Line of Duty actress Vicky McClure brings Our Dementia Choir's Easter performance to Mansfield

It is not that long ago that she was spotted filming in Clipstone, but Line of Duty star Vicky McClure was back in the Mansfield area this week with a project which is, perhaps, even closer to her heart.

By Andy Done-Johnson
Friday, 1st April 2022, 10:44 am

The Nottingham-born star, who has become more than a familiar face on our television screens in recent years, chose the John Fretwell Sporting Complex, between Mansfield Woodhouse and Warsop, as the venue for the Easter performance of Our Dementia Choir, and is set to feature in the latest series of the hit BBC documentary.

I arrive about two hours before the performance is due to start, and it is already chaos. A mass game of bingo is taking place in a function room, people are rushing along corridors, organisers frantically scurrying around.

One of the production team comes over after about half an hour. “She’s just having a cup of tea,” he tells me. “She’s been flat out all day. She’s talked for the last two hours non-stop.”

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Actress Vicky McClure with Our Dementia Choir at the John Fretwell Centre

When I finally meet her, it is a bit of a surprise – I hardly recognise her.

I am used to the black short-back-and-sides which has become ‘the look’ in her massively successful police drama which ran for six seasons, as well as the slightly more recent Trigger Point, where she played a bomb squad specialist.

Now she is blonde, with her longer hair tied back in a loose ponytail. And she is lovely, a long way from the hard-nosed copper we have become used to.

And what is the most powerful thing, is that – even though she is the famous face – none of this is about her.

Members of the choir getting ready to perform to a packed house

It is about those people who the choir has helped, and continues to help.

The Dementia Choir is rapidly expanding and evolving. Tey are working on a third season, but it is also now a charity, managed by Karen Bonser – whose husband Mick is a dementia sufferer and active choir member – with huge plans for the future.

So why, as an entity that was very much Nottingham-based when it first evolved in 2018 taken itself to a leisure centre on Sookholme Road?

"Karen speaks to people who are going to be very willing, which allows us to put these events on at a very low cost, Vicky says. “And the John Fretwell Centre has been generous in allowing us to use it for a very small cost, so we can do what we need to do today.

Vicky chatting to your Chad deputy editor Andy Done-Johnson

“That, and it really doesn’t matter where we are in the East Midlands – the choir we’ve got are from all different parts of the region, so it doesn’t particularly matter as long as we’re somewhere close by. As long as everyone can get there, then it’s fine.

"We do put transport on for everyone, no matter where we are – that’s part of the choir – and sometimes getting people into a place like this is easier than getting them into Nottingham.

“We do have people who live in the north of the county, so it’s nice to mix it up a bit.”

When it first aired four years ago, Our Dementia Choir saw Vicky being taken on an extremely personal journey, where she set out to discover music’s power in combating dementia.

The actress knows only too well the cruelness of dementia, having helped care for her grandma who died in 2015.

But she also saw the amazing effect the music had in calming her down, as well as giving glimpses of the old ‘Nana’.

Difference

As a result, Vicky formed a choir of people all living with dementia in her hometown of Nottingham, to see whether music can make measurable difference to their lives. The result was Our Dementia Choir.

Vicky says: “We started in 2018 and when we finished shooting, we all collectively decided that it needed to continue. We just felt that we’d created a family, a community, something very meaningful, so we tried our best to keep things moving.

“It was then when we did the second series, well I say the second series, it was the Christmas special, and we concentrated on Mick deliberately, well Mick and Karen, really.

“Karen and I had quite a few conversations over that time and became very good friends and it was only really when Karen stepped in that we were able to elevate the charity to what it is now.

“If we were to just do it while we were filming, then it doesn’t seem quite as genuine to me. The ambition for the charity is huge – because her husband is in the choir and has dementia, she totally understands what it’s about. This kind of stuff is vital to us, because we’ll raise a lot of money tonight.”

I ask her about the impact the covid lockdown had on the choir, and she says it involved Zoom rehearsals ‘that weren’t the same’, but helped keep the choir community together.

However, when it comes to describing the impact the pandemic had on people suffering with dementia, she passes the baton to Karen, leaving her the last word.

Karen says: “Living with someone with dementia, along with a teenager, well, it was a perfect storm in our house.

“It was very tricky and Mick did decline quite a lot at that time, because people who are diagnosed with dementia, they need interaction, they need constant activities.

“You can’t give it 24-7 in the home and I think he’s probably lost six to 12 months of his life due to being locked in during lockdown. But the choir keeps him going, we’ve revived his energy to a certain extent.

“He lives for the choir and if it wasn’t for Vicky and the BBC then he probably wouldn’t be here today.”

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