The perfect after-school welcome for 12-year-old Emily Rawlins is knowing she’ll be reunited with her dad there. Taken for granted by many children, it is still getting used to.
Until last year dad Matt served in the Royal Navy, away from the family home in Plympton, Devon, for nine months at a time.
Viewers of Britain’s Got Talent saw Emily perform with 47 other children aged between 6 and 18 as part of The Voices of Armed Forces children’s choir. Tonight they are back for the second live semi-final.
At their audition, they melted hearts with their song Welcome Home, written by Emily and fellow 12-year-old Lewis Elliott.
The song was inspired by the lives of thousands of children whose parents are in the armed forces and who are away from their families, often risking their lives.
Emily says: “We always had pictures of dad at home, and we talked a lot about him, but I felt very sad. That’s why I wanted to sing a song about how happy I’d be when dad got home. home.
“My other friends in the choir have parents who still have to be away from home. It makes me appreciate my mom and dad even more. It makes me happy that dad isn’t leaving anymore.
“It’s hard for my choir mates but it’s good that we’re together. It’s like a second family.
“We can talk to each other about things that only we can understand. It’s really good that we had the same experiences. That’s what our song is about.”
Recalling the first moment he heard the song, his father, Chief Petty Officer Matthew Rawlins, said: “We heard the song as it was coming together, but hearing the final version left us makes cry.
“The song is about how all loved ones feel estranged from family members and know that we can be put in scary situations, and it’s heartbreaking.
“During my service, I received indirect fire during operations and treated patients with significant trauma.
“Now Emily is a bit older, she can understand the importance of the work of the armed forces, but there’s no doubt that it’s a terrible sacrifice to be away from the people you love most in the world.”
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Welcome Home’s lyrics struck a chord around the world, earning over a million views on YouTube for BGT’s performance.
Matt, 45, said: “It struck a chord in the armed forces community around the world. Colleagues in the United States got in touch to say
how incredible they thought the performance was to encapsulate the experience of families separated from each other.”
Emily and her co-writer Lewis met while performing in the local Army Children’s Choir in Plymouth before joining The Voices of Armed Forces Children’s Choir last year and writing the song for National Armed Forces Day. The Welcome Home title was the first thing they decided on.
Emily says, “It’s very hard for everyone in the choir to miss their mums and dads when they leave, but we wanted to focus on the happy part, when they come home.”
Lewis, who lives in Plymouth with his dad Keith and mum Claire, said: “We’re all so excited to see our parents so it’s amazing to say welcome home.
“Normal children see their parents every day, it’s not the same for my friends in the choir. Some of them find it difficult to talk about their feelings so it’s easier to express it in singing. I count myself so lucky that my dad is still home now.”
Features of the daily mirror)
Features of the daily mirror)
His father Keith, Chief Petty Officer Keith Elliott, a former naval weapons engineer, served in the 1991 Gulf War on HMS London and conducted anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.
Keith, 59, left in December 2012 after 34 years to be home with Lewis and Claire, 52.
“It was very difficult to be away from Lewis, to miss his early years,” says Keith. “I flew in from the Middle East for delivery for two weeks and had to fly back.”
He said: “I can’t explain the pain of not seeing Lewis for the first six months and the guilt of not being able to provide for my wife, leaving her to fend for herself. But seeing Lewis sing in the choir makes me makes me so proud.”
Lewis, who is also a flag bearer for the Royal British Legion, said: “I’m proud that Dad served for the country.”
When Emily was a baby, both of her parents were Navy nurses. Her mother Kelly, 43, served for 12 years before leaving when Emily was two.
Matt says, “Kelly and I met while on duty and loved our jobs, but decided it was enough to have a standby forces parent for deployments.”
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Matt has mainly been stationed in the South West of England as well as extended stays in the Mediterranean on migrant rescue operations and in Afghanistan.
Although very young at the time, Lewis says he remembers saying goodbye to his father when he was deployed and welcoming him back.
He says: “I remember a place in Plymouth where there are submarines and ships. As I watched dad come out, we would be so happy.”
During the performance of the choir at the London
Palladium, Matt and Keith say, “The parents were more nervous than the kids.”
Matts adds: “Initially we hid our nerves by loudly cheering them on, but when the performance started we were all bawling. Every time they happen, it hits us hard.
“Seeing them perform on stage at the London Palladium was so moving. Kelly and I looked at each other and felt we were watching something so special.”
The choir was invited to audition on the show by BGT supremo himself, Simon Cowell.
He paid a surprise visit to the children when they were rehearsing with the personal invitation to perform in front of him and the other judges – Alesha Dixon, David Walliams and Amanda Holden.
Emily says: “When Simon came and told us we could audition, we were all so excited. I thought I would be nervous at the audition seeing all the faces of the judges, but I couldn’t see anything because the lights were so bright.”
Lewis adds: “On TV Simon acts so strict, but in person he’s lovely, and I really liked Ant and Dec, they’re so funny. Before, I wanted to be in the navy, now I think I would like to work. on TV.”
BGT’s live semi-finals take place tonight at 8pm and every night this week on ITV.
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