‘Inclusive Barbies a major step in my life’

James Stewart is among those celebrating new Barbie dolls that are being released today. Mattel, the company that makes them, has released a range of more diverse dolls. For the first time, Barbie is seen with a hearing aid, a prosthetic limb and a wheelchair, while a Ken doll has vitiligo. James, who has the skin condition, says it “felt quite surreal” to hold. “I had to sit there and breathe,” he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat, describing the moment he saw the photo of himself with the doll. “It just felt almost like a perfect moment [after] I’d been through all of that.” The 17-year-old – who is now a model – was bullied at school because of the skin condition, where white patches of skin appear on different parts of the body. James says it took him “a while to regain my self-confidence”, but he hopes more representation will benefit future generations.

For Eloise Pennycott, who has a hearing aid, it’s “a great step forward” that will help normalise different conditions. The 17-year-old became deaf aged 13. She now wears a cochlear implant, which helps her hear. But she wishes “the doll was around when I was younger”. “If, when I lost my hearing, I could’ve remembered playing with a Barbie who needs the same technology as I do, it would’ve made the idea of needing that technology so much less daunting.” “Barbies were always meant to be these cool, fashionable dolls; I’ve always considered my implants to be one of my coolest accessories,” she adds.

James agrees. He says he couldn’t relate to the dolls when he was younger, and that growing up with one that looked like him would’ve made him feel less lost. But he’s always believed there would be a moment where “diversity would become normalised”. He hopes toy companies “keep pushing with the differences and diversity”. “When [a] kid picks up a doll, they know it’s OK to look the way they do and that is an incredible thing.”

Rose Ayling-Ellis worked with Barbie on the production of its first doll with behind-the-ear hearing aids. The actor and Strictly Come Dancing winner, who is deaf, describes it as “really important and such a big deal”. This is echoed by Eloise, who says “the deaf generation will finally be able to see themselves represented”. “It makes you feel better about yourself,” James adds, “knowing that vitiligo and all other differences are becoming included into the world”.


UK Black Pride event returns to London

Europe’s largest pride celebration for LGBTQ+ people of African, Caribbean, Latin American and Middle-Eastern descent has taken place in London. It is the first time UK Black Pride has been held in person since 2019, as celebrations in 2020 and 2021 were online due to Covid.

The event at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London featured music, speeches and workshops. More than 10,000 people attended the last Black Pride in 2019. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said on Twitter he was “proud to support” an event that was “more vital and relevant than ever”. “London gets its power from diversity,” he said.


Darlings: Alia Bhatt and Vijay Varma’s domestic violence film wows India

Domestic violence is no laughing matter, but a dark comedy streaming on Netflix on the topic is wowing audiences in India. Starring Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah and Vijay Varma in the lead roles, Darlings is the story of a young Muslim couple in love – and violence and revenge.

The film opens with the lovers – Badrunissa (Bhatt) and Hamza (Varma) – deciding to get married, but theirs is not a happily-ever-after story. Three years into the marriage, the couple have made a home in a lower middle-class housing tenement, but Badrunissa is sleeping with the enemy. He’s the classic abuser, who batters her every night and says sorry in the morning. His justification for hitting – and her acceptance of it – is love. “Yes I’m a bastard but I hit you only because I love you,” he says. And she is a victim who lives in denial, believing that he’ll come around if only she can make him stop drinking or if she has a child to cement their relationship.
But when the savagery continues and he finally crosses a line, rage takes over and halfway through the film, the tables are turned – the abused, with a lot of help from her mother Shamshunissa (played by Shefali Shah), becomes the abuser. The mother and daughter kidnap the husband, hold him hostage in his own home and start doing to him what he had done to her.

The film, which began streaming on Netflix globally exactly a week back, has received mostly positive reviews from critics and wowed audiences. According to Netflix, it is doing very well not just in India but in many other countries too.

Darlings has had “the highest global opening ever for a non-English Indian film” and audiences have spent “more than 10 million hours” watching it in its opening weekend, the streaming platform said in a statement to the BBC.

