Life has been something of a whirlwind for Hartpury lecturer Rich Whincup since his starring role in hit Channel 4 documentary, Stammer School.
From national TV and radio appearances to high profile speaking engagements, Rich, 34, from Tewkesbury, has grabbed the opportunity to raise awareness of the battles that stammerers face and how they can overcome them.
And now he’s heading for his most prestigious appointment yet – an audience with royalty – as a visit to St James’s Palace on 17th November, 2014 will see the Hartpury Sports Business Management lecturer come full circle.
The last time Rich visited the palace was in 1998 to receive his Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award from weatherman Michael Fish. Now he is returning to hand out the awards himself, as well as delivering a motivational speech and meeting the Duke of Kent, Prince Edward.
“I’ll be talking about how achieving my Duke of Edinburgh awards helped me develop as a person and to get where I am now,” said Rich.
“I’ll also get the chance to share my experiences of Stammer School and my work as a course instructor for the McGuire Programme, supporting people to tackle their stammers and training and mentoring the instructors.
“I didn’t do that well academically at school but I did do well on the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, which worked wonders for boosting my confidence.
“It’s going to be really surreal going back to St James’s Palace. The last time I was there, I was with my dad and I took some loo roll as a memento! It will be great to go back with my dad and my wife and share my story with inspirational young people who have achieved so much through the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme.”
The opportunity to present the awards came about through a speaking engagement at Boxhill School in Surrey, where Rich’s former Karate Sensei and French teacher at The Cotswold School, is now the headteacher.
He was asked to speak at the ‘Round Square’ conference – an education movement in independent schools across the world aimed at enhancing pupil learning through their experiences. It was there that he was approached by a representative from the Duke of Edinburgh awards about supporting their work next year – their 60th anniversary year.
“Things have gone a bit nuts since Stammer School, everything has just snowballed,” said Rich.
“I’d been warned by Channel 4 about potential negativity being directed my way but it’s not been like that at all. People from all over the world have got in touch with me and said the most wonderful things about the documentary and the work that the McGuire Programme does.
“On the night the documentary was aired, #stammerschool was trending fourth in the world on twitter. That’s just incredible. It’s the biggest thing to happen for stammering awareness since the release of the film, The King’s Speech.
“Applications and enquiries for the McGuire Programme have gone through the roof, and that’s exactly why we wanted to get involved with the documentary: to raise awareness, show people that help is out there and encourage them to seek it.
“I was approached by a lady who recognised me from a piece in the local newspaper about helping her son, who stammers but hides it quite well, so I’m following that up. Other people have made contact by Facebook; it’s fantastic.
“I’ve also had approaches from TV and radio about some potentially exciting new projects so watch this space!”
The Stammer School documentary followed the progress of five individuals aged 18 to 30, including Musharaf Asghar, whose struggles to overcome a speech impediment captured the hearts of the nation in Channel 4’s ‘Educating Yorkshire’.
Wearing headphones with music playing in the background, ‘Mushy’ successfully read a poem to his class. While this technique was effective, the directors of the McGuire Programme felt that Musharaf needed to have a range of ‘weapons’ at his disposal to control his stammer in the long term, and he was invited to join a course.
As well as Musharaf, or ‘Mushy’ as he is better known, Rich supported a covert stammerer on the course in Croydon – a girl who had been able to hide her stammer relatively well but was tired of doing so – and a young girl whose speech problems had come about since suffering a blood clot on the brain.
“Even though we’d all been caught up in the whirlwind of promoting the programme, my family and I still got a bit teary-eyed watching the documentary,” said Rich.
“Seeing Mushy struggling to say his name and how far he had come by the end of the course was really emotional, especially having been on that same journey myself with the McGuire programme.”