As his memoir is published, comedian and Britain's Got Talent winner Lee Ridley talks to Hannah Stephenson about life, laughs and loneliness.
Lee Ridley, aka Lost Voice Guy, wowed Britain's Got Talent judges and audiences alike last year, with his gentle, self-deprecating humour which he delivers through the voice of a computer (a la Stephen Hawking).
Now, the disabled comedian has written his memoir, I'm Only In It For The Parking, a witty and thought-provoking account of 'life and laughter from the priority seats'.
The Newcastle-born funnyman charts his life, from being diagnosed with cerebral palsy and encephalitis as a baby, which resulted in him having no speech ability, and how treatment left him with a right-sided weakness, similar to the effects of a stroke.
But winning BGT has changed his life, the 38-year-old reflects. Far from being a misery memoir, the book is filled with uplifting, humorous anecdotes - ranging from Ridley hurtling down the Aviemore ski slopes while everyone else dived out of the way, to 'disabled life hacks' such as always rocking up to dinner wearing a scarf, which can double as a bib.
Here, Ridley tells us more...
What were the biggest childhood traumas for you?
"One of the biggest traumas growing up was having to deal with people staring and laughing at me in the street. I always found that really hard to cope with, and I still do today.
"Now, I have much thicker skin but when I was younger, I didn't. It used to happen quite often. Teenagers were the worst for laughing and taking the mick. If I knew I was going to pass a big group of teenagers who were likely to make fun of me, I would go the long way round just to avoid them.
"I think this is partly why I enjoy taking the mick out of myself in my comedy today. If I do it first, it means no one else can beat me to it."
And the biggest adult traumas?
"Trying to get to grips with what my body can and can't do because of my disability. I'm very independent and can be quite stubborn. So I'll often push my body to do too much, just because I want to be as normal as possible."
Was there a turning point in your life?
"It was winning the BBC New Comedy Award back in 2014. That was the moment when I realised that I could actually make a living out of comedy, and that it wasn't just a really expensive hobby. A few months after I won, I quit my day job at the council and I haven't really looked back since. I made the right decision."
How has Britain's Got Talent changed your life?
"The whole experience was amazing from start to finish. I'm busier than I ever was before, as a comedian. I'm on a nationwide tour, I'm always getting stopped for selfies and having people congratulate me. I'm very grateful for all the kind words I have received."
Have you kept in touch with the judges?
"All the judges were lovely and have been so supportive since I won. I've met both Simon Cowell and David Walliams a few times already. I'm looking forward to working with them more in the future. Plus Simon is always inviting me to his parties, which are always a lot of fun!"
What's been the hardest thing for you in pursuing a career in comedy?
"Most venues are really inaccessible. Most of them are up three flights of stairs, or down in a tiny basement. So sometimes it's a real struggle for me to get into the venue, never mind get up on stage and perform. I appreciate that these kinds of places are part of what makes the comedy scene great. I just wish more venues were accessible for disabled people."
How do you cope with fame?
"I'm coping with it better than I thought I would. I always knew it would be hard to adjust to that sort of lifestyle, but I seem to be taking it in my stride at the moment. It's really nice when people come up and congratulate me in the street. Obviously, other parts of it are a bit more surreal - hanging out with Simon Cowell at his summer party, for example. I don't think I'll ever get used to that. But I'm enjoying it so far."
You got very ill at Edinburgh Fringe - how do you take care of yourself?
"I'm getting better at looking after myself. I do get quite tired easily, and all the travelling and performing takes its toll. So it's just a case of managing that and making sure that I don't do too much. I try to have a good balance of work days and rest days. I've learned the hard way that I need to be sensible."
You talk about loneliness in the memoir - are you lonely?
"I've always been a bit of a loner. I think it started when I was a kid, when I went to a school quite a long way from home, so I didn't get to socialise much outside the school gates. This meant I had to entertain myself on evenings and weekends, and it's probably why I'm so comfortable in my own company these days. Admittedly, I do get lonely sometimes, but it doesn't really get to me anymore. I have a backlog of stuff on Netflix, so that'll keep me going for a while."
Have there been periods of depression and, if so, how do you deal with them?
"A lot of things depress me, such as my disability, not being able to hold down a relationship... and supporting Newcastle United! But I've got through them because I've always had wonderful family and friends to talk to when I've needed to chat."
Would you like to settle down and have a family one day?
"I'm single at the moment. I wouldn't say it was through choice, I just haven't found the right woman yet. I've tried but I think my own view on my disability holds me back. I'm always worrying what people think of me, or if I'm good enough for the other person, even though I wish my mind would switch off for a while and let me enjoy the moment. I think I'd like to settle down with someone one day, but I'm not in any great hurry."
How difficult has it been to form romantic relationships? You say in the book that in the past you've pushed people away
"I believe that my disability has made it harder for me to have relationships. But I also accept that that's as much to do with my attitude with my disability as other people's attitudes to it.
"I think some people see my disability, rather than see who I actually am, which is a shame. But that's as much about society's attitudes to disability in general. Only when the whole of society feels more comfortable around disabled people, will individual attitudes really change. I think we're getting there but there's still a long way to go."
What are your goals now?
"My only goal is to keep making people laugh. As long as I can do that then I'll be happy!"
I'm Only In It For The Parking: Life And Laughter From The Priority Seats by Lee Ridley is published Bantam on May 16, priced £14.99.