About Life Changing
In this series Dr Sian Williams talks to people who have lived through extraordinary events that have set their lives on an entirely different course.
This podcast is all about the human experience, how people deal with obstacles that turn their lives upside down. The journeys are not always straightforward and there are often some remarkable discoveries along the way.
Would you like to appear on the podcast? Do you have an extraordinary story to tell? We'd love to hear from you: email@example.com
Growing up in Newport with his mum and younger brother, Connor Allen struggled with his identity as a mixed race kid. He bottled up his feelings and as the anger and frustration built up, couldn’t find the words to express his emotions. When his rage erupts into violence against his Mum, she ends up doing the unthinkable and calling the police. Connor is left facing a prison sentence, his future at a crossroads. This episode was recorded in front of a live audience at the Hay Festival in May 2023.
When Alan and Irene met in 1959, their connection was instant. The two isolated children aged just seven and nine found warmth and kindness in each other in a children’s home that was unwelcoming and strict. They would steal moments together up on Bunny Hill and talk about their lives. But the home had a rule that boys and girls could not mix. So when their friendship was discovered, a year after they first met, Alan and Irene were separated. It would take four decades for them to find each other again.
In August of 2006, Teresa Clark was driving five of her friends back home after a day at a music festival. Several hours into the journey she fell asleep at the wheel of their people carrier and crashed. Three passengers were killed, two others were injured as well as Teresa herself. She was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and spent time in prison. The guilt and shame of carrying that loss of life almost destroyed her. But in the 17 years since it happened Teresa has rebuilt; she now works in the mental health and wellbeing sector trying to keep the vow she made to live her life for her friends, and do some good in their memory. Details of support with mental health issues and bereavement are available at bbc.co.uk/actionline.
Police officer Clodagh Dunlop is used to dealing with emergency situations — until it’s her own. It’s Easter Monday 2015: Clodagh Dunlop is an ambitious police officer in Northern Ireland. A fit 35-year-old, she’s in training to run a 6-minute mile. But her day off takes a terrifying turn, and Clodagh finds herself trapped in her own body … hearing the conversations around her but unable to communicate. Then she finds the strength to make a remarkable breakthrough.
Rachel Watkyn’s upbringing was a contradiction: aristocratic but impoverished. She was forced to memorise her father’s extensive family tree and was expected to behave as the 'perfect young baroness'. Despite their status the family didn't have clean clothes or heating and she was called ‘fleabag’ by other children at school. This left Rachel isolated, never knowing where she fitted in, and feeling not good enough. Years later, when Rachel was in her 50s, her father became unwell and made a startling revelation on his deathbed.
When Will Darby left school in 2007 his peers all headed to university but Will wanted something different so he went travelling in search of remote, unknown, and unridden waves to surf. Will built himself an idyllic life in the Solomon Islands but after just a few weeks everything came crashing down in an event that would create a lifelong bond with the island and its inhabitants.
It’s the summer of 2008 and a bride and groom have just stepped out of a carriage drawn by two white horses. The sun is out, the bridesmaids are wearing beautiful dresses, everyone has drinks in hands. The day's gone smoothly for the wedding party and for Emily King who is sitting at the front of the carriage in control of the horses; it's her business and it’s thriving. But then events take a terrifying turn. The psychological impact of that summer day has been deeply scarring but has also given Emily what her son calls ‘superpowers’. Details of support with mental health issues are available at bbc.co.uk/actionline.
One Monday morning Stephen is meeting with his boss in a crowded coffee shop. Minutes later he’s at the centre of a horrific and brutal crime scene — his life hanging in the balance. It’s left him deeply scarred but has also prompted him to press the reset button on his life, and forced a fresh start for his family. This is a story he hasn’t told before publicly but as he explains to Dr Sian Williams, he believes sharing it will help him and perhaps others too. For links to support resources go to BBC Action Line: bbc.co.uk/actionline
Being a TV news anchor was everything to Polly Evans until she was forced to re-evaulate her identity. Her turning point happened in the spotlight – in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands – when she felt deeply exposed and humiliated. It was caused by a physical condition called Adductor Spasmodic Dysphonia, but Polly’s journey since then has been one of self-knowledge and finding fulfilment in other ways, including a new career. She braves the studio for the first time to tell this story to Dr Sian Williams.
Hazel Ellis-Saxon was brought up in a busy household with four siblings in the village of Tiptree in Essex in the 1960s. She struggled with her school work and was often finishing assignments when the other children were enjoying playtime. One day in a quiet classroom Hazel overheard her form teacher describe her to a colleague as ‘mentally retarded’. These two words had a profound effect — leading her to believe that she must be a huge disappointment to her parents and would never enjoy a full life. Dr Sian Williams hears how this label shaped Hazel’s decisions for decades and what it took for her to throw it off.
