Manchester couple's love story turned into Christmas advert

Gamal Fahnbulleh spoke to Ekow, Carly, and Melissa about the advert.

A couple who met at a charity's inclusivity event and fell in love have become the subject of a Christmas advert celebrating disabled artists.

The ad created by Triple C, a gateway organisation for deaf, disabled and/or neurodivergent (DDN) people’s access to the arts and media, tells the tale of inclusive love.

It is based on the true story of Ekow and Carly, two wheelchair users and members of the Disabled Artists Networking Community (DANC), who met at a networking event in Manchester four years ago.

The pair are now engaged, and play the starring roles in the advert, which they said is true to life.

Ekow said: "I really love it, it's a good story about the way we's almost quite accurate, to how it all happened.

"It's reminiscent of the way we met and I really like how it came across it made me feel so happy, it literally made my year."

Carly added: "I loved it as well, I think it was true to life. I loved the way the story was told, the way it's got a story too it - it's made my year, it really has."

The charity has been making Christmas adverts for five years, after realising the lack of representation of deaf, disabled, neuro-divergent people in traditional Christmas adverts.

Melissa Johns, who plays Imogen Pascoe on Coronation Street, is a disability activist and artistic director of the charity.

She said: "Every year the ideas for us are that's inclusive of DDN people both helping out behind camera and in front of camera.

"But it's been important to us, that it's never been the theme.

"The theme should always be something else, completely universal that is told through another lens.

"This year is seemed really right to highlight something that was based on a true story."

On Carly and Ekow's story, Melissa said: "I just thought there's a way we can make this into a Christmas advert, and one that's based on such a beautiful true story with two people that many of us think so highly of."

The pair said filming the advert was "easy" and allowed them to relive moments of their love story.

"It was easy to pull it off, it's a bit of a cheat because I've just had to take myself back to the moments," said Ekow.

"I didn't have to create or imagine it, we actually lived it - as magical as it looked on the advert, as magical as it was in real life.

"It was quite easy to get back to that feeling, it's never really left me."

"I even said to him when we re-did it, it brought back so many memories," said Carly.

"We spent the whole time reminiscing," added Ekow.

"There's a part in it where we bump into each other, we didn't actually bump into each other, but we did come cross each other on the streets of Manchester even though we both live in London...I loved filming it because it let us relive those moments."

Ekow and Carly are now engaged. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

Unlike other adverts, Triple C's is not selling anything, and is simply hoping to try and make Christmas adverts more representative.

It is a project between Triple C and 53Two, a theatre and arts charity based in Manchester.

"When we first decided to do this, it was because I was really frustrated that I just never saw that much representation of DDM people in Christmas adverts and we love Christmas adverts now - they make us so excited," Melissa said.

"We are reflecting the world we live in, but we were missing out such a huge group of people."

According to Channel 4, disabled people only featured in 4% of UK TV ads in 2021, leading a measly 1% of observed spots despite around 22% of the UK population having some form of disability.

Ekow said: "I feel like we are taking steps in the right direction, but we are still far from it.

"An advert like this is going to be 'I haven't seen nothing like it', you have to start from somewhere...but we want to get it to a place where people can say, this is great advert, and it has nothing to do with disability, just loo at that great advert.

"DANC is doing amazing work, and conversations and considerations are starting to be had. Now I think it's crazy to even consider using a non-disabled actor for a disabled role."

However, for many people with disabilities it is about constant inclusion not token gestures.

"What we don't want, is this whole 'disability special'," said Ekow.

"That's not what we want, that's not what this is, we aren't trying to promote include us for the one time this year, or the one occasion."

Carly, Ekow and Melissa spoke to Granada Reports presenter, Gamal Fahnbulleh. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

Melissa continued: "Disability is one of the under-represented groups that will affect one of us, disability and access requirements will come to every single one of us in our lives, so let's start making the world more accessible now.

"Let's start making it so we don't just accept but celebrate, embrace and cherish everything about difference because it's going to affect everybody at some point."

Triple C helps runs drama and theatre-based workshops for disabled children, teens and adults as well as creating links between organisations and raising awareness of issues surrounding disability. They run an extensive programme of events, masterclasses and workshops through DANC.

"We have got so many talented actors, writers, directors, anyone working in the TV, film, media and they just deserve their place in this industry, not just for representation. So often, we say 'representation matters', and of course it matters but lets give jobs to those people because they're really talented, they have stories to tell," said Melissa.

"Let's not representation be the driving force anymore, that can be the brilliant bonus alongside it. When we start cherishing DDN creatives for what they have to offer, we will change the industry massively."

For Carly and Ekow, they want people who watch this advert to feel the same way they do.

"Happy, excited, really joyous," said Carly.

"I want people to be when you watch a feel-good movie, and you get that positivity, that's what I want people to take from it;. I want people to resonate with the love that's in the advert, that's what I want people to focus on...the love," added Ekow.

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