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The Doppelganger Effect

by Laurence Clark

16th July 2007

Ever been mistaken for someone else because you have the same impairment as them? I find it happens to me all the time.
In life, I've generally found the well-worn stereotype of Black people that 'everyone looks the same' unfortunately applies just as much people like myself who have cerebral palsy. Whilst I've always assumed that the explanation could be down to the fact that we all look and sound perpetually drunk, recently I've found myself wondering whether other disabled people are also prone to this irritating phenomenon.

In the past, I've encountered some members of the public who have obviously remembered CP as the one sole distinguishing feature of someone they've previously encountered. Sadly, this then seems to render them incapable of comprehending the notion that there just might be more than one of us in the world. Instead, they tend to become insistent - swearing that I'm really some actor with CP they've read about or seen recently; usually Robert Softley, Jamie Beddard or "the bloke who was in that film with Derek Jacobi". (His name's Steve Varden - Ed).
For the record, Robert, Jamie and I think we neither look nor sound like each other in any way whatsoever. Indeed, if we were all to play the same character at different stages in life, you'd probably end up with the improbable story of a camp Glaswegian in his twenties who then mysteriously matures into a less camp middle-class northerner in his thirties, before winding up as a middle-aged Cockney jack the lad.

What's also quite disturbing is when even our own family can't tell us apart. My two-year-old son Tom instantly took to Robert when we met up last year - almost like he'd discovered a second, Scottish daddy!

Worse still, one night a few years ago, whilst Robert and I were appearing at the same theatre, a close relative of his was in the foyer enthusiastically telling people how proud he'd made her. Unfortunately, she was simultaneously gesturing to a poster for my show, which happened to feature a photo of me stark naked with an effigy of children's puppet entertainer Sooty wedged firmly between my legs. You would have thought this might have made her look twice, wouldn't you? It didn't, though - and eventually the front of house manager had to tactfully whisper in her ear that she'd got completely the wrong person.
Probably my strangest experience of mistaken identity occurred just the other week, when I was working with someone who thought I did DJing on the side. It took me a moment to realise I was being confused with a local DJ who has CP: Gemma Nash. I can honestly say this was the first time in my entire life that I've been confused for a member of the opposite sex!

So is this just a CP thing, or do disabled people with other impairments find this happening a lot to them too? Fellow Ouch readers, please satisfy my curiosity ...
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