The new boy on Sex Education and the magician with OCD
Sex Education's George Robinson and magician Fergus Flanagan chat fame, OCD and magic.
Actor George Robinson reveals what it's like to play Isaac, the first disabled character in Netflix's Sex Education.
George became tetraplegic just a few years ago when he broke his neck in a school rugby tackle gone-wrong.
The question is, did he watch the show - full of teenage sex, angst and mishaps - with his parents?
Professional magician Fergus Flanagan first got into tricks when he was 10-years-old - about the same time he realised he was different to everyone else.
He'd started to experience intrusive thoughts relating to hitting or kicking disabled people - something he never acted on and has since gone away.
But it would be another 10 years before he told anyone about it and it was given a name - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - something he's now created a magic show around.
Presented by Kate Monaghan and Simon Minty. A full transcript will be available here soon.
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Transcript: The new boy on Sex Education and the magician with OCD
FERGUS - He just showed me a coin trick. He just made a coin vanish. And that was it, I was hooked.
KATE - No way!
SIMON - Oh, oh, oh, it's you.
KATE - I'm not kidding, that is actually the card.
GEORGE - I think there's a video on YouTube of me playing rugby when I'm about 13. So I'm making a tackle in it and I just think, how on earth have you not broken your neck sooner?
KATE - Hello, and welcome to the Ouch talk show with me, Kate Monaghan.
SIMON - And me, Simon Minty.
KATE - Now, if you're a regular listener do you sometimes feel that us getting through this show is a bit of a magic trick in itself?
SIMON - Like pulling a rabbit out of the hat?
KATE - Exactly.
SIMON - Well, that's precisely what we're doing today, sort of, just without the rabbit. Fergus Flanagan is a BAFTA Award winning who has performed all over the world. His new show, 'When I grow up I want to be a Magician', promises to shine a light on mental health and explores the trials and tribulations of being a working magician with OCD, or obsessive compulsive disorder.
KATE - He counts Derren Brown among his friends. Derren described Fergus as one of the finest close up magicians in the country, but also the nicest guy you'll ever meet. Well, we shall be the judge of that, thank you, Fergus.
FERGUS - Yes, you've set the bar really high there.
KATE - Yeah. How are you doing?
FERGUS - Very good. Thank you so much for having me on.
KATE - Good. I see you've brought a deck of cards with you.
FERGUS - Yes, I don't go anywhere without them. And it's kind of half the reason I get invited anywhere, [laughs] so I have to turn up with them, it's like a rule.
SIMON -I heard Derren Brown on the Adam Buxton podcast. He's just… I really like him. Is he as nice as we think?
FERGUS - He is that plus more, yeah. He's the loveliest, most sort of genuine, honest, humble guy.
SIMON - Also on the show is actor and wheelchair user, George Robinson who hit a streaming device near you when the second series of 'Sex Education' dropped on Netflix a few weeks ago. George plays the new boy in town, but he's not necessarily the sweetest one about. Hello George.
SIMON - How come you're not so sweet?
GEORGE- Oh, I think it's just because Isaac just loves to mess with people I think. He's got a bit of a baby face, he probably plays the wheelchair card in order to get the upper hand in social situations.
SIMON - And Isaac is your character in 'Sex Education'?
SIMON - We'll be asking you for a bit more about that shortly.
KATE - You're listening to BBC Ouch. It's a disability thing. And all our shows can be found on BBC Sounds.
SIMON - Right, let's have a chat with that rabbit. Oh no, sorry.
KATE - About that rabbit.
SIMON - Yes.
KATE - I don't think Fergus is a rabbit. He's very cute looking.
SIMON - Fergus, your latest magic show, 'When I grow up…'
FERGUS - I'm blushing now. Yeah?
SIMON - 'When I grow up in want to be a Magician' is all about mental health, and specifically your experience. So how did that combination come about?
FERGUS - Yeah, so I guess my experience with mental health is OCD, it's something I've suffered with for 20 years, and it's something I've been enormously private about my whole life, kind of secret about and sort of ashamed of, and this show is just sort of a mass therapy with an audience in front of me essentially.
KATE - So OCD, I always think about people who wash their hands loads, clean compulsively or touch light switches. Is it that for you?
FERGUS - It's not that for me at all, it's completely different, but it's sort of the common image, right, of OCD.
SIMON - So when you said you'd been ashamed of it for years, is it just having something like obsessive compulsive disorder, or it is…? Because the nature of yours is quite unique, perfect for Ouch in one way. Is it the content of yours or is it just the idea of having it?