It had been a beautiful day, Jessica Williams and her two young sons had been out in the local park enjoying the Welsh sunshine. By the time they got home they were happy but weary and looking forward to some cosy time on the sofa but as Jess opened the front door she noticed a strange smell. She put the boys in the sitting room and went into the kitchen to investigate — that was when the house exploded. Jessica tells Dr Sian Williams how the family, with the help of their village, began to rebuild their lives.
Growing up Joe Jaquest Oteng knew very little about his Dad; they struggled to find much common ground. Joe’s Dad, Peter, was guarded about his early life in Ghana and the family he had left behind when he emigrated to the UK in the 1960s. When Peter died Joe was left to sort through his belongings. He discovered bundles of documents, letters and photos which revealed new and shocking information which didn’t match the life story Joe had been told. Dr Sian Williams hears how Joe set out to find the truth about Peter and how along the way made some joyful discoveries for himself.
It was September 2000 when Lisa and her 10-year-old brother Gary were taken to the airport. Their Dad said they were going on holiday and that mum Tracey was going to join them later, just as soon as she could get time off work. As the children boarded the plane full of expectations for the trip they could not know how profoundly this moment would shape the rest of their lives – they were soon told Tracey had died and there was no point ever going back to England. Dr Sian Williams hears about Lisa’s struggles to adapt to a new life in Pakistan, trying to keep memories of home and her mum alive but falling into despair and loneliness. Meeting her Mum again and returning to England aged 17 comes with a whole new set of challenges. This story is told from two perspectives, to hear mum Tracey’s experience scroll back to the previous episode.
Tracey knew something was wrong the moment she got to the house. The place was empty, the children were gone and so was her husband Taz. Their marriage had broken down and they were going through divorce proceedings. Then she got a text message from him: ‘Gary and Lisa say goodbye forever.’ They’d been taken to Pakistan. Tracey enlisted the police, the Foreign Office and Interpol but in the absence of an agreement between Pakistan and England about parental child abduction cases — they were powerless. Tracey was advised not to travel to Pakistan and she had no idea where to start looking for them anyway. Dr Sian Williams hears what Tracey went through in the decade it took for her to find her children, and the complicated aftermath. In the next episode Sian talks to Lisa, Tracey’s daughter, to hear the story from her point of view.
Jason and Liz met by chance whilst travelling, they fell in love and within a year were engaged and expecting a child. 365 days after that first meeting, Jason woke up from a coma. He had suffered a devastating brain injury which meant he would have to learn to walk again just as his son was taking his first steps. As a couple, Jason and Liz Le Masurier had to navigate a new and unexpected course. They tell their story to Dr Sian Williams.
What do you do, if falling in love with someone becomes a matter of life or death? In 2013 Aderonke Apata found herself on a coach in the UK, heading for the airport, about to be deported to Nigeria. She’d left her home country years earlier in fear for her life. Her ‘crime’ was that she loved another woman. Same-sex couples in Nigeria face jail time from the courts and, in Aderonke's situation, the threat of deadly violence at the hands of mobs. As she got on the coach the documents that Aderonke had painstakingly compiled to stop her deportation were still being furiously faxed to the authorities. At the eleventh hour she was given a reprieve — and so her legal training had begun. She would successfully fight her own case and find herself a new career in the process. Aderonke tells her story to Dr Sian Williams.
Electra Rhodes is walking down a busy London street when she sees a man collapse. She’s recently completed a first aid course and in the absence of anyone else she steps up and starts CPR. When the ambulance arrives and takes the man to hospital she makes a comment to his friend. Her words trigger a chain of events that will dramatically change the course of four lives. Electra tells Dr Sian Williams her story.
It’s 2011 and Nicola Shaughnessy is on her way to an academic conference when she stops to buy herself some lunch. As she reaches for a sandwich she suddenly hears a familiar voice from her childhood. That moment and that voice lead to years of psychiatric care and upheaval but ultimately to answers and a better understanding of herself. Now a university professor, she tells her story to Dr Sian Williams. BBC Action Line support: Autism: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2637nQGtTK1D8YPkCSnlyDN/information-and-support-autism Eating disorders: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2DRkg4JC7SLT3B7hlrn6DKN/information-and-support-eating-disorders
Steven Brosnan found himself in a bit of a rut, living at home and moving from job to job. Then, in 2012, on his 22nd birthday catastrophic events take place; rather than enjoying a pop concert with his brother he finds himself having to make apparent life-or-death decisions. Ten years later he tells Dr Sian Williams his unique story and the unexpectedly positive consequences those 48 hours had on his outlook. Producer: Thomas Harding Assinder with Edgar Maddicott
In the late 1950s a newspaper ran this small ad: 'Can Catholic people in London or the Home Counties offer a permanent home for an attractive baby girl aged one year who is above average intelligence?’ That girl was Teresa Weiler, who was subsequently adopted and raised in a loving family home. Twenty years later she went to read her adoption file. Alone in a room with those documents and totally unprepared, she discovered a terrible secret about her birth parents that would reverberate through her whole life and lead her to make a profound decision. Yet she told no-one about it for decades. Dr Sian Williams hears her story.