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'Just raising awareness and telling your story are crucial'

Vicky McClure won't let her family's experience with dementia stop her in her tracks. In fact, it's made her more determined

Vicky McClure fronts the two-part Our Dementia Choir on BBC One
Vicky McClure fronts the two-part Our Dementia Choir on BBC One

By Gemma Dunn

When Vicky McClure snipped the ribbon at the annual Alzheimer's Society Memory Walk some nine years ago, she had no idea of the impact it would eventually have on her own life.

For just one year on from the flagship fundraiser, the Line of Duty star, who had little knowledge of the disease prior to the event, discovered her grandmother ("Nona") had been diagnosed with vascular dementia.

It was a turning point for McClure, who ever since has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the condition, from her appointment as an Alzheimer's Society ambassador and appearing in dementia-friendly theatre performances, to campaigning for a dementia-friendly UK, including returning to support said Memory Walk in her hometown of Nottingham each year.

"When something hits you in your life, you don't know how to deal with any of it until it's there, whether it be cancer, or depression, or dementia," says McClure (35).

"You stop and think you have to figure it out, because you're not pre-warned. And my mum was focused on the fact that she had no idea how hard it would be, so she wanted to know how to help other people. Raising awareness and telling your story are crucial."

True to her word, her latest project - a two-part documentary series - is set to spread the message far and wide.

BBC One's Our Dementia Choir with Vicky McClure will see the Bafta-winning actress embark on a personal journey to discover the true extent of music's power in fighting dementia. Joining forces with the University of Nottingham and specialists from the fields of medicine, music therapy and performance, McClure is forming a very special band and choir to put on one truly unforgettable performance.

And having seen first-hand how music therapy can change lives, she's overjoyed to be steering the ship.

"When you know someone is going through something at the same time as you, you don't feel like you're on your own. That's what happened with the choir.

"We're not just doing it to highlight an issue that we know is horrific, but also the positive side of it, too. Music, I do feel, is as powerful as a drug.

"There isn't anything currently to stop or cure dementia, but it's about trying to live well with the condition."

Having recruited ex-musicians and singers with dementia to partake in the project, the stakes are high, as the final performance could leave a lasting legacy in our understanding of the disease.

But as important as the singing is, it's vital the series documents scientific breakthroughs, too, McClure insists.

"The music side is the core of the show, because we've managed to prove in those three months how much it improved their lives and those of their families, friends and carers. But the science side is crucial, because we don't know what we might find.

"The statistics for people doing music therapy in care homes is low, but I hope after this documentary is aired that people will just give it a go.

"It gave the choir members a purpose, it challenged them. It wasn't easy. But they were happy. It's not easy if any of us have to learn a song, never mind if you've got dementia."

As for the Government, McClure maintains: "It doesn't put enough funding into research.

"I am passionate about looking into that; I want to know what's being done on that side of things.

"The funding is the hardest part. We need the backing of councils and the Government. We need to get people on board, and everyone put the effort in to contribute.

"Volunteering is the best thing anyone can do, because it means you're giving something back. And eventually you're going to need it yourself."

There are some tough questions to be asked in this process, McClure recognises. Like whether her own mother fears she will face dementia, too.

"It's an obvious one to ask, since it seems to run in families, but my other grandparents are both in their nineties and they're sharp as a tack. The thing with dementia is, I look at it now to be a bit like a cancer.

"I've lost too many friends to cancer who have lived very healthy lives. It is what it is. I don't know what I'm going to die of - it could be dementia. But what can I do about it?

"Of course, there's that fear that it could be me.

"But I can't live my life between now and whenever worrying about it."

Our Dementia Choir with Vicky McClure, BBC One, Thursday, 8pm

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