“The theatre is my tribe. It’s where I belong”
An Arborfield schoolboy bullied for his love of musical theatre has won the hearts of the nation with his anti-bullying campaign, #CheerUpCharlie.
Ten-year-old Charlie Kristensen, who was targeted for his love of singing and dancing, went viral last year as leading West End stars united to give him the boost he needed.
The online attention responded to a tweet from Charlie’s music teacher Jacqueline Hughes who used her platform to request help from her friends in the Arts.
Ms Hughes wrote: “I know many people face bullies every day and many have in their lifetime. But I wondered if you wouldn’t mind, if you have time sending me a little video to cheer him up, maybe some advice, your own stories, how you didn’t let them stop you, what you are doing now.”
In the days following his teacher’s tweet, Charlie received heartfelt messages and videos of support from performers in shows including Wicked, The Lion King and Aladdin.
And it was this new wave of love and encouragement that convinced Charlie to transform his experiences of bullying into a campaign which would help other children like him.
Charlie said: “I was bullied really badly at school for doing something I love. I was called names and hurt just because I’m a boy and I like to dance. I didn’t fit the stereotype the bullies wanted me to.”
“I was very close to giving up on my dream but when I received the messages from the West End stars I realised that I was much more important than the bullies’ opinions of me.”
“One day I recorded a video of me performing in my shed and before I knew it I had 300,000 views.
“From then on I fell back in love with performing and took my videos to the next level.”
Since creating his first video, Charlie has launched his own YouTube account which currently has 2.43K subscribers.
And the latest addition to his channel is the Musical Chairs with #CheerUpCharlie show which the young star has been working on during lockdown with the help of London’s Theatre Café.
Charlie explained: “In each video I interview a different actor, musician or artist about their lives, performing background and experiences of bullying.
“The aim of the show is to share unknown, unheard and unlistened to stories.
“I really enjoy the video calls because I get to dig deep into the stars’ pasts.
“Before each interview I do my research and then ask them a big range of questions- some serious, some not so serious.”
“My favourite question to ask is what their most disgusting habit is. Nathan Wyburn finds picking his nose therapeutic.”
Guests in Charlie’s Musical Chairs line-up have included Kerry Ellis, Michael Xavier, Nathaniel Morrison and Will Poulter among others.
The enthusiastic youngster has also performed a duet with Matt Lucas to the hugely popular Baked Potato Song and chatted with Michael Ball during an interview on BBC Breakfast.
Charlie added: “The stars are like my family. The theatre is my tribe. It’s where I belong.”
And as well as performing to the camera, Charlie has taken to big stages to share his journey and encourage others to stand up to bullying.
In November last year Charlie reduced an audience of 5,000 people to tears with a speech he performed at the Diana Awards held at London’s Alexandra Palace.
Charlie, who is the youngest ambassador for the programme, said: “It was a nerve-racking but amazing experience.
“I was shocked to discover that 75% of audience members had been victims of bullying so I was really determined to share my story and help them in any way that I could.”
The keen campaigner is also planning a West End charity concert in Convent Garden when gatherings of the type are allowed.
And adding to his list of achievements, Charlie is now using his platform to request the Prime Minister’s help with saving UK theatres.
He said: “I wrote a letter to Boris Johnson because I can’t imagine a future without entertainment or theatres.
“Going to the theatre makes me feel alive and I just love it too much to see it go.
“I could see six shows everyday for a week and I would never get bored.
“Every time I see a show it is different and makes me see the story in a new way.
“The feeling you get when watching a show live at the theatre is something you just don’t get with films or TV.
“There’s no second take at the theatre. Once the actors are on stage it’s their chance to shine.”
And while the youngster’s stardom has seen his production crew grow behind the scenes, one member of his team has given him love and support from the start.
Charlie’s mum Kat said: “I’m so unbelievably proud of Charlie. Looking back at the position he was in this time last year, I could never have predicted he would grow this much as a person, especially after all that he’s been through.”
“He has only just turned 10 yet is doing things not even adults would have the confidence to do.”
“Every speech and interview he does is 100% his own hard work.
“I am amazed that such a little boy has so much spirit, determination and courage inside of him.
“Stars from across the country may have taken him under their wing, but I will always be his mum. I’m so proud of him and what he has achieved.”
Charlie’s future plans include performing on the West End and Broadway, presenting, and continuing his role as an anti-bullying campaigner.
In the meantime, and until theatres open, Charlie will continue to host his YouTube shows and reply to emails from children, who like him, have been bullied and need some help.