Dani Winter-Bates was just 15-years-old when an unprovoked attack based on the way he looked left him badly injured and reach the decision to erase his own sub culture identity.
It’s a story that has reflected many, most notably the horrific murder of Sophie Lancaster. Coronation Street recently worked with the Sophie Lancaster Foundation on a hard hitting storyline which saw goth character Nina Lucas targeted by a gang, who branded her a ‘freak’.
Chased down by the yobs, she and her boyfriend Seb were badly beaten, resulting in the tragic death of Seb.
With the soap taking the utmost care to explore the consequences of the attack, it’s something which resonated with mental health advocate, NHS worker and metal band lead Dani.
So when he received a follow from Coronation Street on Instagram, he knew that there had to be a reason.
The show’s digital team were keen to explore this further and interview members of sub cultures who had experienced hate and discrimination in a similar way but, after lengthy discussions with them, the project took on a life of its own.
I sat down to chat to Dani about it and he explained to me: ‘I just respect how they’re handling social media at the moment there’s not negligence and like “oh here’s a storyline.” They’re really active in monitoring the discussions and knowing what is not acceptable and I love and accept that and it drove me to want to be a part of it.’
The end result is a moving film which sees Dani sit down with the young cast of the storyline who have helped bring the scripts and the issue to light.
In the format of a deep but informal round table discussion, spliced with recited poetry written by lyricist Dani, the end result is an hour long online video called Identity Stories.
So what brought Dani to want to discuss this issue? He candidly spoke about his own experience as a teenager.
He shared his story with me. Having been walking his girlfriend home from school, they were waiting at a bus stop when the incident unfolded.
‘For no reason really, he hurled a hell of a lot of abuse at me; I just kind of stood there and took it,’ Dani recalled of the 20-year-old thug who was known to the area.
‘He was asking if I wanted a fight and I turned away from him and he slipped on this metal three finger – knuckle duster is probably a strong word for it, but it was there to do damage and within a shot he just punched me in the face; broke my nose.
‘I just remember looking at him because I’ve done a lot of martial arts when I was younger, so I was used to sparring and getting hit. I looked down and I just remember seeing my hands fill up with a lot of blood and I was like “oh God, this is bad”
‘I just saw his face go grey, and he realised what had happened.’
Days later, Dani shaved his head and effectively erased his links to the subculture he had been a part of.
His attacker was arrested and jailed for ABH and Dani made it clear that he does not believe people are born with prejudice.
‘It is a consequence of the environment people are in and at some stage in secondary school, it just becomes accepted for this kind of discrimination to go unchallenged.
‘We’ve got a long way to go but with each generation, there is more discussion and that can only be a good thing. The education system needs overhauled; there is a huge focus on academic achievement – you must have English, Maths and Science, then get your A-Levels and head to uni or you won’t be a success.
‘That’s how young people fall through the cracks.’
And Dani is full of praise for the actors in the storyline – award winning Mollie Gallagher, who plays Nina, Maximus Evans, who plays terrifying killer Corey, Tanisha Gorey who, as Asha, has explored many aspects identity and Millie Gibson, better known as troubled Kelly – a lost soul with a troubled background leading her into a complex and daunting situation.
Displaying a deep understanding and maturity towards the discussion, the Corrie actors sit with Dani in the film and are very open about what they are portraying. It was filmed on a Sunday and each actor, including ones with filming commitments, didn’t think twice before giving up their time to be a part of the project.
And Dani was left in awe.
‘They are unreal,’ he exclaimed. ‘When I met them, I could just see and feel it a mile off – they walk into a room and it was like “yeah you guys have all got it.”
‘I think there is something special about having young actors together. I think there’s something about the youth of today, being a bit more connected with the world and the issues that go on in this world, and whether that’s social media or whether that’s just society’s kind of growth, there’s a lot when it comes to people standing up for stuff.’
And the cast were extremely welcoming and privileged to be a part of it. In fact, with her partner a fan of Dani’s band Bury Tomorrow, the ice was broken between Mollie and Dani immediately.
