Why Harry Gardner’s Britain’s Got Talent message is so important


By Dr Laura Phipps | Thursday 01 June 2017

On 6 May, 17-year old Harry Gardner pulled on the heart strings of the TV-watching British public when the shy teenager took his seat at a piano on the Britain’s Got Talent stage and delivered a song he’d penned about his nan, Maureen. The tribute highlighted how his nan’s Alzheimer’s had robbed her of her ability to recognise him and the loss he felt when she no longer carried chocolate in her handbag – a habit that Harry and her other grandchildren had come to associate so strongly with her.

Photo credit: Gavin Woollard

But it was this seemingly insignificant detail that resonated so strongly with Britain’s Got Talent viewers of all generations. Everyone has a ‘chocolate in the handbag’ story about the people they love; a small habit, saying or action that is so easy to take for granted but that leaves such a huge hole when it’s no longer there.

Harry’s audition video

Harry’s song struck a chord and it’s an important one. There are lots of discussions happening at the moment about dementia and its impact on the lives of older people in society. But Harry’s story serves as a reminder to us all that dementia affects more than just an individual, it affects the whole family. Sadly, Harry’s nan passed away last month only a week before his first audition aired on TV, making his performance in Tuesday’s semi-final even more poignant.

In 2015, we carried out a survey revealing that three in ten parents said their children aged 18 and under had felt the impact of dementia. For children and young people, dementia can be a confusing and heartbreaking condition to make sense of, and equally difficult for parents to explain.

Harry’s song, ‘Not alone’, which has already helped raise more than £14,000 for Alzheimer’s Research UK, touched the hearts of people of all ages because dementia impacts on the lives of every generation. We were overwhelmed by the stories shared with us from teenagers and young people and Harry’s performance on Britain’s Got Talent provided them with a platform to open up about their experience and in many cases, their loss.

Harry Gardner tells his story

Harry may not have made through to the final on Tuesday night but to show such ability in song-writing, to be able to channel his emotion into lyrics in a way that touched so many young people and to work so tirelessly to raise funds for research shows a talent and maturity beyond his years. He shared his most personal feelings about losing his nan on one of the most public stages there is and that alone takes a huge amount of courage. On behalf of Alzheimer’s Research UK and all of the lives that Harry’s performances touched, we’d like to say a huge thank you.

For information about dementia for children and young people visit www.dementiaexplained.org

This blog is cross-post with The Huffington Post.

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Dr Laura Phipps