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Harry’s dementia song moves millions… But Andy’s dementia ‘joke’ causes offence

A teenage boy won massive support from TV viewers when he sang a song about his grandmother’s dementia, whilst a respected comedian landed himself in hot water for joking that Theresa May might have dementia.

Both of these events happened on prime time TV last weekend. So what do they tell us about the way dementia is treated on television?

Our hearts went out to 16-year-old Harry Gardner who sang a beautiful song about his grandmother’s dementia on Britain’s Got Talent last weekend. Harry’s song Not Alone didn’t only move the BGT judges to tears, it moved thousands of others too, many of whom had personal experience of dementia themselves.

Harry, from Chelmsford, Essex, wrote his lovely ballad after his nan Maureen failed to recognise him during a family visit. ‘It was the first time she didn’t recognise me and it was really hard-hitting,’ he said. ‘So this was my way through song, to cope.’

The poignant lyrics reveal a teenage boy trying to make sense of his nan’s decline. Harry wrote them straight after the visit (staying up until 2am to finish the song) and admits they came easily.

It happened too fast, I find it all so strange…I blinked once and everything changed

Open your eyes and say hello…tell me to get the remote so we can watch your favourite show.’

When he posted a video of him performing the song on YouTube last year (to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK) it quickly became an internet sensation with donations flooding in.

Harry’s performance on Saturday resulted in another surge in donations, though sadly, Harry’s nan didn’t live to see it. Maureen passed away last week, but Harry will be performing his special song again, at her funeral in two weeks time.

But whilst young Harry was moving viewers to tears, comedian Andy Hamilton was moving quite a few to complain, after he made a ‘joke’ about dementia on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You on Friday night.

Regular viewers to this satirical news show, which delights viewers by poking fun at the political elite, would not have been surprised to see the panellists cracking jokes about the Prime Minister, particularly in the run up to the next general election.  However, when Andy Hamiliton made a joke about Theresa May possibly having dementia… (‘because she keeps repeating herself and has been wandering around the streets knocking on people’s doors’) it left many people watching at home feeling uncomfortable and, dare we say it, just a little bit upset. Some viewers took to Twitter expressing their outrage and disappointment that a comedian they admired would tell a joke making fun of people with dementia. Some said it left a ‘sour taste’ in the mouth. Interestingly, none of the offence seemed to have been caused by political allegiances.

Families living with dementia have not lost their sense of humour. In fact, they know humour can be a great stress reliever on the dementia journey. That’s why so many of us howled with laughter when we saw David Baddiel’s My Family Not The Sit Com.

So why didn’t Andy Hamilton’s joke about Ms May crack a smile? Maybe it just wasn’t very funny.

Whilst we very much doubt Andy Hamilton had any desire to make fun of people with dementia (and we’re pretty sure he’ll think twice before he tries that particular gag again) we think this incident shows that, as dementia awareness grows, our tolerance of bad taste jokes diminishes. And that, surely, has to be a good sign. But what do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Click here to donate to Harry’s fundraising page.