FERGUS- Any sort of mental health issue is so difficult to talk about, and I think it's always the fear of being judged through the lens and the perspective of others that makes it very hard talking about. And I think with me…
KATE - Yes, how does it manifest? Tell us.
FERGUS - Essentially it's around loss, control, terrible things happening to people I love close to me, through not breathing in the right manner, swallowing in the right manner, walking out the door in the right manner. It can be any one of a number of things. This is so strange to talk about, because a year ago people I'd known for 25 years didn't even know I had this and now I'm kind of just laying everything out, so it's quite strange to…
SIMON - You're in safe hands.
KATE - Yes.
FERGUS- Yes, I feel.
SIMON - We talk about this.
KATE - Isn't there something very specific to disabled people as well that compulsion's about?
FERGUS - Yes, so my first sort of memory of OCD behaviour was the fear of sort of hurting someone disabled, and specifically that I would kick or punch a disabled person. And, you know, looking back it was just a recognition of potential. Commonly people get it with heights, they get worried they're going to throw themselves off, and it's not that they want to but it's that they could. So that causes an inherent conflict and that's what I was going through at 10 years old. But I was so disgusted by that, I thought that was so wrong that that thought kind of flashed up in my head, so I physically started to kind of pull the thought back with my hands and arms and that started off as just doing that, which I now know to be the compulsive part.
SIMON - And you're putting your hands around your head.
FERGUS - Pulling, exactly, and pulling that thought back down to my head.
KATE - What are those thoughts called? Intrusive thoughts?
FERGUS - Intrusive thoughts, exactly. So that's the obsession. The obsessive part is the thought, the compulsive part is the action. And often both get weeded together and the compulsion becomes more complex. So what started off for example of just pulling the thought back became doing that a certain number of times at specific points in the day, at different heights and so on and so forth.
SIMON - Your description's fantastic and it's kind of very vivid. I was thinking about this. Obviously I'm a physically differently looking person, so I might have been in your demographic of those thoughts. I was also thinking, isn't just the idea of kicking or punching anybody, that's not a great thing anyway, do you think there was extra baggage because it was around disability, and our perception of disability might be vulnerability or less or whatever it might be? So do you think you were beating yourself up…? Oh sorry, that's a bad pun, even more so because you're thinking it's not only I shouldn't think about hurting someone I shouldn't be thinking about hurting these types of people?
FERGUS - Yes, definitely. If I'm honest, looking back that was certainly a kind of feeling and I remember just thinking it was oh, so wrong. And I remember anyone close to me… The feelings, the thing about OCD is it so often sort of moulds and changes over the years and I think it just started off in that capacity and it sort of moved and morphed and changed throughout my life, yeah.
KATE - So when you saw…
FERGUS - I don't know if I answered the question there.
KATE - Close enough. So if you were walking down the road and you saw a wheelchair user or you saw a short person like Simon walking towards you what would be going through your head at that point?
FERGUS - As I say, because OCD does tend to change and shift it's not something now that would bother me as an intrusive thought, but as a baby Fergus I would just get worried I might lash out, and literally yeah, punch or kick someone that I rightly or wrongly viewed as vulnerable.
SIMON - You were quite young.
FERGUS - Yeah, 10 years old.
SIMON - That must have been really tough for you. That must have been really tough for you, to have those feelings and not be able to explain it or explore it. I mean that's quite a lot to carry around I guess.
FERGUS - Yeah, I think now looking back kind of it was quite a lot for a small mind to try and compute. I mean now it's hard to articulate and sometimes I'm completely lost in my OCD, I don't even know where I'm at with it. So as a child it was very difficult and, you know, you can't really talk or express yourself emotionally to the same capacity you can when you're older, so consequently you're kind of just so far down the rabbit hole. I just thought in lots of ways I was in inverted commas, 'normal', but I knew there was this kind of other side to me and I felt mad as a consequence. And I just thought but that's just what I have to live with, which is kind of, I guess, heart-breaking now when I see kids and I think Jeez, like I really hope now with the progression that is constantly being made that children feel that if they had those recognitions of it as young as eight, nine, ten, 11, that they could come forward and say.
