Francesca Martinez describes herself as being a bit ‘wobbly’. Not only was she largely unaware that others generally weren’t wobbly like her as she was growing up, but she painfully discovered that being wobbly is infact central to a life that she is now determined to relish.
Born with cerebral palsy Francesca’s parents were told that she would be mentally retarded, but as she jokes “clearly I’m not because I’ve never voted UKIP”. She thrived in her loving family background, but began to feel different as she progressed through school.
Her relationship with her father also became strained by his insistence that she do the exercises prescribed by doctors. But escape came in the form of a part in Grange Hill and then in playing a comedian in a script by her father, where the joy of making people laugh hit home.
But she described the defining moment as a boyfriend helping her to see that it was how she defined herself that mattered. Her philosophy is now that she walks the best way that she can, rather than walking badly. Also that being ‘wobbly’ is a much less emotive description than abnormal.
Infact the sense of freedom to embrace life that this has given Francesca was underlined by her comments that people with disability are often more confident than others, because of the liberation coming from confrontation of such issues.
She does however have real worries about the pressure that society can put on people with disabilities. When asked by a medical consultant in the audience what advice she would give about working with disabled people, she stressed the importance of reminding people what they can do not what they can’t do.
She also talked with passion about the risks of demonising those claiming benefits. ‘I might be physically disabled but the Tories are morally disabled’ she quipped, but she is a formidable campaigner too. Her lead on a 100,000 signatory petition led to a parliamentary debate on work capability assessments and related cuts earlier this year.
On a personal level Francesca’s battle to be accepted on TV shows is ongoing too as she believes she is rejected as too much of a risk for audiences. The irony of this was apparent from the rapturous reaction at the Sheffield event, where it was clear that Francesca Martinez provides much more than entertainment, by having an attitude to life to aspire to. It is on the basis of this that her book ‘What the **** is normal?’ is highly recommended.