"I Finally Found My Voice"
Hi my name is Charlie Matthews I am 15 years old and live in Bristol in the UK. At around 6 years old I began to really struggle with anxiety and by the time I was 7 it become too much for me and I attempted to take my life. It was such a dark time in my life and my parents sought help from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service). They prescribed me medication for anxiety and depression and I still take this now as it helps me to function in day-to-day life. When I was 8 years old I was diagnosed with Autism after years of struggling to understand and fit in. It was a relief to finally have an answer but it was a difficult couple of years whilst I learned to come to terms with my diagnosis.
I also have a condition called Hypermobility Syndrome which is when your joints are over flexible and this causes lots of pain and three years ago I was diagnosed with JIA (Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis) this can be incredibly painful and on bad days or for days out I have to use a wheelchair. I take lots of oral pain medication on a daily basis and have had injections in my knees and hips but didn’t find the injections helped. I have learnt to live with this condition but some times the lack of mobility frustrates me I would like to run and move like my peers and not get so exhausted!.
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Just after I was diagnosed with JIA I was also diagnosed with Epilepsy. I had always had vague episodes and very strange nocturnal episodes in which I walk, talk, shout and have no recollection of afterwards but this got worse as I got older. So I went into my local children’s hospital for 5 days and had a video EEG for the whole time to see what was going on! The results showed that I was in fact having seizures so I take medication for this. It is pretty well controlled with the medication I take but during stressful times and heat the absences increase..
In life I struggled to talk to others but the one thing I always loved was music. I loved every type of music and would put on my headphones and just lose myself into my own world. After my diagnosis I began to sing and suddenly realised through music I could show passion and emotion that I couldn’t in my day-to-day life.
I had finally found my voice.
I was invited to sing at many different events over the years and started to enter and win talent contests. After years of not fitting in I had found something I was good at. I began to feel happier and my confidence increased and I decided to enter a beauty pageant. My mum was terrified that I would not cope with the environment and would freeze so she found me a pageant coach to help prepare me. We became good friends and I spent a lot of my time with their daughter Darcey. At my first pageant I just loved every second on stage and got mini supreme the third highest title. I went on to win 87 crowns in just over a year and several titles my mum says I just light up on stage.
Darcey is a model and in 2014 she encouraged me to go along to a local photographer Dani Geddes for a shoot with her, I loved every minute of my first shoot and was eager for more. Dani put out a casting for Leisel Meminger from the film The Book Thief and so I was lucky to be chosen. The photographs were amazing and my adventures were just beginning. I spent a lot of time with Dani and became a member of her Starbelle talent management group. I have had over 100 shoots as a model over the years and have enjoyed working with lots of different photographers. I have done all different types of shoots from elegant, creative artistry, character, high fashion to conceptual horror film ones. I love to get into a character. Most of my character work where I get to act out I have done with Dani and I recently enjoyed working on her ‘Sleepy Hallows’ web episodes where I got to be my all time favourite creepy clown ‘Pennywise.’
In June 2015 I was asked to perform at Child Model Magazine Fashion Parade event in Atlanta, US and it was an amazing experience to stand on stage and sing whilst my debut music video aired. I had never had a music video before so it was a pretty epic moment! A couple of months later in September I walked in my first fashion show ‘Walk the Walk’ in Portsmouthand I was hooked. There aren’t many ‘child’ fashion shows in the UK so when I returned to the US in December 2015 to CMM I not only performed but to also went to strut my stuff on the runway.
In 2015 I met photographer Malcolm Modele during a shoot and found out that he liked to shoot horror concepts. I got to work with him on a fantastic Zombie horror concept and loved acting and getting into the character. Malcolm produced his own tv programme a zombie/comedy called Z-Pozitive and guess what I got to star in it! My name in the programme is “Serina”. I had so much fun with the cast and crew. I got to attend the premiere with my family by my side and I was so proud of myself. What an experience that was, I even sat on the panel afterward at the Q & A. I would never of thought I could ever do something like that but the last few years have taught me is that just because it’s harder for me doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
In September 2015 I had won an editorial for Posh Child Magazine so I returned to the US in January 2016 but this time to Greenville in South Carolina to shoot an editorial wearing an amazing outfit by New York designer Janelle Funari. I also walked in The Society Child Fashion Show and won a three day editorial road trip in Las Vegas and the surrounding areas in August 2016.
In March 2016 I travelled to Paris to walk in Tiffany’s Fashion week with Dani Geddes as one of her ‘English Roses’ models and this was an amazing experience. It is a beautiful city and I had so much fun with my new model friends even having a shoot under the Eiffel Tower. I returned to Paris at the end of 2018 just to take in a bit more of the city.
At the beginning of 2016 I found out that I had been nominated for ‘Best Child Female Model’ at the Posh People’s Choice Awards so at the end of May I travelled to Orlando for the event and I was blown away to actually win the title! Only a year of being in the business and there I was collecting an award for Best Child female Model in Orlando at times it has felt like I am in a dream. I travelled in August for my High West shoot experience and this made memories to last a lifetime the locations were just out of this world and I learned so much about the native culture. I returned to the US a month later in September to New York and walked in an incredible design by new york designer Janelle Funari and shot with some amazing photographers featuring in several editorials.