KATE - I mean, I just remember the joy that I felt, and it must have been only like three or four years ago when somebody mentioned the concept of an intrusive thought to me. And I thought oh, so standing at the front of a tube and thinking I could throw myself in front of this tube. I didn't want to throw myself in front of a tube but it would just be that thought of like I could do this. I could do this right now and what would happen? And I just thought, oh so this is normal, people do think this. So just to have that feeling of, and this wasn't a big deal to me, but it was something that would occasionally be like am I crazy? Is that what suicidal thoughts means? And I'm like no, I get it now, it's an intrusive thought. So I imagine when you started to unpick that for yourself it must have been a massive relief to realise that you weren't alone.
FERGUS - 100%, and that's a really good example. I've got a friend who gets worried they're going to push someone onto the tracks, and of course they know they're not going to do it, and it's similar to the example you said.
KATE - And I assume you never lashed out at anybody?
FERGUS - No, of course not.
KATE - I mean we'd be feeling a little bit more unsafe if you had I guess.
SIMON - You know, Kate and I, occasionally we have to hit each other don't we?
KATE - It's true, yeah.
SIMON - We've never done that but… That sounded weird, I'm sorry, I wish I hadn't said that. [laughter]
FERGUS - There's a writer, I remember reading in a book that if you want someone to babysit your kids the safest person to get is someone with OCD, because they'll just worry about doing everything but they never do anything, you know, leave a kettle on or, you know, anything like that. And I think when I was sort of 21 was when I sort of had… I sort of came out if you like.
KATE - So what happened? Did something happen that forced you to look at it and understand it?
FERGUS - Yeah. So I was at university, okay, and at that point in your life, life starts to get on top of you because you're not at school having someone reminding you to do your work, tidy your room if you're living at home, suddenly you're away and you're out on your own. And it was with my dissertation, I couldn't cope, I realised I couldn't do it.
KATE - And why was that? Because of the OCD?
FERGUS - Yeah, some days… It was a really dark period of my life in my second year where I was pretty locked in the house, I wasn't really going anywhere or going out.
SIMON - Goodness me.
FERGUS - That's not quite true, but I would certainly be in my room, some days till just sort of by three pm I wouldn't have left my room, and it's pretty unhealthy. So it caught up with me at that point and then I had to drop out of university. One of my tutors called my house phone. My sister picked up, Sinead, who I'm very close to, I'm very close to both my sisters, and she said, "Where's Fergus? We haven't seen him at anything." And she said, "Fergus, what's going on?" and I kind of just burst into tears and said, "Something's not right." But going back to your initial question, just hearing that it was obsessive compulsive disorder, hearing that was a relief.
KATE - So did your sister say let's get you some help?
FERGUS - Yeah. Yeah, we were straight down to the GP and then referred and it was all, you know… She's unbelievable and it was all dealt with with hers and my family's sort of help, and then I was just so relieved to hear. Oh my gosh sort of all this sort of 11 years of all of these thoughts and trying to live a normal day. It's something, it's not just me going mad.
SIMON - One form of therapy, I remember when studying psychology there was something called flooding and they probably don't do this anymore, but the idea is you have a sort of aversion so they expose you to this.
FERGUS - Yes, that exposure is absolutely key. Say if we take your example, Kate, you're worried about jumping in front of a train, what you need to do is go and stand at the platform, as opposed to don't start changing your mode of transport to get to work and that avoidance is very understandable, we all do it, I do it all the time, but it's not the crux to getting better.
KATE - How do you get from being a troubled early 20-something with mental health problems, all this stuff going on, to this super successful magician?
FERGUS - I don't know about super successful, that's very kind. [laughter] I'll stick that on my website.
KATE - Kate Monaghan, 2020.
FERGUS - Yeah, exactly. Do you know, I think it's just little steps, little achievements all the time, and I mean that's all really life is.
SIMON - My friends who love magic, it's a kid thing, you just get into it young and you're always practising. Is that you?
FERGUS - Oh, totally, yeah, yeah. Sometimes I was practising because it was OCD related and then sometimes I was practising because I'm also just obsessive in what I do, which is not related to OCD. We're getting into very confusing realms here, but you know, sport was a big part of my life, I was very obsessive in that, but magic, yeah, has always been…
KATE - So when did you start?
FERGUS - I started at 10 years old, about the same time I kind of remember my first experiences with OCD. So perhaps there's some sort of tie there, escapism, I don't quite know.
KATE - And who bought you your first…? Was it somebody buying you a magic set? Was it watching somebody?
FERGUS - It was a friend of mine, Jeremy Russell, he lived on my road…
KATE - Oh, Jezza.
FERGUS - Oh, old J Dog.
SIMON - Yeah, he's helped all of us.
