When Vicky McClure snipped the ribbon at the Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk in the UK nine years ago, she had no idea of the impact it would eventually have on her own life.
Just one year on from the flagship fundraiser, the Line Of Duty star — who had little knowledge of the disease prior to the event — discovered her grandmother (‘Nona’) had been diagnosed with vascular dementia.
It was a turning point for McClure, who ever since has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the condition, from appearing in dementia-friendly theatre performances, to campaigning for a dementia-friendly society.
“When something hits you in your life, you don’t know how to deal with any of it until it’s there, whether it be cancer or depression or dementia,” says McClure, 35.
"You stop and think you have to figure it out, because you’re not pre-warned. And my mum was focused on the fact that she had no idea how hard it would be, so she wanted to know how to help other people.
"Raising awareness and telling your story is hugely important.”
True to her word, her latest project is set to spread the message far and wide. Our Dementia Choir with Vicky McClure will see the actress embark on a personal journey to discover the true extent of music’s power in fighting dementia.
Joining forces with specialists from the fields of medicine, music therapy and performance, McClure is forming a very special band and choir to put on a performance.
When you know someone is going through something at the same time as you, you don’t feel like you’re on your own, That’s what happened with the choir.
“We’re not just doing it to highlight an issue that we know is horrific, but also the positive side of it too — music, I do feel, is as powerful as a drug. There isn’t anything currently to stop or cure dementia, but it’s about trying to live well with the condition,” she continues.
“We’ve got to share this with the masses, we’ve got to make sure that people understand the benefits of music, and we have to find other ways of making people feel better.”
Having recruited ex-musicians and singers with dementia to partake in the project, the stakes are high.
“The stimulation for the singing or listening to music means that people living with dementia can enjoy that, it makes them feel good about themselves,” she says.
Can she envisage more music therapy being used for the condition?
“Yes. The statistics for people doing music therapy in care homes is low [but] I hope after this doc is aired that people will just give it a go.
“It gave the choir members a purpose, it challenged them. It wasn’t easy. But they were happ. It’s not easy if any of us have to learn a song, never mind if you’ve got dementia.”
There are some tough questions to be asked too in this process, McClure recognises. Like whether her own mother fears she will face dementia too.
“It’s an obvious one to ask, since it seems to run in families — but my other grandparents are both in their Nineties and they’re sharp as a tack.
The thing with dementia is, I look at it now to be a bit like a cancer. I’ve lost too many friends to cancer who have lived very healthy lives.
"It is what it is. I don’t know what I’m going to die of — it could be dementia. But what can I do about it? Of course, there’s that fear that it could be me.
"But I can’t live my life between now and whenever, worrying about it.”
And as for what she would like to happen next?
“I want to keep going,” McClure says. “I’m not leaving it at one ‘two-part doc, and I’ve done my part for dementia’. There’s loads more to be discovered.
“I want to find more ways of helping people to live well with dementia. Yes, I want to find a cure, but I can’t put that on my shoulders — everyone’s doing their bit. But I want to be a part of that.”