickey out of me.

“But the funny thing is, I thought my stammer was normal because I’d got so used to it.

“But as I got older, it affected me more.

“I wouldn’t join in some things and I always used to give up on things.”

While his dream job was to work on a ship as a chef, Brian never went further than being a trainee chef working in a canteen, and believes his stammer, and the lack of confidence which came along with it, stopped him from progressing.

At the age of 20, Brian went to the NHS where a consultant got him to read from the Janet and John reading books to help with his stammer.

But after two sessions, Brian stopped attending.

It was only through watching a TV talent show that Brian would finally find help to deal with his stammer.

“I remember Pop Idol and seeing Gareth Gates on it,” he said.

“I thought, if he can get on the telly in front of millions with his stammer, then I can do something myself.”

He found out about the Starfish Project, a three-day course which helps people with stammers by teaching breathing techniques.

Since going on the course, which he returns to each year to help new members, his life has changed.

In 2007 he went on a safari to Kenya and he is a member of Toastmasters, a talking club which teaches public speaking.

He now works as a supervisor in the security department of the British Museum.

Brian, who has praised film The King’s Speech for highlighting stammering, added: “A lot of it is up there in your head.

“People think you’re stupid and that you’re a bit dumb.

“The number of times I’ve had people say, ‘you don’t even know your own name’ when I’ve struggled to get the words out.

“People have said to me, ‘you’ve been drinking’, and people have even put the phone down on me before.

“But my life has changed.

“I’m now more in control – it’s a great feeling.”

To find out more about the Starfish Project, visit www.starfishproject.co.uk.

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