ED BALLS said he looked like a waiter delivering drinks as he made his debut on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing.
Regardless of his dancing prowess, the attention on him has been warmly welcomed by one group of individuals.
The former Shadow Chancellor has a stammer and, not only has he spoken about it in his new book, he has said he’s more than happy to use the show’s profile to highlight the condition.
Glaswegian John Mann, 46, met the ex-MP and heard his story at a stammering conference last month.
John, a housing association manager, could understand the politician’s struggle only too well having suffered himself from childhood.
“My earliest memory of it was when I was seven,” said John, who lives in the city with his wife, Cora.
“My mum and dad said I was a talkative wee boy and it didn’t affect me when I first started primary school.
“I’ve since heard that trauma can be a trigger and there was certainly a traumatic event in the family around that time. There’s also some evidence about it being genetic and running in families but no one in my family has a stammer.
“The bottom line is, no one really knows.”
While he can’t be sure of the cause, John is certain about how it made his life shockingly bad at times at school.
“I’d try and not talk and dreaded the teacher asking me something,” said John.
“When I’d block on a word I’d literally contort my face trying to get it out.
“I’d sweat and struggle and while I was big enough not to be physically bullied, the ridicule and name-calling was awful.”
John eventually received speech therapy on the NHS, which helped him smooth out his speech.
It was about getting more of a flow and being aware of words, such as those starting with a B, K, T or B, that might cause a difficulty.
“It was like an avoidance thing and if you were taken by surprise or were nervous it wouldn’t work,” said John. “In my twenties, I had other therapy that focused on your attitude to it.”
John had always avoided situations he felt he couldn’t face. But with the help of the therapies and a newfound determination he grabbed the bull by the horns.
Although he still often has a stammer, he chairs meetings, gives presentations and deals with the public daily.
He also supported others through a self-help group and still attends meetings of the Scottish Stammering Network (see stammeringscotland.org).
But he empathised with Ed Balls’ tales of being mocked, even in the House of Commons.
“Attitudes need to change and it’s terrible top politicians made fun of him,” adds John, speaking ahead of International Stammer Awareness Day on October 22.
“I know people somehow still think it’s OK to make fun of people with a stammer when they wouldn’t do that about anything else.
“And I still get occasions when people treat me as if I’m stupid.”
Visit the British Stammering Association’s website stammering.org