Written by Jo Milne


Jo Milne: a diary of firsts and lasts

Since the world watched her hear for the first time, Jo Milne has been on a journey into sound, all the while knowing her world is getting darker by the day. In her second column for Standard Issue, she salutes the lengths – and heights – her friends go to in supporting her campaign for deaf children.

Jo Milne at piano

Emotional moment: Jo sat at the piano used in John Lennon’s Imagine, at The Beatles Story, Liverpool.

So here I am, stood in an airfield in Durham by a small picket fence with a border of long grasses and ox-eye daisies. I softly smile at how Courtney Barnett’s song Elevator Operator is playing over and over in my memory, fresh still from Glastonbury. Then something snaps me out of a little daydream and I look up. The sound increases as an aeroplane approaches, then falls and blends into the background as the craft recedes into the distance.

There he is… looking more like a crumpled crisp packet floating among the fluffy clouds. I try my hardest to stare as I don’t want to miss the landing and I catch a glimpse in my peripheral vision, in the wide open space of fields in front of me. Everything is wondrous to me, the fact that I can hear while I’m looking straight ahead; the roar of cheers makes me jump as I’m still not used to sudden loud noises. But I smile because although I may not see the person that is only inches away from me, they are there and the sudden cheering confirms a successful landing. All secrets the hearing world is letting me in on.

It’s my friend Richard and as he heads back towards the airbase, he does a mock walk as if he’s in Top Gun, with a huge grin plastered across his face. His navy blue jumpsuit laden with straps and hooks, he holds up his two thumbs at me. I feel immensely proud: he’s done this for me – me.

The type of friend who would jump out of a plane for you. And that’s why I’m here today, for he has done a skydive to help me fundraise towards my #£1perdeafchild campaign. It’s the latest in a succession of recent events including a gruelling trek up Ben Nevis, live gigs and a 110-mile run. I’m optimistic about making the campaign succeed, ‘with a little help from my friends’.

“Today I’m checking facial expressions and visual clues like a detective, a lifetime habit I’ll never break.”

Those accepting, endlessly supportive and cheering me on along the way kinda friends. They know how important my campaign for deaf children is to me, one which launched in the crazy whirlwind of the last few months and since I became an Ambassador for The Hearing Fund UK, a charity set up by the mother of the legendary singing Osmond family. A lot of people don’t realise the reason the Osmonds started in the first place is that they were singing to raise money to buy hearing aids for their two older deaf brothers. Yet they went on to international stardom in the 1970s, rocking Crazy Horses on Top of the Pops. Those ‘smiley’ Osmonds, if my childhood memory serves me right.

Today I’m checking facial expressions and visual clues like a detective, a lifetime habit I’ll never break. My favourites are giggly children, faces smeared with remains of eating a forbidden chocolatey delight, their aura happy and confident. It was the same when I watched my five-year-old niece Casey dressed as a mermaid doing a routine to Beyond the Sea in her school play this week. I saw the children frantically scanning the room to spot a familiar face as they took to the wooden stage for our early morning entertainment. I felt that overwhelming feeling of love, one that moistens your eyes, when I spotted how eager Casey was to remember her words and do us proud.

And now in my professional role, I’m in total awe listening to a deaf child we sponsor play the violin. You only have to remember Beethoven, or the talented Dame Evelyn Glennie and the many other deaf musicians worldwide who perform expertly despite their deafness. Because deaf people do and can ‘feel’ the music, the rhythm, the notes, the beat. A fascinating fact, I think.

It’s no secret that one of my favourite songs is Elbow’s One Day Like This and when the violins start and the beat kicks in, it doesn’t matter how many times I hear it: the same emotions come flooding back from when my life-changing cochlea implant surgery took place last year and I was able to hear music for the first time in my 40 years.

The array of instruments that exist, for which I’m like an excited toddler when I hear their individual unique sounds. Each is as beneficial as the next in their roles among the vast musical collection and how they harmonise songs.

And to think my new life has given me this wonderful introduction to music, and all the things that come with it. Who would have believed I would now be supporting deaf children to take music tuition, to watch their confidence grow as they perform in front of thousands, their proud parents looking on.

Niamh playing the violin

Niamh, aged eight, from West Yorkshire. One of 10 deaf children sponsored by The Hearing Fund UK to have music tuition.

So as I continue my journey, people often ask: are you going to learn an instrument and if so, which one? I suddenly visualise myself sitting at the white piano used in John Lennon’s Imagine, an emotional surprise organised by my friend Jo on a recent trip to Liverpool. I think of the very first song I heard and the tingly piano notes and I don’t hesitate with my answer.

Jo’s book Breaking The Silence is available now.


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Written by Jo Milne

Gateshead-born author of Breaking the Silence, ambassador and campaigner. Jo has Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic condition causing deafness then the onset of a retinal disease leading to gradual loss of vision. Those who know Jo describe her to be inspiring as she continues to wring the joy out of life. @jomilne10