“My daughter didn’t believe she was beautiful – until she heard the words come from Tom…”
Bekki Maddox, 46, couldn’t convince her daughter she was beautiful. But after appearing on Channel 4’s The Undateables, Bethany finally found the love she longed for….
Bekki Maddox opened the door to her daughter’s bedroom, carrying a cup of tea. She expected to find her daughter reading or listening to music but instead, Bethany, then 18, was sitting in front of her mirror, staring at her reflection as tears trickled down her cheeks. Her devoted mum ran to her side and, sweeping Bethany’s long brunette hair from her shoulders, asked what was wrong.
But before Bethany could even answer, Bekki knew why her daughter was in tears. Over the past year Bethany had become increasingly insecure. Like many teenagers, she had doubts about her worth but for Bethany, there was an added insecurity. Growing up, Down’s syndrome had never bothered Bethany. Bekki had been determined to show her daughter it was no cause for concern. She ran a theatre company and Bethany took the lead role in many productions alongside atypical children. She was happy and confident until she hit adolescence.
Watching as other youngsters enjoyed their first kisses, Bethany felt sidelined, her crushes always unrequited. Bethany blamed Down’s syndrome and as she stared at her reflection in the mirror that day, she asked her mother why she looked different. Bethany was fed up of being told she was everyone’s mate. Turning to her mum, she wiped her tears and said what she really longed for was true love.
‘Her words broke my heart into a thousand pieces,’ says Bekki. ‘She asked me why she had to have Down’s syndrome and told me she was ugly. I never wanted her to feel different and wished that there was something I could do to convince Beth she was the most incredible, beautiful young lady I’d ever met and that somewhere out there was a boy who would agree with me. But no teenager wants to hear their mother tell them they’re beautiful. What she needed was to hear it from a boy.’
A few weeks later, Bekki and her husband Chris were curled up on the sofa with Bethany and her little brother, Isaac, now 12. Watching one of Bethany’s favourite TV shows, The Undateables, the family enjoyed the show’s empowering message – regardless of who you are, everyone deserves to find love. It was 2015 and they were watching series four, where a couple who’d found love on the show were getting married. Bethany’s face lit up as an idea was born. She wanted to go on the show.
‘I was open to the idea. A lot of people find the show’s title offensive, but fans know as soon as the credits roll, the ‘un’ in ‘undateables’ is hit by cupid’s arrow, leaving the word ‘dateables’ behind – which is exactly what Bethany was. She was a catch!’ Bekki says.
But Chris wasn’t sure. He worried that viewers might be cruel. Bethany could put herself out there and people might be mean and hurt her feelings. Bekki knew that while he might be right, the opposite might happen – people might show Bethany what Bekki been telling her since the day she was born – she was beautiful, hilarious and intelligent.
Two weeks later, Bethany reminded her mum that she was serious, she very much wanted to do the show. Bekki asked Isaac what he thought. He’d always adored his big sister and had been saddened to see her unhappy over the past year. Isaac was so enthusiastic, exclaiming that the experience would be great for Beth.
So, Bekki emailed the show’s production company and told them about Bethany. Next came a Skype chat where Bethany charmed the production team and next thing the family knew, Bethany was cast.
In September 2015, filming began. Bethany was interviewed about what love meant to her. She beamed as she said: ‘When I think of love it makes my stomach tickle. I want to find a man, hold his hand and tell him I’ll love him forever.’
Bethany was set up with a young man called Bradley. They met at a local cafe, with Bradley arriving armed with a box of chocolates. Bethany told Bradley how much she loved singing and he talked about his love of horse riding. Bekki went along with the film crew and had to stifle her chuckles because Bethany was so effortlessly funny. As the waiter served Bradley an ice-cream Sundae she pipped: ‘Well, it’s a Wednesday, not a Sunday.’
Bradley told the camera how much he liked Bethany’s bubbly personality but two months on, she had never heard from him again. She was not disheartened. She still believed in love and was adamant she didn’t want just any man, she wanted the right man.
Next, the show set her up with 17 year old student Myles from Nottingham who also had Down’s syndrome. He arrived at the restaurant with a bouquet of flowers and although Bethany was nervous, conversation flowed. By the end of the date, Myles was describing Bethany as a wonderfully pretty, lovely kind woman.
‘I was inclined to agree,’ Bekki says. ‘But Beth knew Myles wasn’t right for her. She thought he was too young for her to have a future with. He liked darts and pool, Bethany liked singing and dancing. She wanted to hold out for someone she had more in common with.’
But it didn’t matter. The whole experience had been wonderful and given Bethany a confidence boost. When the show aired in January 2016, the Maddox family snuggled on the sofa just as they had a year before, but this time Bethany was on the box. ‘Bethany was a superstar,’ Bekki says. ‘As the show got underway, tweets and Facebook messages came flooding in. I was up until 3am answering all the lovely messages! The best were from other mums whose children had Down’s syndrome but were much younger than Bethany, telling me Bethany had showed them the future could be brilliant.’
Friends and strangers alike used the hashtag #BethanyUndateables to show their enthusiasm. ‘Hair envy! I want to be Bethany’s BFF! Her personality is electric!’ said one fan. ‘What a beautiful, lovely, inspirational girl Bethany is,’ said another.
The buzz lasted days, with Bethany walking around with a huge smile on her face. Then something else happened. A few weeks later, Bekki’s sister-in-law sent a message. Her friend was a support worker who looked after a man called Tom. Like Bethany, he had Down’s syndrome. He had been watching The Undateables when Bethany appeared on the screen. Vicky explained that Tom’s eyes had lit up when he saw Bethany.
Tom, 31, asked if Bethany was single and if so, would she like to go out on a date. Bekki put the proposal to her daughter, who blushed and joked that it would depend on his photo. ‘But when she saw Tom’s picture, she declared him handsome enough to deem worthy of meeting!’ Bekki laughs.
Tom’s support worker explained that he was autistic and not always very good at communicating but he hadn’t stopped talking about Bethany. When Bekki and Bethany met up with Tom and his mum, the first words to fall out of Tom’s mouth when he saw Bethany were: ‘You’re very beautiful.’
‘I don’t know who fell in love with him faster, me or Bethany. It’s been over a year and they’ve been madly in love ever since. Tom is always telling Beth she is beautiful,’ Bekki says.
They both love theatre and attend Bekki’s theatre group together. Tom’s even joined Bethany’s ballet class. They go to the cinema, out for dinner or hang out at home. Bethany’s communication skills are advanced but Tom is more limited, yet they have an amazing rapport. Bethany brings out the best in Tom.
‘He’s very tactile and makes her feel wonderful. He doesn’t need a huge vocabulary to do that. It’s in the way he looks at her, the thoughtful presents he gives her and the way he makes her feel,’ Bekki says. ‘He’s so chivalrous, bringing her flowers and chocolates. They dream of a big white wedding and it’ll be my honour to watch these two lovebirds make it official.’
Bethany needed to find out for herself that she was beautiful and that’s exactly what the show did for her. It didn’t matter that the dates she went on didn’t work out, the adulation and admiration she got from viewers restored Bethany’s faith in herself. The Undateables helped Bethany love herself, so by the time Tom came along and swept her off her feet, she was ready for him.
The final words must come from Bethany herself, ‘I used to be so lonely. I was jealous of people who were in love because I wanted to know what love felt like. Now I know – love feels like champagne.
I love everything about Tom. He’s kind, gentle and romantic. He’s so handsome and he’s a great kisser! I enjoyed the whole experience of going on the show. It was amazing and so much fun. I was treated like royalty. But the best part was that it led me to Tom.’