Two deaf schoolgirls from Derby have been plucked from obscurity to rub shoulders with the stars – appearing in an iconic British Airways anniversary advert.
Twin sisters Rhianna and Natasha Cullen, 12, who attend Royal School for the Deaf Derby, in Ashbourne Road, appear in the television advert alongside a host of famous faces including Gary Oldman, Olivia Colman, Paloma Faith and Grayson Perry.
The girls got the part, which was originally meant for just one actor, after attending two auditions and beating off competition from a host of hearing actors who all use British Sign Language (BSL).
The advert, called #BA100, marks 100 years since British Airways started flying and features the best of British talent getting on board a plane while highlighting British values and ideals.
Sporting stars Anthony Joshua, Ellie Simmonds, Nicola Adams and Anthony Watson are also on board the flight, along with first Briton in space, Helen Sharman and the rapper and actor Riz Ahmed.
Mum Rachael, who is also deaf, said: “This was the first job the girls had ever gone up for and so I tried to manage their expectations in case they weren’t successful.
“The director was looking for someone who was fluent in BSL and the other people up for the part were hearing actors who were trained in sign language. When he realised the twins were deaf and natural BSL users he thought this was even better.
“We went for one day of filming and we had to wait five hours in between clothing, hair and make-up and actual filming. The girls were so confident they filmed their part in just 20 minutes and the director and crew were really impressed.
“I am so proud of them and I was jumping for joy when we watched the advert on television. It’s so good to see an inclusive advert like this, there isn’t enough sign language on the TV.”
Rhianna and Natasha, who have Waardenburg Syndrome and are profoundly deaf, got the job after signing up to Zebedee Management, the first modelling agency in the UK to focus exclusively on models with physical and learning disabilities.
The advert was shot at Heathrow Airport and the girls, who belong to the school drama club and Derby Youth Theatre, received a fee for their appearance, which they are investing for the future.
The 90-second advert, which is described as a ‘love letter to Britain’ also features anthropologist Jane Goodall, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Kingdom Choir who performed at last year’s royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and TV chef Matilda Ramsay. There’s even an on-screen appearance from David Bowie.
Despite the number of stars in the advert, the girls only spotted Paloma Faith – who was stood next to them in the queue for food.
Rachael added: “We didn’t recognise her though – because we’re deaf, we don’t listen to music! We didn’t know there were so many famous people in the advert until we saw it for the first time on YouTube.
“The advert was released on February 1st and went out on Channel 4 and ITV at the same time – 9.30pm and we had to wait until then to see a version of it with subtitles. The girls were overwhelmed and extremely proud.
“They have already been recognised by members of the deaf community and I think they are really looking forward to having celebrity status. They hope to be in a programme like EastEnders or Emmerdale one day – so hopefully this is the first step for them.”
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