December 2016 I returned to the US for the last trip of the year to attend a fashion show and received a call back from a New York modelling agency! I returned to New York in February and walked for 5 designers this time!! I had an amazing time even though it’s freezing in New York in February and we had a snow storm! I shot Janelle Funari New York’s new line and ad campaign which was an amazing opportunity and I had awesome hair and make up!
In June 2017 I took a trip back to Orlando as I was nominated for Top Teen Model 2017 for Posh Child Magazine’s People’s Choice awards and guess what… I WON. I also performed in a talent showcase and was awarded Talent Winner and given a beautiful trophy and a huge surf board! That is still in the US as we were going to get our friends to post it to us and just haven’t got round to it yet!
In 2017 I was taken on by visABLE People agency, which is the world’s first agency to supply disabled actors, models and presenters to the advertising industry, television and film companies, radio and theatre.
I was honoured to walk in a fashion show for Models of Diversity and this was one of my most favourite experiences to date. To walk with all these individuals with very different disabilities was humbling and they weren’t just ok at what they do they were incredible it made me realise I definitely can do anything I set my mind to! My disabilities are just a part of me I am also talented and I’m going to share my talents with the world. I keep in touch with many of these models and it has been incredible watching their journeys.
In 2017 I attended Dream Street’s Inspirational Awards and I was absolutely thrilled to be awarded Inspirational Young Woman 2017 this has to be one of my most favourite awards to know that I inspire others is just amazing. It is my goal in life to raise awareness and inspire people.
In November 2017 I found out I had been nominated as ‘People’s Hero’ at the Anna Kennedy Autism Awards. I couldn’t believe someone had nominated little old me! I travelled to London for the awards ceremony and was so proud of myself for being nominated up amongst the other finalists. I could not believe my ears when my name was called as the winner. It means so much to me that I was nominated let alone chosen to be Peoples Hero!
Last year I decided to do something that I had been thinking about for some time. I had always wanted to design my own clothing and I was given the opportunity to show a line of clothing in Miami for The Society Fashion Week so I decided to go for it. I named my brand ‘Missing Pieces’ I came up with this as I wanted my line to raise awareness for Autism. Autism is often seen as the missing piece of the puzzle and also I thought it could be the ‘missing piece’ of clothing from your wardrobe. For my logo I wanted a heart made up of puzzle pieces with one piece slightly out as if it was being fitted in.
After coming up with the logo I sat and thought about what I wanted for my line. As it was in Miami I decided I wanted to go with a very ‘English’ feel so sought out lots of London, union jack style fabrics. My designs were all based around summer fashion that you can wear and I concentrated on children from 3-18. I had so many models cast to walk for me and It was so hard to choose my final 17. I wanted to offer the opportunity to children that might otherwise never get the chance so I had a very diverse group and we had so much fun. Dani Geddes made me a video that was playing on the huge LED backdrop of London and all the sights and I had a music mix made which was all very London/ English bands it was such an amazing show and I was so proud of how all my designs looked on the runway it was a night of dreams.
This year I am showing a very special line at Walk The Walk in May but I’m not going to let you know too much you will have to wait and see! I am then going to be heading to Atlanta to showcase some more designs.
At the end of the year in 2018 I was awarded my Youth Achievement Bronze Award that I had been working towards all year with Bullies out. I had to put in a lot of hours completing three tasks to achieve this. One of my tasks was to raise awareness for ‘Go Purple’ day and raise funds. I recorded my story with a BBC reporter to go on the internet and then I was suddenly asked to go live on the Radio and record a full story to go on the television. It was incredible, I raised over £500 in one day and raised so much awareness for the charity which was my goal. My story was even translated and found being shown in Greece and France! At the awards ceremony I was also awarded Fundraiser of the year and I was Youth Ambassador of the month twice last year. This year I am working on my Silver award and have some fabulous ideas.
Did I also mention I am a budding photographer myself? I am currently working hard towards my GCSE’s in Art & Photography which I am taking a year early so I can do AS Levels in these subjects whilst still at school. I am trying out all kinds of photography but enjoy wildlife and portrait the most. I am very lucky to have my own studio area at home so I just need to keep practicing and practicing! Last year I entered a local Rotary Club Young Photographer competition and I won the intermediate age group. I then went on to also win the district and to actually get highly commended in the national finals. I am very proud of this achievement.
See there is no stopping me I will never let my disabilities stand in my way I just look at them as ‘different abilities’. On those days when I am in pain or finding the world an overwhelming place I think of all that I have achieved in such a short space of time and think of how much more I can achieve in the future. If I feel that its impossible because of these disabilities I figure out a way I can do it! I hope that seeing all that I have achieved helps to inspire other children like myself to follow their dreams. Believe in yourself, it may be harder but it’s not impossible.
I hope you enjoyed my story you can follow me on facebook and instagram