FERGUS - [laughs] Get him in. So he just showed me a coin trick. He just made a coin vanish, and that was it, I was hooked. And I remember that feeling of seeing that coin vanish when he did it on me. And that was it, I went down and I bought a little set and I was off from there.
KATE - Amazing.
SIMON - And the show at the moment, how long is it? And this is a weaving of magic and some of your mental health stuff?
FERGUS - Yeah, so the thread is mental health and the life of magician, or a performer who has an anxiety disorder. It doesn't seem like a right fit. So I guess the show is about exploring that. To be honest I set out doing this just to do one. That was all I wanted to do was just do one and be proud of it. And I've worked closely with one of my best mates, a guy called Neb who's just absolutely amazing, he's supported me through everything, every step of the way, and we just wanted to get one done and that was it. And then people have started to be responding to it, so now we don't really know what to do and I certainly don't know.
SIMON - But that's kind of lovely. Magicians have a patter, there's that whole patter that goes in between the tricks, whether it's misdirection or whether it's humorous and all that. You've got to do that as well as weave in the mental health stuff as well or is it…?
KATE - He might not be able to tell us. Magic Circle and all that, you might not… We might be…
GEORGE - Exactly, he's letting you in. He's letting you in too close. [laughter] He's got to fend you off somehow.
FERGUS - Thank you, George.
SIMON - We've lulled you in, yes.
FERGUS - With the show, in terms of when you're taking on mental health and magic mental health is a serious thing, magic is not a serious thing, no matter how much magicians want it to be taken seriously. It's not inherently serious. So to do the two together I think the show has to have a self-awareness of the ridiculousness of that, the fact that magic and mental health are going together. I'm certainly aware of that through the show. You know, it's important to give the audience room to breathe and laugh as well. I think what I really wanted to avoid was making, "And here's a serious bit about mental health, and now for a magic trick," you know, then it becomes contrived and a bit kind of naff. So hopefully the bridge between talking about something such as mental health and moving into magic is hopefully kind of…
KATE - You keep chatting about magic but I really need to see some because I feel like I can't say oh, great magician if you're not giving me anything.
FERGUS - No, I can't take that testimonial away from you.
KATE - I mean, magic does, as I'm sure we're all aware, work brilliantly on the radio.
SIMON - You bet.
KATE - So George, I mean you're going to be the person who tests this for us to see how well this magic trick does for you over there.
SIMON - George, yeah, you're down the line.
GEORGE- My card is the king of spades. [laughter]
FERGUS - So the perfect platform for magic over the airwaves.
KATE - So can we just say George is in a studio in Lincoln, sadly not with us in the studio in London, so that's why…
GEORGE - I apologise. I apologise for my laziness.
KATE - Yeah, couldn't be bothered to travel down.
SIMON - But we are here, so what are we going to do? Describe the trick so George is going to applaud at the end.
FERGUS - So I thought we could actually try something with George. Now whether or not this will work. We'll just cut it if it doesn't. George, I have a pack of cards here and within this pack of cards is one card that is face down, one that's the other way, so you guys will obviously be the eyes on the pack of cards.
KATE - I can see the pack of cards, yeah.
SIMON - He's not messing.
FERGUS - And George, a friend of mine once told me a therapist told him in order to understand people we need to listen to the music beneath the lyrics and I always thought that was quite a beautiful sentiment. So often neither party are aware of it but we're both sort of revealing ourselves and understanding others more than we necessarily allow ourselves to realise. So I'm going to list out some suits and I'm hoping you're just going to pick up on what suit that face down card is. So there are clubs, hearts, spades and diamonds. I'd like you to think of one of those now if that's okay.
FERGUS- And then you have ace through to king. So you have ace, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, jack, queen, king. Now, you don't have to go along with me, you can pick any one of those you want, but just one that feels right to you. Do you have one now?
GEORGE- Yes I do.
FERGUS - So you now have a suit and a number, so those two things go together to make a playing card. For the first time, George, could you say what the card is that you're thinking of?
GEORGE- The six of clubs.
FERGUS - The six of clubs. Any reason for that, or it just felt right?
GEORGE- It felt like the one, particularly the six, it felt like the one you didn't want me to say.
SIMON - Fergus is…
FERGUS - And if you can confirm in this studio, I've just spread out the cards and there is one card face down in the middle. Is that…?
KATE - There certainly is, yes.
SIMON - Yeah, you just took them out of the pack, didn't touch them.
FERGUS - And it is…
KATE - No way!
SIMON - Oh, oh, oh!
KATE - No!
