Jessica meets Ant and Dec

Nicola Houghton

On Saturday 2nd April 2022, I had to keep a massive secret. Jessica had been nominated to receive a very exciting award and appear on prime time Saturday night telly. Oh, and she met Ant and Dec too!

Jessica is a very exceptional young lady. Despite having significant health issues from the day she was born and having to fight to stay on this Earth, she grabs life by the scruff of its neck and lives it to its fullest. Alongside having a wicked sense of humour, she is thoughtful and empathetic, loving and kind. She is also a thrill seeker, so when she told me that she wanted to do a skydive to celebrate her 18th birthday I was not surprised at all.

She is the first young lady with Down syndrome to jump out of a plane in the UK, possibly the world. She wanted to show everyone what she was capable of and she also wanted to raise money for essential equipment for profoundly disabled pupils at a local special school in Liverpool. She raised close to £2000, challenging societies negative stereotypes surrounding young adults with learning disabilities. The response and support Jessica was shown throughout her adventure has been amazing.

A girl at my work suggested that I nominate her for Ant and Dec’s “Happiest Minute Heroes” where deserving nominees are gifted a holiday in celebration of achievements or overcoming personal struggles. So, I applied on the 3rd March and quickly got a response to say that she had been shortlisted! We had to go through a casting process and myself and the associate producer came up with a cover story that I had won tickets to be an audience member for an ITV show, but we needed an ”interview” to match us to the appropriate show. Jess was her usual bubbly self, casually chatting about her skydive and even did a little dance! I was keeping everything crossed, then I got the phone call on Wednesday 30th March to say that we were to be invited to the studios in London to receive a very special prize.

Jessica had no idea that she had been nominated, or that she was getting a holiday. She was over the moon to be an audience member for her favourite show, and have a hotel stay over in London. She was beyond excited when we got to the studio, she was entranced by all the lights and cameras and not one bit nervous about it. As a whole audience we were given instructions on when to clap, sing and shout and it was very much like a party atmosphere.

My stomach was churning, not knowing how she was going to deal with the surprise, and then Ant started to make his way over to the audience to “pick” a person for the takeaway getaway. He turned to Jess and said, “ITS YOU! JESSICA WILLIAMS” and she punched the air in delight! She even gave a little dance to the camera and ended it with a high five from Ant. He called her, “an inspiration, pet”, and I cant agree more. She took her getaway ticket into school on Monday, the whole bus went up in rapturous applause when she got on, and she milked it for as long as she possibly could!

She hasn’t decided where she would like to go on holiday but wherever it is, we will be forever grateful for this very special gift and no doubt Jess will use the time to plan her next adventure. Just hope its something easier on my anxiety levels next time!