Twenty-five years after her near-fatal 18-metre plunge down a stage lift shaft at the State Theatre in Pretoria, Gaynor Young has reinvented herself as an acclaimed blogger and writer with an audience of tens of thousands – a following which many a leading actress can only dream of.
WORDS Melissa Reitz PHOTOGRAPH Elmine Botha
In 1989 then 28-year-old Gaynor was a rising star in theatre and film, but her career was cruelly interrupted and her life irrevocably changed when she fell five storeys during a scene change of Camelot. Gaynor, now 52, suffered multiple fractures and brain damage, including the loss of 98 percent of her hearing, most of her sight and proper mobility on the right side of her body.
“I had a choice: to remain in that hospital bed or try and make a new life for myself,” she says. Those who have followed Gaynor’s difficult yet inspiring story know that she has not only recovered to the point of independence, but has spent a large part of her ‘new life’ motivating others through her books, shows and talks.
Her latest triumph is being chosen as runner-up in the entertainment category of the 2013 SA Blog Awards for her highly personal and inspirational blog ’ear ’ear, in which she shares her insights and the trials and tribulations of living an independent life as a disabled person. Her humorous and thought-provoking musings about everything from disabilities, family and friends to beloved pets and even current world events have drawn followers from around the globe. With a new blog posted every Friday ’ear ’ear regularly receives up to 65 000 hits via Facebook, and at last count her followers on Twitter exceeded 4000.
South visited Gaynor at her home in George, where she has lived in her cosy flat since 2006 after moving to the Garden Route from Durban to be closer to her parents and family.
With posters of past stage performances adorning the walls and Perdita, her little dog, curled up on my lap, I immediately feel at home. Gaynor’s genuine appreciation for life and people is infectious. At times she has me giggling as she slips into a brief theatrical performance of the story she is telling and then, just as naturally, stops to share something intimate and personal with a trust that comes from having to surrender to life’s unpredictability.
She says her blog, started in March 2013, naturally progressed from her other writing and performing endeavours over the past 25 years.
It started with her return to the stage four years after the accident, despite being told that she would never act again. My Plunge to Fame in 1994 and Gaynor Rising in 2004 were both publicly acclaimed and received standing ovations.
“Through these shows, I realised how much I loved connecting with people by telling my story.” She developed a motivational talk, which she continues to share around the country. The success of the first play also resulted in Gaynor’s highly acclaimed autobiography, My Plunge to Fame, which was published in 2000 and was nominated for several awards.
Recovering her hearing following a cochlear implant 18 years after the accident and another last year, inspired the name of her blog. “I am so grateful I wasn’t born 50 years earlier, otherwise this would never have been possible!” says Gaynor, for whom the implants have been life-changing. “I can now hear the birds sing and I remind myself to always listen. One hears then with a difference!”
Her blog is testament to Gaynor’s refreshing take on life since being able to hear in “stereo” and she admits the writing has given her a new perspective. “I look at the world differently now that I write a blog and realise there is a story in everything.”
She adds: “No one has a happy life. We have happy moments. I am content, and for that I am grateful.”