SIMON - Six of clubs!
GEORGE- Oh, no way.
SIMON - Yes, it's true.
KATE - I'm not kidding, that is actually the card.
SIMON - We were watching that.
KATE - No. No.
FERGUS - George, kudos to you, you're not even here and you're pulling off miracles.
GEORGE- I'm not even… Ah, Satan! What have you done?
SIMON - Kate, you've gone quite red here. You're delighted.
KATE - I know, because I thought you wanted him to say like the eight of diamonds, so I was like, oh that's gone wrong.
GEORGE- It was the… Oh, that's irritating. Oh.
FERGUS - Common reaction.
SIMON - How long have you two known each other then?
KATE - To set this up, yeah.
FERGUS - Yes, I'll pay you that money later.
GEORGE- Yeah, we've been working together for years and years isn't it, Fergus?
SIMON - That is awesome. Thank you for doing that, that's kind of a tough trick to do.
FERGUS - Thank you.
SIMON - We're going to move on. There was a line I read in the notes earlier on and I liked this, it said… This is you, "You don't need to be on the edge of the emotional abyss to have a better relationship with mental health." Do you remember saying that?
FERGUS - Yes, that is a preview on a bit of script straight out of the show, that. So towards the end of the show I guess, without giving too much away, the sentiment, look, you don't have to go through OCD or depression, whatever the mental disorder is to maybe just have a better relationship with yourself and your mental health, and you don't have to be right at the edge. And actually the earlier you pull the cord the better. So if you can feel things going in a certain direction that you're not happy with, if you could nip that in the bud and talk about it as early as possible you're only going to have a better result in the end. And I guess, you know, I don't ever want to sound like I'm pious or I'm preaching or that I've even learnt anything, because I'm not sure I have, but if I have learnt anything from OCD it's just that you don't have to go at anything alone, you really don't, without sounding cliché or contrived.
KATE - I really want to see more now. You've got me hooked.
FERGUS - You'll have to have me back.
KATE - So where can I see your show?
FERGUS - So the show, at the moment I've got a run of three in February, 20, 21, 22. That's all sold out. So I'm looking now to put on more dates.
KATE - Are you coming up north any time soon so me and George can catch a show?
GEORGE - Exactly.
FERGUS - Yeah I mean, look, I'm in discussions with Neb, my director and best mate, and he sort of, you know, whatever he thinks as well I think we'll look at what we can do with it and see from there.
SIMON - Amazing.
KATE - And where can we find out about your show? Give us a website.
FERGUS- Ah, so fergusflanagan.com. But actually where I tend to post most updates is on Instagram, which can I give out my handle? I don't know, is that legal?
KATE - Do it.
FERGUS - Magic Fergus.
KATE - Magic Fergus. Hopefully you'll give us a little follow back.
FERGUS - I will.
SIMON - Stay with us, Fergus.
FERGUS - Thank you so much guys.
SIMON - George has become a bit of a celebrity in is own right, thanks to the new series of 'Sex Education'. George was 17 when he broke his neck during a school rugby match in South Africa. Now, just four years on, he's on one of the biggest shows around. George, for someone who hasn't seen 'Sex Education' yet give us a 20 second low down.
KATE - With no spoilers, because I am two episodes away from the end. So give us the lowdown but without ruining it for me.
GEORGE- Okay, so we're in season two at the moment but I'll start initially at season one. So the premise of season one is essentially there's a boy called Otis whose mum is a sexual health therapist who talks people through their sexual problems, and then he decides that he's going to help out at school and, you know, talk to the students about their sexual problems. So he sets up this clinic.
KATE - A sex clinic.
GEORGE - A sex clinic, exactly with the resident cool girl, Maeve Wiley, and they sort of help out the students.
SIMON - You mentioned your character's name is Isaac and he's a bit of a trouble maker, a bit sarcastic? Give us a bit more about him.
GEORGE- Yeah. So Maeve lives on a caravan site and Isaac, with his brother Joe, move into that caravan site and yeah, essentially Isaac's just a bit of a trouble maker. He causes some waves. He's got a bit of a baby face, he uses the wheelchair card just to mess with people, get what he wants without them getting angry really.
SIMON - That's like you, Kate, isn't it?
