AS the world settles in to the starting blocks for another Olympic season, a Brisbane-born singer is the face – and the voice – of the 2016 Paralympics.
Born with spina bifida and confined to a wheelchair, Tony Dee, the stage name of Tony Doevendans, is still pinching himself after being scouted by a British production company to front a big band of disabled musicians to record a video clip cover version of Sammy Davis Jr’s triumphant Yes I Can.
“I was just over the moon; we’re going to London,” Mr Dee told his wife Caroline after learning he’d been chosen for the main singing role.
The catchy, feel-good clip was recorded in London’s famous Abbey Road Studios, featuring the extraordinary talents of the British Paralympic team as well as many ordinary people living with all manner of disabilities.
Mr Dee features throughout the clip, although he admits a stunt double was used for a daring wheelchair roll down a ramp at the start of the video.
Tens of millions of social media viewers have watched the clip, produced for British TV’s Channel 4 as an advertisement for the Paralympic Games.
“The Paralympics isn’t just about sport, it’s about the conquering of obstacles and just knowing that attitude is everything,” Mr Dee said.
Mr Dee, from the Brisbane suburb of Deagon, said he simply loved putting a smile on people’s faces (or sometimes a tear of nostalgia) with his swinging tunes and gentle love songs, which draw on the influence of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole and Elvis Presley.
He was born with spina bifida and as a result is confined to a wheelchair, but is actively passionate about living life to the full.
Mr Dee gives thanks for his parents who supported him from the start of life.
Until after he was born, nobody knew he had spina bifida.
He said nurses quickly took him away and he was operated on in the first hour of his life.
Disturbingly, doctors then told his parents that he would have serious learning difficulties and problems with living skills, and suggested he be put away in an institution.
“My father wasn’t having any of that and he got quite angry at the time. I bless him for that,” Mr Dee recently told the website LifeSiteNews.
“I think my life has really been so much better than those predictions.
“I’m now not just the face of this television ad campaign for the Paralympics, but in the lead-up I’ve had a wonderful marriage, I’ve had a couple of step kids along with that, I’ve had time enjoying myself singing and making other people happy through that.
“The learning difficulties never eventuated. I was always pretty good academically at school and … I’ve gone in a different direction which has fulfilled a more creative side of me I guess.”
Mr Dee said he was disturbed by the possible impact of Queensland’s proposed abortion bill, which would decriminalise abortion.
Even if the doctors didn’t think he would have much chance in life, he said he was “really happy with how life has turned out”.
“Absolutely. And certainly better than some other people have imagined,” he said.
“If it’s possible to be wrong about the life of a child just born, then how much easier is it to be wrong about the life of an unborn baby.”
Mr Dee has performed at various larger church events such as public Christmas Carols and Easter services, at Bribie Island Golf Club as a guest, and various charity and fundraising functions around Bribie and Caboolture until now, and has been the guest entertainment at birthday parties for friends, only just now starting to be more deliberate in pursuing music as something that could lead to bigger and better things.
By Mark Bowling