Welsh Lives: Meet the UK's only blind town crier with an impressive world record

Based in Llandudno, Billy is the UK's first ever blind town crier. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Losing your eyesight can completely change your life but for one man it's only strengthened his passion for life.

It took some time, but after pushing through the dark moments, Billy Baxter is the UK's only blind town crier.

On tonight's Welsh Lives, we hear more about Billy's journey from the moment he woke up and couldn't see his wife next to him to breaking a world record on his motorbike.

Based in Llandudno, Billy has been the town's crier for the past seven years after a special audition.

He explained: "So the worshipful mayor asked me to do a cry, about who I was and where I lived. I got through the second ‘Oyez’ and they told me to stop."

"They presented me with the bell and said you’ve got the job."

Billy relies on the help of others to tell him how people react to his announcements in the town. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

The nature of the role needs an element of audience engagement, where Billy relies on the help of others.

"I’m totally blind, I have no sight whatsoever. So if your audience aren’t engaging with you, heckling you, laughing or talking, you might as well be talking to nobody.

"It’s very difficult to gauge the audience so whoever escorts me can give me ‘oh there’s a lady over there laughing or there’s a group waving to you coming off the coach’, because the audience won’t know me as a blind person."

Billy was a soldier for 21 years and served with the Royal Horse Artillery. He explained: "I absolutely loved every aspect of military life; the comradeship, going to different places, the equipment, soldiering itself, getting mucky, being outside, getting paid to go outside and get dirty.

"You had harrowing things as well like Northern Ireland and Bosnia but there were more pluses than minuses being a soldier. I’d do it all again. I loved it."

Spending 21 years in the military, Billy said he loved every aspect of it.

However, his time in Bosnia was one that changed his life forever. It was here where Billy caught a virus that ended his career, leading to a moment he still remembers very clearly today.

"I woke up on 1st September 1997, opened my eyes and I couldn’t see my wife laying in bed next to me. I’d been hiding the fact that I was blind in one eye to a lot of people; the only person I was fooling was myself.

"But that day when I woke up, I couldn’t see anything. It was complete shock, horror."

Billy added: "I went to a very, very dark place. They always think about the individual that loses their sight or whatever, it’s the family that suffered. My wife cried herself to sleep in bed or cried in the shower when the kids couldn’t hear her, she had to be brave for them.

"I was just this angry, nasty, tearful person that was certainly disconnected with life."

Billy recalled the moment he woke up completely blind, unable to see his wife Karen next to him in bed.

It was his wife, Karen, who persuaded Billy to get in touch with Blind Veterans UK; a charity which helps ex-servicemen and women.

Hearing the story of a woman who was injured in an explosion at a munitions factory, losing both her arms, her eyesight and her best friend, helped inspire Billy to change his outlook on life.

He recalled: "I started to feel really guilty and she was sitting there chirpy as the days long and she had no arms, no eyes. And she said ‘Don’t you worry, they’ll sort you out Billy. Don’t be angry, give them a chance."

As an accomplished horseman, he was determined to ride again, which was made possible through the help of the charity.

"They introduced me to this horse, I vaulted onto it. The young girl that was going to be my guide said ‘have you ridden before?’ I said ‘a little bit”, she said ‘who taught you?’, I said ‘the Queen’."

"And then we went out that afternoon and another bit of magic happened. I galloped across the Sussex Downs on a horse, on my own, trusting the horse, trusting the girl next to me saying ‘Billy, slow down! Stop!’"

Despite losing his sight, Billy was inspired to get back on a horse and ride again with the help of Blind Veterans UK.

Now, Billy works with the charity Blind Veterans UK, helping others to overcome their fears that he once faced himself.

Nick Caplin from the charity said: "When people come to Llandudno, particularly on their first time, they have a life changing experience because they begin to view their sight loss in a different way.

"And the very start of that journey for them is when they sit down and listen to Billy. They hear Billy talk about his story and they hear him talking about his transformation and they themselves then start thinking ‘right Billy, we’re right behind you, we can do this as well’".

With his military connections, Billy was not able to just get back on his motorbike but also attempted a world record for the fastest speed for a solo blind person.

He explained how the "trust is on a different level" when you're going that fast.

"Long story short, I was able to ride a motorbike. One of the team discovered there was a land speed record which stood at 78mph - solo, blind.

"After 18 months, we achieved the speed that we wanted which was on 2nd August 2003, 164.87mph solo."

In 2003, Billy broke the world record for the fastest speed on a motorbike by a blind person, solo.

Billy truly believes that the joy of life comes from the people around you and the little things.

"Losing my sight has taught me, you don’t need your eyes to see. It’s the people around you. I am a product of them and their warmth and love. It’s just having that spirit, that inner spirit that drives me on.

"I just love life. Fishing, horse riding, motorbikes, anything that interests me, history, I just love it."

Welsh Lives is broadcast on ITV Cymru Wales on Tuesdays at 7.30pm. The programme will also be available online at itv.com/walesprogrammes.