The film “is currently trending in the top 10 in 16 countries in the Americas, Africa and Asia including in the UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, Kenya and Trinidad and Tobago”, it added. The reasons for interest in the film are not difficult to gauge – Bhatt is among the top Bollywood actress of the day with a dedicated fan following; the film is backed by superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s production company; and the universal appeal of the topic of domestic violence.


Covid: Room 46 musical emulates experiences of teenagers during lockdown

A musical showcasing the experiences of teenagers during the lockdown is to tour nationally after its Northamptonshire premiere later.

Room 46 charts the changing social environment caused by the pandemic through the eyes of six young people. It will be performed and recorded at the Castle Theatre, in Wellingborough, for the first time on Thursday. Writer and creative director, Justine Maynard, said: “It’s a story that should be told – and not forgotten.”

The musical follows the timeline of the Covid pandemic, from the claustrophobia suffered by young students, to the wearing of masks, home schooling and exams, the clap for the NHS – even the exploits of Captain Sir Tom Moore, Ms Maynard said. The actors appear in six “rooms” on stage and communicate in “group chats” and social media, acted out in a “clever” stage production, she added.
Actor Kai Medford, 19, from Milton Keynes, said the show was a chance for people to imagine lockdown “as we lived it”. “The mental health of children during that time was often brushed under the carpet,” he said. “We will still be feeling the long-term effects in five or 10 years’ time. The character I play – Thomas – is very similar to how I felt at the time.”

Mother-of-three Danielle Cowlbeck, of KA Media, said the “rock/pop musical” is a “chance to get kids talking again”. “Room 46 refers to a chat room the six characters are in to discuss schoolwork – and how their relationships evolve,” she said. “We are told so many times how resilient children are, but that is not the case for all of them. They are still experiencing the aftermath. “We want to start a national campaign through this to get kids talking openly. This experience has shaped them.”

The show will be also recorded with a view to it being streamed in schools. “This is a time in our history that will not be forgotten,” Ms Maynard added. “We all lived through lockdown – lots of things have changed for all of us.”


BBC Proms: Composer turned to music to help with Tourette’s

A man who turned to music to help his Tourette’s syndrome is set to see his work performed by Welsh musicians at the Proms.

Gavin Higgins, from London, developed the condition as an infant and used music to “cool off” when overwhelmed. “Everything stops when I play music,” he said. Years after his diagnosis for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and Tourette’s, a piece he composed will be performed at the Royal Albert Hall. On Monday, his Concerto Grosso will be played by the Tredegar Town Brass Band and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. It will be the first time in over a decade a brass band has performed at the Proms.

But for months, the championship band from Blaenau Gwent, were practising Gavin’s work with no idea what they were rehearsing for, with the event kept secret from the players.

Gavin, a composer in association with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, said he hoped playing at the Proms would make more people fall in love with brass bands and change out-dated ideas.


Carer relieved at securing autistic Ukrainian teen’s visa

A woman who has been trying to bring a boy with severe autism from Ukraine to the UK for months has said finally securing his visa was “a great relief”.

Julie Elliot applied to help 16-year-old Timothy through the government’s Homes for Ukraine (HfU) scheme in March, but his age made him ineligible. She was so determined to help him that she and her husband adopted him to try and cut through red tape. She said she was thrilled he would now be joining her family in Lancashire.
The HfU scheme, which was set up shortly after the conflict broke out in Ukraine, requires strict sponsor checks before unaccompanied children can travel to the UK.

The 62-year-old, who is from the Ribble Valley and has four biological and 10 adopted children, was first put in touch with the teenager’s mother Anna in Kyiv by the Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline charity.

She said Timothy, who is non-verbal, had become distressed at his home in Kyiv when it was bombed as he “couldn’t process what was going on”. He was later evacuated to Poland.

Mrs Elliot said she and Timothy’s birth mother Anna were “absolutely thrilled to bits” about his visa and it was “a great relief” to both women. Timothy will now travel to the UK in the coming days.


Brighton Pride 2022: Festival celebrates 30th anniversary

One of the UK’s biggest pride events is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Brighton Pride was back on the streets of the south-coast city on Saturday, after being cancelled for the last two years due to Covid.

