When Nev Dean looked into the eyes of his wife Claire on their wedding day and sang the words to the song he had written for the occasion, he meant every word. The lyrics to “You Make Me Whole” were both poignant and true because from that day forward two became one to form “Team Dean”. It is difficult to tell Claire’s story without reference to Nev as their lives are inextricably interwoven.
Born in Derby in 1979, Claire moved at the age of four to a small village in South Wales. Claire found her own voice at an early age. With her ultimate goal an audition for the County Schools’ Choir, she had to overcome the hurdle of a nerve-racking first round selection. Like everyone else on that day she duly sang a rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”. With six places on offer Claire was not short listed. With her hopes dashed she was quite simply reduced to tears. However, the disappointment was to be short lived as six places became seven and Claire promptly went through to the auditions where she won a place.
Music has played a fundamental tune in a life that has witnessed Claire sing for Junior School, High School, Youth and University choirs. At the age of fifteen she won the Welsh Singer of the Year competition. She still sings today and writes songs alongside Nev.
Everything sounds amazing but there is more to this story. Claire has multiple sclerosis which is a debilitating disease that attacks the central nervous system and is the most common neurological condition among young adults today. A fact that Nev knew long before he fell in love with the girl he first set eyes upon in the yellow swimming costume at the local pool.
Her diagnosis came while Claire was in her second year at university. “It began with an altogether strange sensation in my left arm. It would suddenly shake and shudder uncontrollably without notice or warning. At the time my friends and I thought it was quite amusing, this arm having a mind all of its own,” she vividly remembers. “This was closely followed by tripping over my own feet as opposed to obstacles or uneven paving,” she continues.
She knew something was wrong and after some swift tests the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis quickly followed.
Having been hit by a thunderbolt, Claire carried on with her studies and duly completed her degree in English & American Studies at Leicester University whilst remaining immersed in her music.
Multiple sclerosis can be a tiring condition and after a short career in offshore and private banking Claire realised that it suited neither her nor her illness. The classically trained young woman, who had always sung and had flirted with the sounds of Bon Jovi in her youth and moved into the meaningful and folksy tunes of Tori Amos and Jewel, soon realised that she belonged with Nev in his studio at the bottom of their garden. “It is so fantastic to be involved in something that both excites and interests me. To cap it all, in the studio the equipment and computer are all within easy reach. There I can do something meaningful. It’s a good feeling. On top of that the studio is warm in the winter and cool in the summer, – what more could I ask for,” she concludes enthusiastically.
With Nev by her side she can concentrate on her lifestyle and make choices that benefit her health. Exercise is particularly important for people living with multiple sclerosis as it assists in keeping muscles moving and Claire exercises on a daily basis combining gym work, physio, stretch classes and rowing in a specially adapted boat all complemented by meditation, swimming and a strict diet. “I’m very lucky. Nev does all the cooking and works wonders with fresh ingredients – mainly vegetables and salad with some fish for good measure – making sure that our diet benefits us both. The balance of exercise and nutrition is working for me and I feel healthier now than I have done in years.”
Motivation plays an important role in this condition and Claire has it in spades. She is an inspiration to be around and was indeed one of the first people with multiple sclerosis that Robert Hall coached on the river Wey in a specially adapted rowing boat. Whether Claire accomplishes her routine alone, or with Nev as the driving force, clearly evident is a very real, honest and healthy “can do” attitude. Claire is a modern day Alice in Wonderland, polite, well-mannered and deeply inquisitive. While Alice takes us “Through the Looking Glass”, Claire gives us “Mirror, Mirror”, a song taken from her “Love and Carrots” album which she has written and recorded. To top it off, Nev has made the video accompaniment and within this production the two worlds of Alice and “Team Dean” also become one.
Part of Claire’s routine is being part of the Samson Centre for multiple sclerosis. The Samson Centre is a totally self-funded charity which provides physiotherapy, exercise classes, gym sessions and oxygen therapy for people living with multiple sclerosis. With running costs of nearly £200k per year it relies on fundraising activities and donations to support its activities. If you would like to help more people like Claire visit our donations page.