Vince chats to The Standard…
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VETERAN performer Vince Hill is determined to sing again after losing his voice from a stroke.
The 87-year-old, who lives in Shiplake, was due to come out of retirement in August for a special one-off performance in his native Coventry but was taken ill five days beforehand.
He then spent 11 weeks in hospital recovering and lost the movement in his right arm and leg and was unable to speak for a short period.
He hasn’t attempted to sing since suffering his stroke and says his voice feels “croaky”.
Mr Hill, who retired in 2019, had agreed to take part in Coventry’s UK City of Culture celebrations as his one final show.
“I feel like I let everybody down,” he said. “People keep saying, ‘You are going to do another show’ but it depends if my voice comes back, that’s the problem. It has gone from being clear to always needing to be cleared — it feels like it’s buried under a sea of muck.
“That’s one of the problems with having a stroke, it can impact you anywhere.
“I said I would do that show in Coventry and that would have been the last. I felt I’d had enough of performing and there comes a time to stop. It would have been a good show.
“Now my life has changed completely.”
Mr Hill, a widower, was in his bedroom when he had his stroke and was found by his assistant Pauline Buckett, who called an ambulance straight away. “I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “When you have a stroke it can happen anytime, anywhere and you could fall backwards on to concrete, which would be very dangerous.
“As luck had it — if luck is the word — I fell backwards on to my bed.”
The singer spent three weeks at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and another eight in the Oxfordshire Stroke Rehabilitation Unit at Abingdon Community Hospital before returning home on October 4.
He now has a 24-hour carer and has to use a wheelchair or walking stick when going out.
He has one-hour physiotherapy sessions once a week as part of his recovery.
Mr Hill said: “I imagined I’d have physiotherapy because when I was in hospital I was sitting up, talking and making decisions. I was okay and able, reasonably. They said ‘we’ll do some gentle walking and stretching’ and eventually they got me into the gym to do some sitting and standing exercises.
“It was sit, stand, sit, stand, sit, stand, which was a hard one to do about 10 times in a row, and eventually up to 40 times.
“The pedalling machine was hard as well because it’s boring not going anywhere.
“Apart from my hand being stiff and my right leg feeling like a plank of wood I’m okay now. All I can say is I’m on the way.”
A week after Mr Hill was admitted to hospital, Mrs Buckett also suffered a stroke and was taken to the Royal Berkshire Hospital, where she was in the ward next to the singer’s.
She also lost her ability to speak but only for 24 hours.
Mrs Buckett, who was a close friend of Mr Hill’s wife Annie before her death in 2016, said that perhaps the stress of organising the show in Coventry had caused their strokes.
“Now we keep saying to each other, ‘We’re alive’,” she added.
Describing the day of Mr Hill’s stroke, Mrs Buckett said: “I heard him shout out and I said, ‘Vince, are you okay?’ as we had just been messing around and laughing about some new scales we’d bought but there was no answer.
“So I went upstairs and there he was and I thought he was dead. I called for an ambulance and said, ‘He’s had a stroke or a heart attack, don’t ask me questions, just get someone here — he needs help’.
“They were here within 15 to 20 minutes and when they saw him they said, ‘Timing is urgent, we need to act quickly’ and they did.
“He couldn’t even talk at the time and he was dead down his right side.
“A week later I was in the ward next to Vince — I couldn’t believe it.
“I told them not to tell him as I didn’t want to put pressure on him. But I remember leaving my ward for the loo once and Vince was sitting there in his wheelchair and I was like, ‘Oh god!’ but thankfully he didn’t see me.”
Mr Hill added: “I didn’t know about Pauline for ages until my sister told me and I was thinking, ‘What?’ I thought I was dreaming.
“She was home by then and she visited me the next day and, happily, she was okay but it does leave a mark on you.”
Mr Hill, whose version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Edelweiss reached No 2 in the singles chart in 1962, said his biggest wish was to get back on stage to make up for the missed show.