KATE - I know, yeah. But I was going to say like when I first saw this casting I didn't know you, George, so you know, don't take it personally, but I was like, oh god, another token disabled person in a show I like and how do I feel about this and blah, blah, blah. And then when I first saw your character one of the first times he's a bit like, he's very cold with Maeve and then he steals a gas canister and sort of is like, you know, puts two fingers up at Maeve about it. And I thought, oh we're going to have this character again where it's like, oh the disabled person is playing a sort of a baddy, a bit like 'Jerk' where it's like yeah, I'm disabled but I can also be a horrible person. Don't just assume that because we're disabled. And I thought, oh I've seen this trope loads, but actually Isaac has turned into this kind of really well rounded, well made character, who is just a normal person, and it's actually quite refreshing?
GEORGE- Oh totally, totally. I mean, the fact is that the writing in 'Sex Ed' for all of the characters, it's so fantastic. So Laurie Nunn and her team have just created all of these fantastically nuanced, flawed characters and yeah, Isaac's one of them. So he's got aspects of the guy who's like, oh I might be in a chair but I can still be just as awful as people who aren't, but he is equally lovable, hateable, all of that.
KATE - And also it's written, as you say, so beautifully by Laurie Nunn, but also friend of the show, Rosie Jones, the comedian with cerebral palsy is part of the writing team and she wrote one of the episodes, and I feel like that just adds another layer of authenticity that again I'm not seeing anywhere else on television.
GEORGE- Absolutely. I mean it's the fact that it just seems, like you say, so authentic, so genuine. It's a massive honour to be part of the show to be honest.
SIMON - And I'm thinking of 'Silent Witness' and used to be here, Liz Carr, and I know this series they have another two or three disabled people. They've also started having stories that are nothing about her, but she's the lead. I'm just wondering, are we starting to see… Or is 'Sex Education' such a cool, quirky show it's something extra as well do you think?
GEORGE - Yes, perhaps. I think what we're starting to slowly realise is that people with disabilities exist but they still go through life just as much as everyone else. They go through the day in, day out tribulations of anyone else, so not every single aspect of their life is dictated by the fact they sit down a bit.
KATE - I mean, yeah, but is 2020 the year when everyone's going to realise that and start writing about it? How great would that be?
GEORGE - Well maybe. It's going to be, oh, like 2021 is just going to be an absolute inundation of… They'll just be bloody sick of all of us disabled grabbing the airwaves. [laughter]
KATE - I know, right? We're just going to be everywhere. Crazy.
SIMON - The pendulum's swung too far, that's what they say. [laughs]
GEORGE- Reversed ableism.
KATE - Have you been involved in the writing, because I know the casting call went out about this and I think they were originally looking for an amputee? So how did you persuade them that what they really wanted was a tetraplegic and they wanted to write all about you instead?
GEORGE- Well, the casting call went out and it was written for a generally disabled person, so they hadn't actually narrowed it down to any one disability, so they'd sent the writers out just to write the draft of the script and then they'd just say, right, there's a disabled character, write whatever disability you want. So there were various scripts written by the various different writers and so the bit that I chose for my audition script just so happened to be the one that was an amputee, but then they said that they'd refine it down to whoever they cast. So I went in with the audition process of just thinking right, I'm going to just be me, so I added a lot of myself into Isaac, so I'm just going to be me and if they like what I do then that's great, and if not that's fine, I'm happy for the opportunity really.
SIMON - You did have an agent. How did you get an agent? Because you've not really done this formally before have you? You've dabbled.
GEORGE- No, so I had applied for this disability agency called VisABLE, run by a lovely lady called Louise Dyson.
SIMON - Oh, yeah.
GEORGE- And they sent me through the breakdown of it and through them I got the audition, so I'm so incredibly grateful.
SIMON - Okay, so in the sort of true 'X Factor' style let's go back, right back, before…
KATE - Let's do that annoying thing that you hate, that your character hates, as "Tell us how you got your disability."
SIMON - Well yeah, before you hit the big time average teenager, interested in sport, and then what happened?
GEORGE- I'd gone through all of my life just playing sport. I did quite a bit of cross country when I was younger, a bit of rugby as well, but I wasn't particularly good at rugby in terms of I'd played it but I was sort of the fast skinny kid who could just side step.
SIMON - Yeah, you said that. [laughs]
GEORGE- Tackling was my downfall. Yeah, so I think there's a video on YouTube of me playing rugby when I'm about 13, I'm making a tackle in it, and I just think, how on earth have you not broken your neck sooner? Because my technique was absolutely shambolic and I look back and think there was probably about four times that I could have done it.
SIMON - I had a very good friend, still do, and he didn't like rugby, went to quite a posh school, and when the ball would come to him he would just crouch into the foetal position on the floor hiding the ball. And the players would just run up and stand around him going, what do we do? It's terrifying. But sorry, you were telling your story.