A large parade set off from Hove Lawns at 11:00 BST weaving its way through the streets of the city. Global superstar Christina Aguilera is the headline act at a concert on Saturday evening, with Paloma Faith headlining on Sunday.

A Brighton Pride spokesperson said: “2022 will be a joyous commemoration of the brave trailblazers, campaigners and supporters who shaped the Pride movement in the city and helped us achieve the LGBT+ equality we all enjoy today.” The first Brighton Pride was held in 1973 but it did not return to the city again until 1991. The event usually attracts crowds of about 250,000 people.


Ukraine war: Wembley exhibition shows ‘beauty’ of country

The “real beauty of Ukraine and its people” is being showcased in a public art display in north-west London.

Visions of Home is a collection of photographs, installations and digital works by artists from the country. It forms part of an annual art trail just outside Wembley Stadium, which is visited by millions of people a year. The exhibition aims to showcase a “resilient and hopeful country”, and to keep the war in Ukraine in the public conscience, curators said.

Ukrainian-born artist and photographer Ira Lupu, who curated the exhibition said she was worried the “abundance” of news coverage may have left some people “desensitised and distant to the tragedy” resulting from the conflict.

My dream is to develop something that opens up the real beauty of Ukraine and its people – a different take to the casual display of Ukrainian bodies we see in the global media,” she said. The display includes a series of photographs capturing people living in the Ukrainian city of Odesa, where 21 people were killed in a Russian missile strike in July.


Ukraine war: Mother and six sons get keys to Chepstow home

A Ukrainian mother and her six children who fled Russian bombing have been handed the keys to their new home. Lilia Onopa, 43, and her children received an official welcome in Chepstow, Monmouthshire, on Friday. She tearfully described seeing her hometown destroyed, people killed, and wanting to save her sons. Having fled their home north of Dnipro, where military strikes began in early March, Ms Onopa and her boys travelled to Bucharest, Romania. This was after attacks on the port city of Odesa made other methods of travel impossible. They arrived in the Monmouthshire town last week after waiting five weeks for the British Embassy to approve their online application.

At the gathering, they were given the keys to a bungalow, a former caretaker’s property which has been refurbished by volunteers from St Mary’s RC Primary School and church with donations from across the area. Ms Onopa said she was keen to learn English and has already enrolled in classes.
Having been a keen cook and baker in Ukraine, she said she would like to start her own pastry business, and wants to volunteer to help other Ukrainian refugees settle. She said her sons, aged between five and 15, were looking forward to beginning school.

Presenting Ms Onopa with the keys, Archbishop of Cardiff George Stack said: “This is an opportunity to say to our new family croesi i Gymru, welcome to Wales. The land of sanctuary.
“And we hope and pray that you will be happy and fulfilled and content as you begin to understand what wonderful people live and work in Wales.” Chair of governors, Phil Cotterell said: “Lilia and her family will not be alone, there is an incredible network of support here in Chepstow.”


Military dog tag found in River Soar reunited with Illinois family

A group of history hunters who found an old Air Force Military Dog tag in a river have reunited it with the owner’s family in the United States.

The tag was discovered by Black Country-based Peaky Dippers in the River Soar, Leicestershire, and traced back to a family in Illinois. It belonged to Robert M Luetgert, who served in the American Air Force in the 1950s. Marie Collins, from the group, said it was “one of the best finds we’ve made”.

The historian found the owner’s family via social media and said she never dreamt she would hear anything back. But she had “goosebumps” when she received a reply from Mr Luetgert’s granddaughter. The shocked relative was “blown away” and sent Ms Collins documentation and photographs which showed that Mr Luetgert had been based at RAF Burtonwood in Cheshire in 1956 and returned home a year and three months later.

Ms Collins said soldiers used to wear two dog tags, so one could be sent back to the family and the other left on the body if they lost their lives. Mr Luetgert’s lost tag has now been sent back to the family and his widow has the second dog tag in America. Ms Collins said they did not know how the tag ended up in Leicestershire when Mr Luetgert was based in Cheshire, and said “it may have been fast-flowing water carrying it down the river”.