“I’m Loving Life!”: CBeebies hires new presenter with Down Syndrome

George Webster has been celebrating his new job at BBC’s preschool TV Channel CBeebies. The 20-year-old actor, who has Down’s syndrome, is set to join the channel as a guest presenter from the CBeebies House, hosting various segments and links between programmes from MediaCityUK, the channel’s base in Salford, Manchester.

 

The rising star, who has previously spoken out about misconceptions of Down’s Syndrome, says he is “so proud”  to be joining the BBC children’s channel.

Webster will be the first ever presenter with the genetic condition on the popular channel, which broadcasts daily and is targeted at young children aged under 7 and their parents with a mix of educational and entertainment shows.

An actor, dancer and ambassador for the disabilty charity Mencap, Webster was announced as a new presenter on Monday. In a video posted on social media, which has amassed over 635,000 views, and almost 10,000 shares, an elated Webster said: “I feel so proud and I’m feeling so excited to start”, adding that he was looking forward to cooking and dancing in his new role.”
Webster, who comes from Leeds, is no stranger to the media. In an educational video for BBC’s Bitesize programme, he tackled misconceptions around the genetic condition.

Many flooded social media with delight at his announcement, especially parents of children with disabilities such as Down’s syndrome.

Down’s Syndrome advocate and Bridget Jones actress Sally Phillips, who has a son named Olly with the condition, wrote: “Oh CBeebies I could not love you more. This means so much to us and isn’t George amazing!!”

Phillips has been outspoken in her advocacy for the Down’s syndrome community, and in 2016, she produced a successful BBC documentary asking, “Do we really want a world without Down’s syndrome?” as she questioned the availability of invasive prenatal testing for the condition.

“We have the most expensive state-of-the-art Down’s syndrome detection test and the ability to terminate right up until birth. But no allowance is made for the point of view of the other side. The families of people with Down’s syndrome are not consulted.
“People with Down’s syndrome are not consulted. There has never been an ethical debate about it,” she said in the documentary.

The actress said although she was initially “devastated”, her and her family’s lives became significantly more “meaningful” because they have Olly, and offered advice to parents of children with Down’s syndrome.

In a 2020 interview, she told the Daily Mail: “The way it tends to go is, that it is a tremendous shock, and you do feel devastated for a bit but everybody not only adjusts but quite often their lives are more meaningful and happier for having the person with Down’s syndrome in it.”

In July 2020, it was reported that a record number of children were tuning into CBeebies and their sister channel CBBC during lockdown. According to BBC figures, the CBeebies website had been visited by over 300,000 unique visitors nearly every week, significantly up from 257,000 visitors the year beforehand.

The BBC also reported that on BBC iPlayer,programme requests for CBeebies and CBBC shows were up by 81% from April to June 2020 at an average of 38 million views every week – with children’s shows accounting for a quarter of all iPlayer requests.
Webster’s appointment as presenter of such a well-loved television channel is sure to provide encouragement to disability rights campaigners. Mencap also rejoiced at the news, describing Webster as “a brilliant role model”.

Cerrie Burnell, who was born with her lower right arm missing – and presented on the channel in 2009 – also celebrated Webster’s new role. Burnell tweeted the news about Webster’s appointment, with the words “absolute joy”, as well as retweeting another message which ventured that perhaps “the world has turned” in more recent years to better find room for and welcome those with disabilities into the public and media sphere.

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