The Deaf performer on how music saved her life

Fletch@ was speaking to Lucy Kapasi in BSL. Her words in this ITV Central report are spoken by her wife and interpreter Kristy.

A Deaf performer from Staffordshire who shares the stage with the top names in the music business, says the power of music has helped her mental health.

Fletch@ - as she is known - brings songs and concerts to life for Deaf people through BSL interpretation.

Her biggest audience so far was at Wembley with Ronan Keating. And she is about to start her dream job signing for all the Wembley dates of Ed Sheeran's tour with the company Performance Interpreting, which provides professional BSL interpreters for music, entertainment and sporting events across the UK.

Fletch@ is looking forward to working with Ed Sheeran Credit: Fletch@

"I translate the lyrics and perform them in British Sign Language (BSL). So the things I need to think about are: 'What does it mean?' 'How is the singer's tone when the intonation goes very high or very low?'

"I need to represent the artist's emotions with facial expressions and body language and I need to deliver that to the audience.

"There's lots of different artists out there and their songs always trigger memories of maybe anger or sadness or happy times. A whole variety of different emotions. When I'm performing, it feels really good to get that emotion out and I always feel better afterwards.

"So the work that I do really helps me with my mental health. Since I was 17, I had terrible mental health at that time. It really was in decline. I was in quite a dark place, quite a bad place.

"And the music, I feel, has saved my life - twice."

Fletch@ says her first experience of music was when she was nine. She heard a sound - she can hear a little bit with her hearing aids - and asked her mother what it was.

"My mother said: 'Oh, it's the music'. And she pointed to the stereo and she had a CD playing with the music. She showed me inside the CD case which has the pullout with the lyrics.

"She said: 'Watch my lip pattern'. And she held her finger underneath the lyrics. And I watched the lyrics match up to the sound of the music. And I was like, 'Wow!' And that was Celine Dion."

After that, Fletch@ got involved in music at school.

"There were seven of us who were Deaf. We used to perform and choreograph dances and we used to tour around the UK.

"We did this to try and raise Deaf awareness and to show that Deaf people can do anything. Exactly the same as hearing people can. So we toured around for about six years and as we grew up we went our different ways.

"But inside of me I always felt this passion to carry it on and to become a solo artist.

"Probably the first big artist I worked with was when I was 16 and this is where my dream came true, and it was Ronan Keating.

"So I performed with Ronan at Wembley. So I was like, yes, tick that one off the list! Since then, I do tweet people and try and get them to work alongside me, especially Anne-Marie, to see if she's interested, offering to teach her how to sign the song.

Fletch@ with Anne-Marie, one of her favourite artists Credit: Fletch@

"I've met her a few times in HMV and had CDs and things signed with her and she was very interested. But it's just so difficult to get through and to access, you know, the top names."

Over the last year, Deaf performers have brought BSL and Deaf awareness to new audiences. Deaf actor Rose Ayling-Ellis was crowned the winner of Strictly Come Dancing 2021.

And the film CODA, named after the term: 'Children of Deaf Adults', won big at the Oscars and the BAFTAs.

Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice during the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour press launch in Birmingham Credit: Jacob King/PA Wire/PA Images

"It's been great to see Rose on Strictly Come Dancing. That was an amazing achievement for her. And that part where the music went silent. That's the reality of our everyday lives. That's normal for us. So that was great for that to be included.

"CODA as well is another example of real life for Deaf people. In the olden days we were excluded. But we want to be involved. We have feelings, we have brains. We have exactly the same as everybody else. It's just that our ears don't work."

Deaf actor Troy Kotsur after winning the Supporting Actor award for CODA at the 75th BAFTAs Credit: Ian West/PA Wire/PA Images

Fletch says she welcomes the new law that recognises BSL as an official language in England and Wales and says she hopes it will make things more accesible for deaf people.

"Momentous day for the Deaf Community"

"In the Deaf community, we have always had difficulty with barriers, people not providing interpreters, not having enough Deaf awareness.

"It's a really frustrating situation and it impacts hugely on mental health. I'm hoping that with the BSL Act now in place, the barriers will be less and that more people might be inspired to learn BSL, meaning life will become easier for Deaf people.

"For example at the moment if I go to a doctor's appointment, I'm always worried. Have they booked an interpreter or have they forgotten? And it's it's quite stressful. Now, with the BSL Act in place, it should mean that there's going to be more reliability that an interpreter would be there."

Fletch has three children with her wife Kristy and says the way they all speak and sign at the same time makes it easy for her to understand what's being said and to feel more involved. But it wasn't always that way.

Fletch@ and her wife Kristy with their three children who all use some Sign Language. Credit: Fletch@

"Growing up I was brought up orally as all my family have hearing. So it meant I went to a mainstream school and I started to learn Sign Language at school. I was told by my family that I must sign at school. But when I came home, I wasn't allowed to sign.

"And that's because somebody within the medical industry, a doctor, had said: 'Don't sign with her, because if you do that, it means that she won't speak', which, to be honest, is not true at all.

"It's so helpful if hearing people can learn BSL. That means that Deaf people will be able to understand them. As it is at the moment, we can't learn to hear. But hearing people people can learn to sign. My wife learned to sign when she met me. Before, she didn't have any major knowledge of BSL.

"She knew a few little basic signs. But then on meeting me, she went on to learn Level One in BSL and progressed through to Level Six."

Fletch@ also works with schools teaching the next generation about BSL and interpreting and teaching them the basics of what she does.

"For me growing up, I didn't really have much experience of BSL and other Deaf children at first. But now it seems much more mainstream.

"I just wish that I'd have had that back when I was younger. It's great travelling to meet these children in schools, raising awareness and showing them what I - and they - can do."

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