Boy George’s vocal coach thanks St Mark’s Hospital in Northwick Park for saving his life
PUBLISHED: 13:58 03 October 2019 | UPDATED: 14:46 03 October 2019
A star vocal coach whose life was saved by surgeons at St Mark’s Hospital has spoken about his road to recovery – in memory of a friend who killed himself.
The 33-year-old former model and singer discovered he had ulcerative colitis six years ago and told very few people other than doctors at St Mark's Hospital.
Such is his gratitude that he is still alive, Christopher has so far put on three charity concerts raising more than £8,000 for the Watford Road hospital in 2015, 2016, and June this year - his first "client night".
At the end of September he launched a video telling his story which received 560,000 views in its first few days. It is dedicated to his friend Phil Riddler, who battled Crohn's disease and had been in a hospital bed opposite Christopher when both went through lifesaving ops.
Despite making it out of hospital, Phil felt he was "too ill". He killed himself aged just 27.
In the last two years, Christopher has created a new career as a voice coach with clients including pop supremo Boy George and actor John Partridge, and only this year told them his secret - that beneath his clothes is an ileostomy bag without which he will die.
"I wanted to create a positive spin on what happened, bring awareness to it and also bring a sense of closure.
"When people don't talk about things it becomes a burden of secrecy. I'd find myself meeting new people and not talking about it - it was nice for me to get it off my chest. It was a long time in the making, I couldn't talk about it for years."
He said his illness "came out of nowhere" when, aged 27, as his career as a model and singer "started to kick off", he began noticing blood each time he went to the toilet. Soon he was using the toilet 20 times a day, was in "agony" and losing weight: he plummeted to eight stone.
Following surgery to remove his colon he was forced to wear a stoma bag.
He fell into a deep depression that was made worse when his girlfriend dumped him and friends abandoned him.
"That was a really low point," he said. "It took me a long time to get over that and I was coping in all the wrong ways - drinking and smoking.
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"People think I'm positive now, but it was a doom and gloom time blocking everything out."
Moving back in to live with his parents in Guildford, hope emerged when doctors offered a groundbreaking operation to create a "J Pouch" inside his body, forgoing the need for the ileostomy bag. Sadly the operation wasn't successful and the pouch made him seriously ill.
"I was told this would all be sorted within nine months but due to complications it went on for three years," he said. "I was really down for four or five months and thought: 'I can't do this any more. I've got to get on with my life.'
"I knew the piano was something I could do, a new challenge, so I gave it a go learning from scratch and it became something that helped me along the way."
He read dozens of self-help books, and used savings from modelling jobs to access mentors online.
Housebound and realising he wanted to become a voice coach, he used Skype to access his first client, "where people couldn't see there was something wrong with me".
Five months after his second lifesaving operation in 2017, he taught his first singer. His base built and he began to coach Vangelis Polydorou, Boy George's backing singer.
"We can't always always control what happens to us, but we can always control our thoughts, how we react and how we respond to what happens to us," he said.
"I changed the way I looked at the bag and saw it not as something ugly but as something that has saved my life.
"I'm grateful to have this ileostomy bag. I wouldn't be alive without it."
Boy George is backing his campaign. "Christopher is amazing," he said. "He's taught me some really great vocal techniques that have helped me tremendously. I've used lots of different methods over the years but it's been really exciting to learn some new things".
His consultant surgeon, Prof Omar Faiz, clinical director at St Mark's, said: "Christopher's journey would have tested anybody to the extreme - a huge onslaught, physically and psychologically - but he has bounced back very, very high despite all the adversities.
"I hope this video will show a wider audience that through a difficult journey there's not just survival at the end, but people also re-build their lives in a way that they achieve exactly what they were going to, and sometimes more."
Search for "Christopher David Mitchell Voice Coach and Mentor" on Facebook to view the video.
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