“Coventry means a lot to me as it’s where I started,” he said.
“I had an amazing teacher called Ivy Fitton and she got me to pronounce my words properly and get the sounds right and taught me that my voice was an instrument.
“After my stroke my first thought was, ‘I have that show in Coventry and I can’t do it’. I had to write to them and explain and they were pretty good about it.” He has arranged to have a voice trainer visit him in January to help him with his singing.
Mr Hill said: “She has all sorts of tricks I’d never thought of, like blowing through a straw into a jug of water to help with my singing.
“She says she will get my voice back and she’s sure of that. My hope is that maybe next year I can do something.
“I can’t say it’s looking either hopeful or impossible, we’ll just have to wait and see. I try to do some scales quietly here and there but it depends if my voice is clear. Nothing worthwhile would come out if I croaked a song.
“I’m not pinning my hopes on it but performing one more time is my biggest wish.”
He said that doing another show would also depend on his strength as it was very tiring preparing. He also needs to be careful when choosing venues as he now uses a wheelchair and can’t walk long distances.
Mr Hill said: “It’s not so much getting on the stage and getting the show done but the getting there, preparing, getting dressed up and putting on make-up as I feel that I have left all of that behind.
“Once you’re on stage and performing and that’s all you have to worry about is the part I like but the rest is a bit tedious. The other thing with age is that my eyesight is going and the stroke has only made it worse.
“I can’t go to certain places because of the wheelchair access and you can’t walk in because of steps. You get fed up before you start.
“Everywhere I go I have to think, ‘Am I going to walk this, how near is a café or restaurant?’
“It’s very important for me to get out and I’ve always been a sociable person. It’s usually The Square or the Argyll, both in Market Place, Henley.”
Mrs Buckett said she also wanted to see Mr Hill perform one more time.
“We haven’t concentrated on the singing yet,” she said. “It’s still early days but in January we’ll start again.
“I know his voice is there and it’s my biggest wish for him to perform one more time. If it was possible, then I would make it happen.
“We want to do one final farewell to all his fans. We think that me and some close friends should put a show together without anyone bossing us around other than the theatre manager to keep things simple for Vince so he doesn’t get stressed.
“It won’t happen straight away but hopefully by the end of next year something will have been put in place for him and he’ll be back on stage even if it’s a talk and sing show.
“He’s lucky to be alive and I’m lucky to be alive and we want to make 2022 a wonderful year — that would be the best.”
If Mr Hill can return to the stage, he would like to donate the profits from the show to Blind Veterans, a charity providing free support and services to vision-impaired ex-armed forces and national service personnel, and the Macular Society, which will help anyone affected by central vision loss.
In the meantime, he is writing a semi-autobiographical novel which he would like to be turned into a television series.
He said: “I’ve been writing a lot but since the stroke happened the whole process has slowed down a bit.
“It’s a book where I reflect on some of my life and include what I’ve learnt and lived through, all woven into a fictional story.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. There’s a lot of songs and guess who is singing them?”
Mr Hill thanked the staff at Abingdon Community Hospital for helping him recover.
“They were fantastic to me,” he said. “Everybody was really great and I’ll be forever grateful, although I’m sure in some ways they were grateful to see the back of me!
“When I was in hospital I was surrounded by people who I knew were doing worse than me.
“I was very fortunate that it took my right-hand side and I’ve got the use of my arm back and can work on getting my strength back.
“I have to drag my leg and my foot a bit and I’m constantly reminded to pick up my feet but in the hospital there was one guy who couldn’t speak and a person opposite me who had lost the use of both legs and had to be pushed around all the time.
“It’s not very nice but it happens and it happened to me, you just have to keep going.
“I sometimes struggle to get the right word out and it leaves a gap in the conversation but generally people say how lucky I am that I can converse.
“Now I’ve got personal experience and think, ‘Wow, little boy, you’ve been very lucky’.”
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