GEORGE- Yes, so I've got a school rugby tour, which I was just wanting to see Robben Island to be fair, you know, the rugby was completely secondary to be honest. But yes, so I did it and chased after a ball that we'd kicked, their opposition player got it and I sort of dove at him and as I did he must have side stepped or something and then my neck sort of got caught in a tackle and it sort of dislocated the spinal column, severing the spinal cord.
KATE - Oh, ow, I can't even listen to it.
SIMON - Yeah.
KATE - So what does that mean for you now? Where's your level of paralysis?
GEORGE - So my level of injury is sort of just, I can't feel anything below my… just above my nipples, which is, you know, a lovely image.
SIMON - Steady.
KATE - I mean, I think about them a lot anyway, so you know.
GEORGE- Naturally, naturally. I'm on 'Sex Education', come on.
SIMON - I'm going to watch this show.
GEORGE- So that's the way my life works. As a tetraplegic my arms are affected, so I've got some movement in my biceps and that means I can move my arms somewhat.
KATE - So you can use your hands to give the Vs, which I've seen in 'Sex Education' you doing.
GEORGE- I can sort of, I can flail them around.
KATE - Okay. So what was it like at 17?
SIMON - Well yeah, and you're a relatively new kid to the block and that whole kind of process of rehabbing, you sound very matter of fact.
GEORGE- Yeah, I mean I think you've got to be a bit forthright with it all, just because the fact that it has happened you've sort of just got to deal with it, like otherwise you're not going to get anywhere really. Yeah, so I spent 37 days in South Africa in a hospital there and then air ambulance, 13 hours on a plane, up to Addenbrookes and then I spent the rest of my time in Sheffield rehabbing. So the injury was July of 2015, had my gap year so to speak, came out in May of 2016 and then went straight back into school in the September.
KATE - Wow. And like obviously we're talking about mental health stuff, did you get some therapeutic support to kind of work on mentally what had happened, or did you just feel like actually you're fine with it?
GEORGE- Yeah, I did do things very quickly, so I think sometimes I do look back and think should I have focused on the mental side, because I think at some point I realised that I just threw myself into getting back to school, because that was the main fixture of my rehab. It was sort of just right, sort this out, get good, finish school, got to get back to school, got to finish it. So I think I sort of perhaps at some stage neglected that.
SIMON - We had a chat about this before the show and half of me wants to think that if something happened in 2015 or today, as a young man you're like, actually this isn't the end of the world, I have seen other people on television and in life who this has happened and they've carried on and had a good life. And that's kind of what inspired you, but at the same time there is obviously a big change, so it's good that you're aware of that and you're like okay, I just need to keep an eye on that for what might happen in the future or whatever.
GEORGE- I was aware, he's a sort of semi local hero around where I live, but Matt Hampson? He was an England rugby player, under 21s, who broke his neck as well, so when I was in hospital he came to visit me and he was a higher level of injury than me, but he came and saw me and he just spoke and said, "Listen, there's a life after this. It might seem pretty crap at the moment but yeah, you can get on and do stuff in life." And he really gave me the inspiration to sort of be like, yeah I'm going to do it.
SIMON - Fergus, you were nodding a bit around the sort of dealing with the mental health bit and so on? Is there empathy or understanding?
FERGUS - Yeah, gosh. I mean, it is a hell of a story, George. I can only imagine that it must be quite a dark place initially and obviously you come out of that and you make amazing steps living a normal life and doing incredibly. But yeah, it must have been very difficult.
GEORGE- Yeah, I mean it is. For me, I think sometimes I'm a bit too close to it all, as much as anyone can be with their own life. Sometimes I do struggle to sort of take a step back and think about the story and how far I've come.
KATE - Simon. Simon's laughing at the image of taking a step back.
SIMON - No, no, no, I wasn't.
KATE - Yes, you are. You are.
GEORGE - I roll back.
SIMON - No, I laughed in understanding of that bit. When you're so close to it you don't, you just get on with it. And then it's only when you step back you go, oh hello, there's something bigger. That was my… I understand exactly and sometimes it's safer just to get on with rather than going I need to step back and think about this.
GEORGE- No, exactly, exactly. It is sort of difficult to see the big picture, you can't really see the wood for the trees at some stages, which I heard that phrase for the first time like a week ago and I have said it about 17 times since. [laughter]
KATE - So, give me some goss on 'Sex Education', because I hear that it doesn't feel like it's ended at the end of this series, so are you coming back for a third series? Is Isaac going to still be around?
