“KIDS just need to be kids – you see them walking down the road on iPhones and none of them look happy. I just want to bring happiness to them.”
And what’s happier than a Disney princess? Cynics look away now, because Gloucester is being sprinkled with a little fairy dust courtesy of its very own belle of the ball, Gemma Beard.
By day, 22-year-old Gemma, from Linden, works in the city’s Game store – but come the weekend she is in hot demand as a real life Disney princess, hosting children’s parties as any one of Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella, the Little Mermaid, Belle, Sleeping Beauty or countless others.
She’s even been asked to help cheer up injured or poorly youngsters feeling sorry for themselves and has tapped into an apparently lucrative market.
“I only started doing it in October but this weekend I’ve got five children’s parties to get to,” said Gemma. I’ve always loved Disney, I’ve been to Disneyland Paris about six times and I wanted to be a performer there but I’m an inch too short.”
But Gemma was determined to make her Disney dream a fairytale come true and has put her experience as a performer – she studied musical theatre at Gloucestershire College before hosting children’s entertainment at a holiday park – to good use.
While her blossoming business is going well, she said it’s not about making money.
“More than anything, I love putting smiles on children’s faces,” she said. “It depends a bit on the age group, but Disney is still a big deal for children now and I love bringing them a bit of magic.
“You see them on their iPhones and I just think ‘you’re supposed to be kids’ and they don’t look that happy. Quite often, the parents who book me are more excited than the children but they soon get into it.”
Gemma stays in character throughout her visits, even when chatting to adults afterwards to keep the magic alive and is helped out by her mum, who does most of the background stuff at parties like making sure the music is right, and dad who drives her everywhere.
“They think it’s great and my friends love it,” said Gemma.
“They’re always asking ‘which one are you this weekend’ and wanting to see pictures of me as Cinderella.”
She’s often asked to write letters to youngsters in character too and cheered up a little lad waiting for a heart operation at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital by sending him a box full of messages and presents from princesses.
Her business – Enchanting Story Book Parties – is going from strength to strength and she’s recently added characters from Disney’s latest hit film Frozen to her repertoire. She hopes to do public performances in character too and is currently on the lookout for ‘volunteer princesses’ to help her manage her burgeoning workload. In summer, she’s planning an event at Quedgeley Village Hall – Ariel’s Summer Splash – with the Little Mermaid in a grotto-type experience, with crafts and gifts on sale there too.
Gemma was called into action last week as Frozen character Princess Anna to put the smile back on little Gracie Hewett’s face.
Four-year-old Gracie spent nearly five hours in hospital on April 14 after being struck by a motorcyclist and dragged along Stroud Road.
She was lucky to escape with relatively minor injuries – scraped knees, a small puncture in her cheek and scuffs to her face - after the accident in the early evening.
Mum Leah Keohan, 25, said: “It was awful.
“We were on the centre island in the middle of Stroud Road.
“A bus had stopped to let us cross but the motorbike undertook him and caught Gracie. She got her leg stuck somehow and it how pulled her about two metres down the road.
“I was holding onto her and it was horrible.
“The motorbike rider realised quite quickly and stopped. I think he was just as much in shock as us.”
Gracie was taken to hospital by ambulance and stayed there until almost 11pm that night before being allowed home, bandaged up.
Leah wanted to give her a surprise to help cheer her up and was recommended Gemma by a friend.
“She’s really busy so she couldn’t come straight away but she messaged me on Saturday and asked if we were free the next day,” said Leah.
“She was amazing. Frozen is Gracie’s favourite film and she came round with loads of presents, including a tiara and a bracelet just like the ones she was wearing as well as loads of Easter eggs.
“Gracie was just in awe of her.
“They sat and talked for ages and then sang Let it Go together.
“I asked how much Gemma wanted and she just said ‘no, it’s free’.
“What she’s doing is brilliant.”
Police were called to the scene after Gracie’s accident and spoke to the motorbike rider, a 28-year-old man.
No further action has been taken.
What can Disney teach children today? Gemma writes in her own words about what lessons it can help us learn.
First of all I would like to note that my business is in no affiliation with Disney but I do look to them for inspiration and motivation.
I believe the classic fairytales have a lesson to teach and there are many strong characters which make good role models for children, especially the princesses.
Beauty and the Beast teaches us beauty is only skin deep, The Princess and the Frog teaches us to work hard to achieve our goals and the newest film, Frozen, teaches us the value of family love.
Each story has a lesson and creates characters we can all relate to. You may see qualities in a character that you can see in yourself; maybe you’re a tomboy like Merida? Or you’re rebellious and adventurous like Ariel? Or you have friction between yourself and a sibling like Anna and Elsa?
These characters are not just relatable for children but are relatable to adults too.
I love each of the stories and we have all curled up on the sofa with our favourite food and watched a Disney film. It creates a little escape filled with magic, laughter and love.