In what is already an exciting year for Smile Train UK, celebrating our 15th birthday, we are delighted to announce that we have appointed British actor, writer, and stand-up comedian, Jonny Pelham, as our newest celebrity Ambassador.
Jonny began stand-up comedy at university, achieving runner-up in both the coveted, So You Think You’re Funny competition and The Chortle Student Comedy Awards. Since then, Jonny’s career has gone from strength to strength, and over the last few years, he has appeared on Love from the BBC, Russell Howard’s stand-up Central, and Live at the Apollo.
His critically acclaimed Edinburgh show, Off Limits, saw him winning the Beyond The Fringe Herald Angel Award. From his sketches, many of Jonny’s comedy fans already know that he was born with Popliteal Pterygium Syndrome. This condition affects the development of the face and skin, and often comes with a cleft lip, cleft palate – or both. Following his experience of the condition, Jonny is keen to support children who are living with facial differences while inspiring them to pursue their dreams – just like he did.
To celebrate Jonny’s becoming a part of the Smile Train UK family, we have invited him to take part in a Q&A with us for this month’s column with Charity Today:
- Welcome to the Smile Train family, Jonny! You were born with popliteal pterygium syndrome. Can you tell us a little more about the condition, and the treatment you received?
“Thank you – I’m excited to be on board! Popliteal pterygium syndrome is a fairly complicated and rare genetic condition that impacts the development of the face, skin, and limbs. It affects around 200 people in the UK and comes with a rich collection of physical abnormalities, including a cleft lip and palate.
“I had multiple surgeries as a baby and into my childhood which involved repairing my cleft, as well as operating on my feet to allow me to walk, which meant I spent six months in a wheelchair when I was in primary school.”
- What impact did your condition have on you growing up, if any?
“I tried not to let my condition have an impact on me growing up. Luckily I was quite confident and never worried too much about what other people thought of me.
“While I was lucky enough not to be heavily impacted by my condition, I know that many children living with cleft lip and palate around the world are not so fortunate, and – without treatment – can experience problems with hearing, eating speaking and breathing. This is one of the many reasons I feel so passionate about raising awareness of the condition, and of Smile Train.”
- How did you discover your love for comedy?
“It was probably in my first year at university when I discovered a real love for comedy. I had always been quite witty growing up, often using humour as a way to deal with my condition – which is what inspired my comedy.
“A lot of my act was about being different. I distinctly remember walking around during freshers week at university, looking at the copious amounts of societies and clubs that were open to join and found that I was drawn to stand-up comedy. I ended up really enjoying it and so stuck with it.
“I think my cleft gave me a point of difference, which is what you need in stand-up comedy, so it’s important to take the positives from what would ordinarily have a negative impact on the way you live your life.”
- What made you decide to become an Ambassador for Smile Train?
“Smile Train is a brilliant charity, and I’m so delighted to be joining their family as an Ambassador. I feel a personal connection to the children they help all over the world, so when they approached me earlier this year, it was a no-brainer.
“I think we often take for granted living in a country where access to medical care is so easy, and conditions like cleft are really solvable. I was lucky enough to be treated for my cleft when I was a baby, and I think it’s so important to give children across the world the chance to receive this same level of care – which is why the work that Smile Train is doing is so incredibly vital.
“I’m excited to help spread the word of this wonderful charity, and in turn, help to create new smiles for children with cleft all over the world.”