Belfast Telegraph

Festival performer tells of Belfast clown's inspiration for his emotional cancer story

Richard Stamp
Richard Stamp
Will Chamberlain

By Steven Alexander

A performer at this year's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival has revealed how a Belfast clown inspired him to take to the stage before he died.

Cancer is no laughing matter, but Richard Stamp (54) has managed to turn what could have been tragedy into comedy, albeit with a serious message.

The Londoner is set to tell his emotional story about living with penile cancer next weekend in a performance at The Sunflower pub in Belfast.

But it's a story that might never have been heard had it not been for Will Chamberlain, who inspired Richard to - quite literally - get his act together before he died in October 2017.

Will was director of the Belfast Community Circus School, but died aged just 54 after he was diagnosed with cancer.

"We were very close and I knew Will for many years," said Richard.

"When he passed I was in Korea doing a show. He had actually booked me to do that show in Belfast.

"We would talk nearly every day, and his bravery dealing with cancer really influenced me. It was inspiring."

The grace with which Will dealt with his cancer helped Richard cope with his own.

"Seeing his strength gave me strength and the power to laugh at it. I miss him a lot."

It was Will who gave Richard his first gig in Northern Ireland, at the Festival of Fools opening day back in 2001.

"I did the show and, surprisingly, he was still speaking to me after it! I've been coming back ever since."

Richard has been taking his comedy shows around the world for many years, and it was while touring in Cambodia that he found a lump in his penis.

Like many men with health issues, he ignored the problem until pain dictated otherwise.

He later went to a doctor in Australia where he received the devastating news that it was cancer - and was bluntly told: "It's going to have to come off."

With so much at stake, Richard returned home to London for a second opinion, where he discovered that nearby St George's Hospital in Tooting is a world leader in treating the disease.

In a rare stroke of luck, doctors there said total amputation wasn't needed - but without last May's operation, Richard may not have made it through the summer.

His show - Dick: One Man in 100,000, a reference to the penile cancer rate - has been a way of both coping with the diagnosis and a partial amputation, as well as spreading the word about a taboo topic.

"It's entertainment and awareness of the subject, but it's also about the journey," said Richard.

The show isn't just played for laughs - such as the time he was referred to a GP in Australia and the receptionist asked him, 'Are you here to see Dr Cox?'

"There's always something ridiculous about it," said Richard.

There are around 640 new penile cancer cases in the UK every year - nearly two every day.

In Northern Ireland, there are around 20 cases a year, and six deaths.

For Richard, the multimedia performance - produced by Belfast woman Wendy Blemings - is "definitely a coping mechanism, like therapy" after the trauma of everything that happened in just three months last year.

"When I was first diagnosed, it was a way of dealing with it. I wasn't sure about a show, but I got an Arts Council of England grant and carried on, as it's something I've been doing for 30 years and part of me said I can quit at any time."

The first three performances in London were "a very emotional experience, but I really enjoyed it", he said.

"It's quite a cathartic experience to be able to do it."

Audiences have also been receptive.

"They love the show. It moves them. There's tears, laughter. It's quite heavy in some ways, but people really enjoy it."

He added: "There must be famous people out there with it.

"I'm the most unfamous person with it. You just don't hear about it."

Richard said one of the most rewarding aspects of the show has been when it is watched by other men with penile cancer.

"It's good to see that it helps people deal with it," he added.

He is also involved in making a documentary about his journey, as he explores the option of reconstruction following his amputation a year ago this Thursday.

"Yes, I'm looking into that," he said. "In Wake Forest laboratories in North Carolina they are growing penises in petri dishes.

"The show will also change as I change and as scientific breakthroughs develop."

The message that Richard wants to get across in his show is that men must take better care of themselves and act sooner if they suspect something is up.

He believes if his cancer had been caught sooner, he may not have suffered so much as it is one of the easiest to treat if it is caught early, but can prove fatal if ignored.

"It is very important for men to go to their doctors and talk about this," said Richard, who paid tribute to male cancer charity Orchid, which helped him deal with the diagnosis.

"I've learned a lot in the last year."

Dick: One Man in 100,000 is on at The Sunflower pub in Belfast on Sunday, May 12 at 2pm. Tickets are £8 from cqaf.com

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