In 2016 a choir of wounded, injured and sick Veterans came together as part of a two-part BBC documentary, which followed their journey to the Invictus Games. Guided by Gareth Malone the choir co-wrote the music and lyrics for ‘Flesh and Blood’ – which they performed at the opening ceremony. The writing process challenged the members to dig deep into their experiences of injury or illness and the different stages of their recovery.
Ali, 42, was one of the choir members who took part in the spectacular performance at the Champion Stadium, Orlando, Florida. They received a standing ovation from the 12,000-strong crowd including Michelle Obama, Hollywood star Morgan Freeman and Former President George W. Bush. Their single went on to reach number two in the UK singles chart.
For Ali, the achievement was nothing short of miraculous. Only months earlier she was suffering so badly from anxiety triggered by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, that she was virtually agoraphobic, and unable to leave the house without a family member to accompany her.
“I always loved singing – used to sing at school and university and then in a couple of Air Force stations’ bands. So, when Help for Heroes Band of Brothers sent me an emailing about auditioning I decided to try – I wanted push myself. It was hard; a massively steep learning curve. Ultimately, my love of singing and the music got me through.”
When it was all over Ali suffered a relapse and her family were very concerned. However, when the Band of Brothers team got in touch again and asked if she wanted to be part of a larger, ongoing choir that would become a Help for Heroes-supported recovery activity, she said yes.
“My husband wasn’t keen because I’d been so low after Florida but now he is really proud, he knows how good the choir is for me. We’re a positive group of like-minded individuals, of varying abilities, who all love music. We get together to research around five times each year with around four performances on top of that. There are fifty of us and we have a strong bond, texting and talking on the phone often.
“Music is good therapy – it forces you to think about things but you don’t have to talk about them, just process them. It’s time for me and helps me stay healthy mentally.”
Ali joined the Royal Air Force when she was 23, making the career change from secondary school science teacher to military training officer. In her 13 years of service she spent significant time in Kosovo. In 2011, Ali was medically discharged due to PTSD and other associated mental health issues.
Recently Ali participated in the Help for Heroes Pathfinder course. “After I left the military I lost my identity, my confidence, my way. I spent years grieving the professional person I once was. Never thought I’d get back into employment. Pathfinder helped me to realise I’ve got a lot to offer and built my confidence up. I want to work with animals and there is potentially a local job opportunity coming up working in Equine Therapy that would be perfect.
“Next year I want to try out for the Invictus Games – even if I don’t get on the team it will motivate me to get my fitness sorted.
“Help for Heroes is amazing – there are so many opportunities, they are so supportive and lovely, nothing is ever too much. To all Help for Heroes fundraisers I want to say thank you. Because of you, I’m rebuilding my life. You’ve given me a future.”