GEORGE- Well hopefully. I mean, we're still waiting to see what Netflix say and they're notoriously cagey about releasing any information whatsoever.
KATE - You don't want to give us a little Ouch exclusive?
GEORGE- Well, I don't know. I'm little old George, and this is big old Netflix. I think I'll be… They'll remove one of my wheels.
SIMON -Fergus is pitching his one man magician show as a special on Netflix, so come on, you could be working together here.
GEORGE- Exactly. Well, even more so than we already have with the six of clubs.
KATE - So what kind of reaction have you had from viewers? Because I was googling you the other night, for research for the show, just to be clear…
KATE - And the first thing that pops up is George, 'Sex Education', what disability? So, you know, what's it been like kind of getting people knowing you and what's the reaction been like?
GEORGE- Well, so the reaction has mainly been, I mean Isaac, because he's quite a character that loves to wind people up it's been sort of oh, Isaac's a dick.
KATE - Yeah, I saw one saying, "I question my life choices when I realised I'm yelling at a disabled person on the telly."
GEORGE- Yes, I think that's good. I think it shows that people in wheelchairs can be just as hateable as anyone else.
SIMON - And Fergus, you could have punched him. It would have been perfectly valid I think.
FERGUS - I could have done a cameo, yeah.
GEORGE - Quite a bit of the reaction had been a bit of a backlash in terms of people not necessarily separating myself from Isaac, so I posted on my Instagram like a picture of myself saying like, "Hi guys, just enjoy the show," and then I got quite a few comments saying, "You are awful, you are horrible," and I was like, "Hey guys, it is a character."
KATE - It's only pretend.
FERGUS - It's amazing how people don't distinguish.
GEORGE- Yeah. I think I've managed to distance myself. I think initially I sort of struggled to distance myself because I put quite a lot of myself into Isaac, just in terms of the way that he brushes certain difficult situations off.
SIMON - But I'm hoping the words disability, sex, parties, unless you listen to Ouch or read…
KATE - Or are in our WhatsApp group?
SIMON - Yeah, that's a good point, they come up a lot.
KATE - They do.
SIMON - But I like the idea that you could become a sex symbol.
KATE - Are we going to see an Isaac sex scene? This is what I want.
GEORGE- You'll have to wait and see guys.
KATE - Now, on that thing, like I always wonder, do you sit down and watch it with your mum and dad?
GEORGE - Oh, well. There was the option to.
KATE - Did you take them up on it?
GEORGE - No. So it came out on a Friday and my mum said that she was going to invite some of her girl pals around, so they were watching it in the front room and then Eddie, my brother, were watching it in my room. So we were separated, which I think is by far the best way to do it.
KATE - Yes, because it does get quite… There's quite a lot going on in that show. [laughs]
GEORGE- Okay. There's nothing worse I can imagine than catching my mum's eye.
KATE - Yeah, but imagine if you're in a sex scene and then you're sitting there watching it with your mum and dad.
GEORGE- I don't think I'd be able to survive that.
SIMON - That is it for another fine Ouch podcast, and I need to download the rest of 'Sex Education' and steal a few tricks from Fergus, all in the name of my mental health, obviously.
KATE - Well, what did you think then Simon? Is Fergus the nicest guy in the world?
SIMON - I think he… He's laughing awkwardly. I think he's very much up there. He's not as nice as you though.
KATE - Ah, you old charmer. You're nicer than Simon though, so that's cool.
SIMON - Oh!
KATE - But if you want to get in touch and tell us what you really think of Simon or of Ouch for that matter, track us down on Twitter on bbcouch. On Facebook we're BBC Ouch, or send an email to email@example.com .
SIMON - Your producers today were Harry Lowe and Beth Rose. Tracey Ross was the studio manager.
KATE - Until next time, goodbye.
SIMON - Bye-bye.
SIMON - I heard Derren Brown on the Adam Buxton podcast. He's just… I really like him. Is he as nice as we think?
FERGUS - He is that, plus more, yeah. He's just, he's the loveliest, most sort of genuine, honest, humble guy, and I think people are often surprised, I guess because he takes on some quite serious big things in the show and underneath that is a lovely man, which is a lovely surprise. I've just realised I said people are often surprised Derren's nice. Is that all right?
SIMON - We're keeping that in. That'll be the little advert. [laughs]
FERGUS - Oh.