Nottingham Legend Vicky McClure MBE on Our Dementia Choir's Return to Splendour Festival

Words: Gemma Cockrell
Photos: Jake Haseldine
Friday 14 July 2023
reading time: min, words

Splendour Festival returns to Wollaton Park this month, as does Vicky McClure MBE and Our Dementia Choir. We chat to the Wollaton native ahead of the festival which essentially takes place in her back garden…

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Over 850,000 people live with a form of dementia in the UK, and even though progress is being made in finding a cure, it is unlikely to come quickly enough to help them. Instead, it is essential for these people to find the best way of living with their dementia.

This is where Vicky McClure comes in. Inspired by her late Nana who passed away in 2015, she set out to discover the extent of music’s power in combating dementia. Five years later, Our Dementia Choir is a national sensation, appearing in multiple BBC documentary series and performing up and down the country.

While filming series two of Trigger Point, McClure had time to tell us about the choir’s upcoming performance at Splendour Festival in Wollaton Park. But before that, they are preparing to perform at Binks Yard and Southwell Minster at the start of June. “The team behind it is fierce,” the actress says. “They are working tirelessly while I’m working tirelessly on Trigger Point, so I’m leaving it in their safe and capable hands.”

Hailing from Wollaton herself, McClure grew up going to Splendour and Wollaton Park, so she feels a real affinity to the festival. “My mum made trips to Wollaton Park when I was in her belly!” she laughs. “It is my favourite place on Earth. I say that all the time. But I’ve shared so many experiences there. If I need to be on my own and have a bit of time to think, it’s a great place to go and have a walk.”

This isn’t the Dementia Choir’s first rodeo when it comes to Splendour - last year, they took to the main stage alongside Tom Grennan with the support of the BBC, which was a “real pinch-me-moment” for McClure. “This time, we’re going alone,” she says. “There was a real desire to see them on stage again. Splendour is a beautiful atmosphere, there were 25,000 people there and you could sense that everyone had their back.”

Gaining support from people in the music industry like Grennan is helping to raise awareness about how music therapy can create escapism for people living with dementia. This year, McClure looks forward to performing on the same stage as headliner Noel Gallagher, who is a good friend of hers. “When I saw he was headlining, I messaged him and said, ‘Looks like we’re sharing the same stage in my back garden,’” she laughs, “I think he thought ‘What?’, but I did explain it to him!”

My mum made trips to Wollaton Park when I was in her belly! It is my favourite place on Earth

McClure is a self-proclaimed “massive music fan” and uses Splendour’s Confetti stage to discover new artists. “Sometimes it’s their first big gig and it’s nice to support that. I always have music on, I love it when songs I’ve never heard come up on my Spotify. I need music. It helps me in my job when I’m filming tough scenes. Music is there for us all. There’s nothing like live music,” she says.

The most important message that the choir conveys for McClure is that people with dementia have purpose. “A diagnosis doesn’t mean it’s game over - it’s time to really live your life,” she says. “There’s still a lot of life to live. People can live well with dementia, that’s our tagline. It is a terminal illness, it is the biggest killer in the UK, and there is no cure, so we have to propel our message. The choir represents a force of nature.”

A member of the choir named Julie opened McClure’s eyes to the terminology and language that is often used around dementia, encouraging a shift from saying ‘suffering with’ dementia to ‘living with’ dementia. “I understood it the moment she said it. The language has to change. They don’t want to spend years of their lives feeling like they’re going to be suffering, because they’re not,” she says. “There will be bad days but there are also going to be good days, so it’s important to promote that healthy, positive attitude.”

In their most recent documentary, Our Dementia Choir recorded their first single at Abbey Road studios. But it hasn’t yet generated the change that McClure envisioned. “I’m sure conversations are being had, and I hope they are, but we need the Government to be more active in letting us know what’s going on. Drugs are being trialled, but they won’t be useful to the choir because of their current diagnosis. So, what are we doing for the here and now?”

McClure recommends the Alzheimer's Society's Dementia Friends training for those who want to learn more, but for the younger generation, her recent children’s novel, The Castle Rock Mystery Crew serves as the perfect introduction to dementia for those who may not have heard of it before. “It’s an adventure, mystery tale, with a subtle introduction of dementia. It isn’t focused purely on that but there are little bits in there that will give kids an insight. They’re the next generation and I’m hopeful they will find the cure.”

Vicky McClure and Our Dementia Choir will perform at Splendour Festival on Sunday 23 July


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