Recalling the day, Dani smiled: ‘I met Tanisha first and she’s wild and just funny and awesome, she made me feel really comfortable straight away and cracking jokes about the poem and the spoken word.
‘It shows her level of confidence, as a young actor. What an amazing thing coming together in a really uncomfortable and weird environment which none of them have done before.’
Addressing Mollie, who has openly talked about how she takes her character home with her and really delves into the role, Dani went on: ‘She felt very focused – she really considers stuff. You can see that, throughout the storyline that she really considered it and she absolutely is her character.
‘I mean that with the greatest respect, obviously there are differences but she has that considered nature and that confidence in herself which is amazing
‘Max – he’s going to be a superstar that guy, I can see him being in big movies in a few years. He’s incredible.
‘He’s just so mature and he’s got a focus – when he was there, he turned up and he was just like “great, where would you like me?” and he was just happy to do it.
‘None of these guys had to do any of this at all, it was a busy Sunday, Max and Millie were filming that day – Millie had just come from doing the marathon and she was so invested in being a part of it.
‘You can tell how much they care, they were happy to give up their time, drive across Manchester and there was none of any kind of negative attitude that you think some actors might have. Millie was really on it, and really up for being a part of it, you could tell how important it was to her.
‘So you can’t ask for more really – they are all just amazing human beings, and I was honoured and privileged, absolutely, they were just amazing.’
The film is available to watch on ITV Hub and YouTube and it is the hope that many people will watch it and those who can relate can feel part of the discussion and be aware that it is happening.
However, Dani is keen to add that it is also aimed at those with a lack of understanding towards sub culture discrimination – and also those in danger of becoming the type of person who would end up displaying such bigotry that could lead to violence.
‘It’s about fundamentally understanding the power of dialogue,’ Dani mused. ‘It is so so important and being able to have uncomfortable conversations is the only way we can grow and certainly the only way you can reduce stigma, so the more we can talk about deeper, the better
‘It’s a way of exploring difficult journeys and also it’s a way of looking at, maybe people who are viewing it, to say you know if you’ve done this in the past, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to do that in the future.’
Dani has worked for the NHS since he was 16 and he admits to doing every kind of ‘administration job’ through the industry.
He’s a busy man. As well as being the front runner of the band, holding down an NHS job and also offering safe spaces both online and face to face after gigs to discuss mental health, Dani told me: ‘Now I work for a trust, but I also work for six organisations within Hampshire.
‘I got made a program leader during a time over the last year when mental health support was needed more than ever. It involved actually going into some of the wards and making sure their environment is kind of holistic, as well as ensuring patients and staff had easy access to mental health support or just generally normal needs.
‘Services were kind of diminished during Covid and it was so important to try and prevent people reaching crisis point, like I once did.
‘I started really experiencing a kind of acuity of my own mental health really in that kind of crisis point which was really humbling; it was real.
‘It was weird because you think in retrospect, to back at these case points you think “how the hell, did I get through that?” which definitely there’s an element of that but there’s also a part of me where it almost as like a little offshoot of your life.
‘It’s like, well okay everything changed on that day and that’s why I decided to smash those two worlds together and do what I do.’
He is a man who dedicates his life to using his experience to support others who have been there or who are at risk of ending up in a situation where their mental health is at risk.
And yet, despite what he endured, he remains a believer that intervention and education can help to change even just a few lives that might go down a dark road.
‘That’s the big thing about restorative justice and victim support, if we believe that you make one mistake that’s it that’s your life over then we don’t believe in justice and you don’t believe in human spirit,’ he reflected.
‘The thing I’d say, not just for those people watching who have had an experience, but those people that have experienced it from the other side – it’s not about sitting there in judgement, it’s just about feeling it, understanding why you feel it and then powering that into something that’s different and change, because we all have work to do, every single one of us on this planet doesn’t get everything right.’
The generation spearheading the storyline with such gravitas are absolutely a hope that things can improve and discussions can move things forward and Dani is a huge part of that too. It’s a small tip of an iceberg which sees young people addressing mental health and injustice and shows at least some light at the end of a very dark tunnel.,
In the words of Dani: ‘We can all learn, we can all do better – there is not anyone who gets everything right.’
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