Teacher of Piano star Lucy Illingworth: It’s not a miracle, it’s just hard work

The music teacher of blind pianist Lucy Illingworth, who dazzled viewers of The Piano with her talent, has said describing her as a miracle is “insulting and dismissive” of all the hard work she has put in over the years.

Classical pianist Daniel Bath has worked with the teenager, who is visually impaired and neurodivergent, since she four, through the musical charity The Amber Trust.

A new Channel 4 documentary, The Incredibly Talented Lucy, follows their journey together, after Illingworth won the musical competition at the age of 13, and performed at the King’s coronation.

Lucy Illingworth and her piano teacher Daniel Bath
Lucy Illingworth and her piano teacher Daniel Bath (Channel 4/Richard Ansett/PA)

“It’s not a miracle, it’s just hard work. It’s the same with any musician, to get to that level you just have to put in hours and hours of really hard work.”

He continued: “My aim is that at 18 we’ll get her to a place where she can go to music college, and work with people like Martin Roscoe and really top piano tutors.

“But the whole ‘miracle’ thing is just a way of dismissing people who have disabilities. It’s really unhelpful and it’s lazy.”

He said he was “sceptical” of Illingworth moving into the world of showbiz initially but found the music show to be “very supportive” of her needs.

Illingworth starred in the first season of The Piano, which aired last year and in which singer-songwriter Mika, Chinese pianist Lang Lang and presenter Claudia Winkleman hunt for Britain’s most talented undiscovered pianists.

During the final, she was awarded performance of the night for her rendition of Debussy’s Arabesque No.1.

Bath said that when they first started working together, he would play her classical pieces that she liked, as her mother would play this music for her when she could not sleep.

He said: “She remembered it all – things like Bach and Chopin, really difficult piano pieces.

“And I’d have to work out what piece she was playing with her tiny, four-year-old’s hands, and then I’d have to make sure that I knew the piece, so I could play it for her.

“We worked out a method where she had to put her hands on top of my hands, so she knew what my fingers were doing. And then she remembered – her memory is very, very good.

“And then gradually the pieces began to take more shape, partly because of the training and partly because she was getting older.

“And then she began to get that sense of achievement, that she could finally make her fingers do that thing that was in her head.

“And the more she appreciated that, the more she wanted to learn new stuff.

“And nowadays she asks me to play pieces for her, because she knows I can teach her how to play them, and she’s desperate to learn more. As a teacher, it’s what you want from a pupil.”

Lucy plays the piano
Lucy Illingworth plays the piano (Channel 4/Richard Ansett/PA)

However, he said he was not able to attend the coronation service because of security issues.

He said: “It was really irritating. We’d done the security checks a fortnight beforehand and it was all fine.

“We got our security passes, and then we got a call from the BBC production staff, saying that the royal household security wouldn’t give me clearance, so I had to give my security pass back.

“It was all really annoying, and no-one would give me a reason, which I thought was very rude.

“I think it was because I’ve been involved a lot in environmental activism, especially Extinction Rebellion. It was so horrible, it made me feel really sad.”

Bath has also founded a charity Music For The Many, which was inspired by his time with Illingworth.

He said: “It was that thought, if Lucy can do it, with all the barriers she has, she’s an example of what can happen if you make musical opportunities available to children.

“There’s probably thousands of Lucys that we don’t know about in our communities, because they’re not given the opportunities.

“So Lucy’s been a big inspiration for me, as have the amazing people that work with her in her school.”

The Incredibly Talented Lucy will air on Channel 4 on Sunday at 10.05pm after the next instalment of The Piano.

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