HE has won countless fans for his hilarious performance as the Waterside’s panto dame, but actor Christian Patterson very nearly pulled out of the show after his five-year-old son was tragically killed in a freak car accident.
Harry Patterson was fatally crushed on September 13 when the family car rolled back on him after its handbrake failed.
The Seat Altea, which was parked on an incline outside the family’s home in Wales, had been left in neutral gear and Christian is now raising awareness of the need to leave vehicles in first gear if they are parked on a hill.
The actor, who plays Sarah the Cook alongside Jonathan Wilkes in Dick Whittington, told The Bucks Herald: “There was a point when I said to my agent I didn’t think I could do panto because it meant being in close proximity to lots of children of Harry’s age and because Harry in particular liked pantos and especially Dick Whittington. I thought it might be too painful.”
But he said he decided to continue with the panto ‘to try and establish a sense of normality within this craziness’ and also because of the support he received from Wilkes, with whom he is sharing a house in Broughton while the panto is running.
An inquest held earlier this month heard that Christian’s wife, Michelle, had only got out of the car moments before the tragedy. She had opened the car’s back door where Harry was sitting and then gone into the house to turn on the oven to prepare tea for him and the couple’s other child, Dylan, 8.
“She had gone in to put the potatoes back on to boil when Dylan shouted that the car was rolling backwards,” said Christian.
He said ‘the thinking is Harry ran around (the car) to probably try to stop it’ but that it ended up pinning him against the garden wall.
Christian, 39, said that performing in the panto was ‘absolute pure escapism’.
“For two hours you are Dick Whittington’s mother and there is nothing as healing as the sound of laughter. The great joy is literally hearing children’s laughter. It is a joy that goes back to Harry in many ways.
“Harry used to do the ‘Harry Patterson Show’ at home where he hid around the curtain in our living room and we would introduce him and he would do everything at his disposal to make us laugh.
“I am having fun against all the odds at this time. Every member of the theatre knows about what happened and nobody has ever walked up and made me feel uncomfortable.”
However, Christian said on one occasion he had to ‘retreat’ to his dressing room because he was feeling very low. “There was one time when I was speaking to Kayleigh Wilson who plays Tommy the Cat and I saw some school buses arrive with some very young children getting out and I had to retreat to the safety of my dressing room. But I came in and put on the make-up and the dress and became Sarah the Cook and you can hide behind that.”
He admits he is not looking forward to the family’s first Christmas without Harry. “But we have an eight-year-old son and normality has to play a part in his life as well,” he said.
“Dylan has been suffering from abdominal migraine caused by the stress. We just have to remind him we are a normal loving family that this hellish thing has happened to.”
Christian has now started an awareness campaign called Ping, which stands for Park In Gear.
Collection buckets will be available at the Waterside Theatre for people to donate to the campaign.
Christian said: “Ping came about as a result of the inquest. It appears that the brake drum system on the car heats up in transit and contracts when the car cools down which allows the brake some tiny slippage which is barely noticed when you park on flat ground. But when you’re on a very steep incline such as our driveway, things can cause the car to roll.”
Parking the car in gear would have prevented the tragedy, but although it is mentioned in the Highway Code, Christian said many people are still unaware of its importance.
“The policeman who gave evidence at the inquest said he had asked his colleagues if they knew to park in gear and they said they hadn’t done so until they had taken an advanced police driving course.
“A friend recently learnt to drive and they were not told to so. But it is vitally important. On a steep climb do not trust the car’s brake.
“If you park in gear the car will hold completely firm and this would have saved Harry’s life. He would have been able to watch me in this panto.”