Alex Stobbs first appeared on our screens when we watched the touching documentary, A Boy Called Alex. It was a tale of determination and the love of life over, or perhaps in spite of, adversity. The main adversity for Alex is that he has cystic fibrosis, and a lesser one is that he’s slightly deaf.
But Alex’s resolve to forge on doing exactly what he wants and not what his disease dictates has seen him emerge from the cocoon of his childhood to fly the nest all the way to the life of a student at Cambridge.
It was here that we rejoined Alex’s life-story; he’s now a young man and a choral scholar at King’s College, and during the film, Alex was trying hard to learn to conduct the three-hour Bach masterpiece, St Matthew Passion. And the pursuit of perfection in his role nearly pushed Alex’s frail health over the edge.
While the majority of us seeing a dietician would most likely be told to avoid sweets and crisps, Alex’s scolded him for not eating enough of these calorie laden foods because in order to fight off possibly fatal infections, he needs to have a good bodyweight.
His body has been through a lot, but to all appearances, it hasn’t taken Alex’s spirit along with it. He’s a young man who craves normality in his day to day life and unusual excellence in his music. And it’s music that is his greatest love, despite the fact there are a few girls eager for that role.
But one could see that without being lofty or arty-farty, Alex has a real passion for the music he loves and everything must take a backseat when compared to it, including his health. His mother berates him for not looking after himself properly, he misses or forgets to take some of his meds rather more often that his mother might forgive and he even has a special alarm…
When the film’s director, Paddy Wivell, asked what was the purpose of a red cord that was dangling from the kitchen ceiling, Alex became immediately anxious that Paddy might’ve pulled it. And with good cause because Alex replied, “It’s my emergency alarm. It says I’m dying.”
What a frightening thing for such a young man to live with; the knowledge that what would be a minor cold to you or I could in fact kill him, and the knowledge that one day, he might need to pull that cord. And regardless of his fighting spirit, it was clear several times in the film how weak Alex can become and how alarmingly fast that can happen. It’s heartbreaking.
Perhaps it’s the very fact of Alex’s stoicism and accepting manner that makes his story one that’s in equal parts triumphant and sad, full of joie de vivre and conflicting exhaustion. There were times when it was difficult to watch Alex try to remain unflappable about his illness; one such scene was when Alex’s calm response to blood pouring out of his feeding tube was to merely utter, “Oh gosh, look at that…”
But for Alex, his moment in the sun came when in Cadogan Hall, at first struggling with a bow tie of almost comedic proportions, and later, his state of near collapse following his gracious acceptance of thunderous applause for a flawless performance.
I won’t dwell on how his illness could’ve so nearly ruined his special night, not to mention taken his life, simply because Alex wouldn’t. He’s a tremendously gifted young man with a loving family and a road ahead that may be rocky but, with his Etonian scarf flying out from behind him, it’s one he’s sure to zoom along at full pelt.