CBeebies presenter George Webster blazed a trail when he became the first mainstream TV presenter with Down’s Syndrome and he said he owes his success to his schooling.
The 21 year old from Leeds told pupils from Longsight Community Primary School he didn’t think he would be where he is today without teachers and pupils encouraging him to be “the best he can be”.
Webster was interviewed by year six pupils Umeyma, Zahra and Romano where he revealed that he is also starring in the remake of the classic children’s film The Railway Children.
Asked about schooling by Zahra, he said: “I was at two local mainstream schools, high school and primary. I just loved school, I was really fond of everything, there were really good staff and we all got on.
“I have loved acting since I was really little. I went to a stage school, StageDoor, too – I was in lots of shows and then I would do shows in school as well. It was one of my big subjects and I loved doing it. Acting has been a mad passion of mine.”
Umeyma quizzed Webster on whether, with Down’s Syndrome, schooling was different for him.
“There wasn’t much difference, but I had one-to-one support in classes to support me in the subjects to do the best I can,” he told her. “There was a hub where people with disabilities could go to if they were feeling down or if they wanted private lessons in subjects like English and maths. I did that, and that way they helped me with my GCSEs.
“Everyone really respected me for who I am and no one mentioned that I have Down’s Syndrome – they just saw me as me.
“At school I just remember everyone was so good with me. We all got on really well and I made a load of really good friends. Staff were really friendly and I got on with them as well. We had a laugh and I was quite popular at school. A lot of pupils would say ‘Hi George’ and I would say ‘Hi’ back and it was really lovely to hear that.”
Webster told Romano that as well as drama one of his favourite subjects at school was food tech, because he loves cooking as well as music, media, TV and radio.
“I find it interesting to learn about different things. It is really fun,” he said.
When Zahra asked him about becoming a TV presenter Webster said it was a really great opportunity.
“I love meeting new people and I get along with people easily – we have all become good friends at CBeebies. We have good fun.”
Umeyma wondered how he got the role. “I did a video busting the Five Myths of Down’s Syndrome on BBC Bitesize, and CBeebies saw that video and asked me if I wanted to be a presenter. I said ‘Yes please!’ and I went for an audition in Manchester at Media City. I got the job and I started as a guest presenter. Now they have made me permanent presenter and it is really fun.”
Romano was curious about who was the best person Webster had interviewed and there was quite a list.
“Well, I have interviewed and met a lot of people,” he said. “But the actor I interviewed called Tommy Jessop – he was in Line of Duty, and he was a really nice guy – it was really great to interview him.”
Jessop was the first professional actor with Down’s Syndrome to play a leading role in BBC1’s Coming Down The Mountain, which was nominated for a BAFTA.
Webster is also an ambassador for learning disability charity Mencap and he told Romano how he had interviewed the writers of There She Goes, Shaun Pye and Sarah Crawford. The comedy drama features a nine-year-old girl with severe learning disabilities.
Romano asked Webster whether he feels he’s succeeded in life.
“Well, I always loved school and school was really important. They helped me to be the best that I could be and that helped me to get where I am now. It wouldn’t have happened without all that support that I had at school.
“Once at CBeebies this guy came up to me and said, ‘Hi George, I really love all of your work,’ and gave me a handshake and guess who it was? [Lancashire-born cricketer] Freddie Flintoff.”
This year the Down’s Syndrome Act was introduced in England and Wales. It means that it is now the law to make sure that the needs of Down’s Syndrome people are met.
“I am so happy that it has become an act,” Webster told the year six pupils. “Any person with Down’s Syndrome needs to have their voice heard and have the right support for their independence, health care and employment. It is really important for them to be treated as equals, because we are all equal no matter what you look like, and that is really important.”
Umeyma said: “Doing the interview was really nerve wracking and really fun, because it was my first-time meeting George Webster. We got to ask questions and he answered them.”
“I think it was really exciting because he has already done so much in life and it was really impressive,” Zahra said. “Down’s Syndrome does not stop you doing anything. He has made lots of friends and he was very popular in school.”
“I found meeting George Webster very interesting,” added Romano. “I liked how he was confident in talking to us. I asked him if he had succeeded in life and I think he has done brilliantly – but I don’t think it is the last we will see of him.”
Like the Big Issue North on Facebook