‘I’m looking forward to seeing my family again … and getting back on court’
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
Squash-loving student nurse Hannah Gingell sang her heart out on BBC2’s new Gareth Malone series The Choir: Singing For Britain.
Hannah, 20, works at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge and in this week’s launch of the new series she sang a song she co-wrote with Gareth and two other NHS workers. She performed the number inside the hospital to a small group of colleagues, who, like the rest of the country, were reduced to tears by her beautiful, passionate vocals.
Hannah is a former Cambridgeshire county junior squash champion and she is looking forward to getting back on court once the current government restrictions are relaxed. First of all, though, she is most looking forward to a reunion with her family after self-isolating at the hospital with a colleague during the coronavirus lockdown.
Squash Mad caught up with Hannah during a crazy week when she was in big demand for interviews.
We were deeply grateful that Hannah found time to answer our questions with devastating clarity about the situations she and her colleagues are facing on a daily basis.
SQUASH MAD INTERVIEW: 11 POINTS WITH HANNAH GINGELL
1: Hannah, it was wonderful to see you singing your heart out on TV this week, you in Cambridge performing an online duet with Sara, a doctor in Cardiff, to a backing track supplied by Gareth Malone. How did that feel?
A: It was an amazing feeling to perform a song I had written with Sara and Gareth and watching it back on the episode bought back all the feelings I felt at the time! I think to see the reaction the song has had really does show how people can relate to the lyrics, and that is what we wanted to achieve.
2: Because of social distancing, you sang to a small group of your colleagues at Papworth. I guess that must have been a very emotional moment.
A: It was really emotional. My colleagues at the Royal Papworth Hospital are amazing and inspiring people, I felt really privileged to be able to perform to them. We have all worked as an amazing team and supported one another through this, and we will continue to do that, the fight is not won yet.
3: How did you cope with all the technical stuff, setting up cameras and working remotely with Gareth. Loved the idea of the Timeline Audio, which calculated the lag between each connection!
A: At the start of the process I had no clue how I was going to do it and to be honest I did panic! But the team behind the scenes of the series were absolutely incredible, they supported me every step of the way and I ended up really enjoying the technical side of things. At times it was really frustrating because the Wi-fi in the accommodation where I live isn’t great, but somehow it pushed through and I was so happy with the quality of the episode.
4: Please tell us about your job at Papworth and your experiences in recent months.
A: I am a Nursing Apprentice within Critical Care. This means I work full-time as a Health Care Support Worker but then I have regular student shifts with my mentor and attend University to study. The last few months have been really difficult, I won’t lie. At the Royal Papworth Hospital we specialise in Heart and Lungs, and with Covid being a respiratory virus we have treated and continue to treat some of the sickest patients in the region. It’s been emotionally challenging, and with the added difficulty of not being able to see family and friends, it’s been tough.
The team at Papworth are incredible. We have all had to see some unforgettable things that we will carry with us. I have witnessed some incredible, positive moments also, which have been so rewarding and fulfilling for me. It’s been a hard experience but definitely one where I have learnt so much not only within Nursing but about myself, and for that I am grateful.
5: I’m guessing your music must have helped you get through such a difficult time. You must miss your theatre group friends. What performances would you have been rehearsing for if the coronavirus hadn’t come along?
A: Music has really helped me during this time. To be able to spend the days off I had working on a song with Gareth Malone was just incredible, and songwriting was such a great way to channel my thoughts and feelings. I really miss my theatre friends!! Before the pandemic I actually wasn’t rehearsing for anything. To be honest I hadn’t had the time and with 12-hour shifts and university it’s difficult to fit it all in. I have been trying to grow my music following on social media, but again, this requires regular posting and it’s hard to find time. Doesn’t make it easy that I’m such a perfectionist about my singing! From now on I am MAKING time for it!
6: Let’s talk about squash. I’m guessing you started playing at the Fenland Squash Club in Swavesey. That must have been so handy for you growing up, with the club in the grounds of Swavesey College!
A: Yes! Fenland bought me so many years of joy and friendships! My first squash coach, Glynis Fenwick, took me under her wing and taught me so much. She continues to be a very close friend of mine and I am so grateful to her for showing me the game of squash. I coached the younger school kids there for a few years which was really enjoyable and in more recent years I captained the Fenland ladies team. I remember when I would go and play squash every day after school, it was my way to get out stress and have a really good run around! Once I left school I started travelling to Wisbech every Saturday to have coaching with Rebecca Moore, another inspiring coach and women who bought the best out in my game!
7: Am also guessing there must have been a bit of local rivalry with Hunts County Squash Club at Hemingford Grey. You must have played on their wonderful show-court a few times.
A: I have played on the glass show court at Hunts County, it is lovely! Hunts is a really lovely club. I plan to play on it more now that my plan is to get back into squash and back to competing!
8: What are your biggest tournament successes in squash?
A: I have such a passion for Squash, but I have always found it difficult to compete, particularly through my teen years. My lack of confidence often meant I’d train so hard but wouldn’t be able to deliver this in a tournament; it is the most frustrating thing. Since I started finding my love for musical theatre, because of my sister Joy, my confidence has developed through performing. It will be really interesting to see how I perform now in a competition style because of my growth in confidence through singing.
Back in the day, I was under 11 and under 13 county champion. I got my national ranking in the Girls under 19 category to around 50 I think, back when I was competing, which I am proud of.
9: Can you remember your last time on court before the lockdown?
A: My last time on court before lockdown was with James Powley, an incredible PSA coach. This was my first coaching session with him as I am looking to get back into Squash and get back into competing. A week after this I sprained my ankle!! So, it’s been a long time since I’ve been on court but I am so excited to get going again and get back on court with James.
10: Has this whole coronavirus experience changed you as a person? Are you looking at life differently now?
A: Absolutely. I was already a very grateful person, but I think seeing what we have had to has really made me appreciate everything just that little bit more. I have found this new strength in me I didn’t know I had and to see myself sing on BBC2 is something I never thought I would do. Life is very precious. I think Covid-19 has opened everyone’s eyes to how valuable each day is, and I definitely won’t ever take any moment for granted ever again.
11: And, finally, what are the things you look forward to most now that lockdown restrictions appear to be lifting?
A: I am most looking forward to seeing my family, spending some quality time with my mum, dad, sister, they have all been amazing through this time. My best friends have been so supportive during this and I really miss them, so definitely will be spending time with them. I am aware it could be for a long time that theatres are not back and running and that makes me sad. But of course I am so excited to get back on a squash court!!
Thank you, Hannah, for some very thought-provoking responses. You and your NHS colleagues are very special people and we all owe you a huge debt of gratitude for the sacrifices you have made while trying to keep everybody safe and well. Would love to see you sing (and play squash!) during a special event I am planning when we relaunch the sport on World Squash Day in October.
The Metro: The Choir leaves viewers sobbing
Watch Hannah sing
The Choir: Singing for Britain airs on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC Two. Episode 1 is available to view on BBC iPlayer now.
Pictures courtesy of BBC and Hannah Gingell (with thanks to Christiane Donovan at Multitude Media)