Sunday sit-down with…Tilly Lockey
When Tilly was one year old, her parents were told that she was unlikely to see her second birthday. Now 15, she’s a motivational speaker, TV presenter and has just been crowned winner of CBBC talent competition Got What It Takes. We chat to the Consett local about her incredible story – and what she’s got planned next...
‘It’s true, the robots are taking over.’
That’s all that’s written in Tilly Lockey’s Instagram bio. And while the adage is clearly tongue-in-cheek, it’s also kinda perfect.
When she was only 15 months old, Tilly contracted meningococcal septicemia. Despite doctors telling her parents that she was unlikely to survive, Tilly underwent a successful operation to have both of her arms and her toes amputated and defied the odds.
Initially, Tilly was provided with pretty primitive prosthetics from the NHS. But soon her mum, Sarah, stumbled across a call out from Open Bionics (the British business whose mission is to ‘turn disabilities into superpowers’), asking for below-the-elbow amputees to trial their new prosthetic arms. Having jumped at the chance, Tilly’s own swanky set of Hero Arms have since enabled her to regain the dexterity to do everything from putting on her own makeup to holding a microphone.
Abilities which have all come in pretty, well, handy recently. After all, just before we caught up with the Consett teen, she was crowned champion of CBBC talent competition series Got What It Takes?
Somehow, Tilly found the time to compete in the series of singing and choreography challenges (all in front of celebrity judges Becky Hill, Jonas Blue and Ricky Haywood-Williams), alongside her ‘day job’. Or should we say, day jobs? Tilly also works as a model, a TV presenter for Sky Kids’ news show FYI, has appeared in music videos and travels the country to appear at motivational speaking events.
Perhaps what was most special about her talent show win was the fact that Tilly’s final performance was a reworked cover of Sia’s Bird Set Free. A performance that included a rap Tilly wrote herself, all about shrugging off the judgement of others.
It’s a message close to her heart. Already known for sharing nothing but messages of love, kindness, body positivity and equality on her social media channels (as well as the odd makeup tutorial), when we asked Tilly what she hopes to achieve in the future, her answers all came down to the same core goal: try and change the world for the better.
So, yes, the robots may not be taking over just yet. But we wouldn’t be at all surprised if this so-called ‘bionic teen’ achieves world domination one day.
Good luck to her, we say…
Congratulations on winning Got What It Takes? Tilly! What was your favourite part about that experience?
It was just amazing! I feel like I’ve grown so much as a person, in confidence as well as vocally. I was the least experienced on the show. I’d been to stage school when I was little, but I had to quit because of problems with my legs, so I wasn’t too experienced. But I’ve always loved singing so I just thought, why not?
It was such a cool experience, especially with all the people I got to meet. It’s a great show and it really opens your eyes to what actually goes on within the music industry. Winning hasn’t quite sunk in though!
Are you planning on pursuing a career in music now?
Yeah, I guess! I feel like you can’t win a show like that and then not do anything musical afterwards. I’ve always loved singing, I just never thought I was good enough to be a “singer”. But throughout this show, I’ve realised that I must be alright at it! I’m working with my vocal coaches at the moment and they’re keen to co-write something with me so that we can get some music out there. I’d never done a gig before the show, so I’ll have to start performing live more too.
You won the competition with a reworked cover of Sia’s Bird Set Free, which included a rap that you’d written yourself. Can you tell us what inspired this rap?
I’ve always been big on writing everything down. I tend to have a lot of thoughts buzzing about my head at any given time. It was just on one of those days when I was feeling particularly angry with all the discrimination I was seeing and hearing about, mainly online. The type of racism we’ve been seeing a lot of recently, especially around the time of all the protests for and against Black Lives Matter. Ableism also came into play, having a disability myself. I don’t think people realise how big of an issue these things are when it doesn’t directly affect them.
We’ve seen on your Insta that you’ve been to London recently to visit Downing Street – can you tell us what you’ve been up to?
I’m a presenter for Sky Kids’ FYI and I’ve been down in London filming a report about Boris Johnson pledging his support for an anti-bullying campaign brought out by The Diana Award. I was able to attend the launch event for the campaign, where lots of key figures came together. Bullying is, unfortunately, something that a lot of kids face, so it was great to be able to report on something so positive and proactive for FYI – letting kids know that resources are available and support is there for them or for anyone they know who may be getting bullied. Or to help recognise if they’re the ones who are bullying someone else, because that’s just as important.
Finding out that people who actually help run the country, or other people that a lot of us look up to – Dr. Alex George was a big one for me – have had experiences of being bullied too was amazing. I think it’s great for kids to see that they’ve pulled through that experience and are doing incredible things now. It’s probably been one of my favourite reports so far.
Was breaking down stereotypes why you entered into the media industry?
Yeah, 100%. Diversity and especially diversity in the media is something that’s really important to me. In this day and age, we should have equality in our society. No-one deserves to go out onto the street and be stared down just because they’re different. That’s always been something that’s close to my heart because I’ve experienced it myself. When I was younger especially, I always had to give an explanation for myself whenever I went out the house. I couldn’t just go to the park like my sister, and I wasn’t recognised as just another kid that the others could play out with. After I explained myself, a lot of people were fine with me. But even so, as I’ve got older and have looked back on those experiences, it makes me more sure that everyone deserves to be treated as a complete equal straight away, whatever they look like.
Being different should be the new “normal”. That’s my dream, anyway. The only way we can get to that, in reality, is to normalise our differences – and the best way of normalising things is through the media. If kids can see all this diversity at such a young age, they’ll grow up viewing differences as normal.
What would be your advice to anyone facing any kind of challenge or discrimination right now?
The first thing I would say is that they’re definitely not alone. When you’re experiencing bullying or discrimination, it’s easy to feel as though it’s just you, but that’s not the case. I love to use my social media as a platform where people of all backgrounds, ages, abilities, colour, whatever, can feel welcome. At the end of the day, people are people – that’s always the way I’ve looked at it. So if anyone is feeling particularly alone, reach out to me. I always try and respond to as many people as possible. And if we can all just show support towards one another, then it’s going to create a much better future for everyone involved.
What’s next in the pipeline for you, Tilly?
I’m working at combining my motivational speaking with music and turning my words into songs, so that I can hopefully release some of my own music soon. If you’d have told me that last year, it would’ve seemed so out of reach! But I feel like I’ve grown so much this year, it’s been wild. So I don’t see the point in sitting back on it anymore. I just want to go for it.
I’ll still be reporting for FYI. And I’m still obviously wearing my Hero Arms and giving my feedback to the company as much as possible, to help make these hands the best they can possibly be for myself and others. I’m just going with the flow at the minute. I’m enjoying everything I’m doing, so I’ll just see what happens. The only limits you have are the ones you set on yourself!
And what would you most like to achieve in your lifetime?
I’ve already been able to do so much and I can’t even express how grateful I am for that. I guess my ultimate goal is to tackle that gap between different minority groups. Getting rid of all those stigmas and stereotypes. And the way I’m doing that right now is just by trying to appear everywhere. And by being active on my social media, within such a positive and loving community. I’m just keen to spread the love and kindness – because we all need it!