After going deaf aged just seven, Lady Geraldine Elliot taught herself to lip-read and hid her secret of a silent world from everyone. But in her 20s, she sought medical support that changed everything and brought music to her life
Ever since I was a baby, I had experienced regular severe ear infections until, at the age of seven, I had catastrophic failure of my hearing and ended up completely deaf.
At that time, I’d been constantly bullied by people who assumed I was stupid, rather than understanding about my hearing problems. So when I realised that my hearing had completely gone, I was so young and had experienced so many previous problems with my ears that I didn’t tell anyone. More out of necessity than anything else, I gradually found I could lip-read most things and hid the fact I was deaf.
For the most part, I did a good job of covering it up. My new-found lip-reading abilities covered most face-to-face contact in the classroom, in the playground and at home. The real problems occurred when people would talk out of my vision and I simply didn’t respond.
School proved a complete nightmare as the teachers would turn to the blackboard to write as they talked, and without their mouths to read, I missed crucial parts of the lessons. This led to the teachers thinking I was stupid and sending me to the back of the class – which made it even harder to lip-read anything at all. Even simple things like the teacher calling for quiet would lead to me being punished, as I wouldn’t hear the instruction. I would be sent to stand for hours outside the headmaster’s office for being disruptive.
After a while, I did tell one of my closest friends at school that I couldn’t hear anything and that I thought I might be deaf, but she just smiled and said: “Your secret’s safe with me.” I never brought up the subject again, and remained isolated in every sense.
As the years passed, I gradually withdrew into myself, which made it easier to conceal the problem. For those people that I simply didn’t hear, they just thought I was unsociable or ignoring them, so the isolation grew and grew. I muddled on until I was “encouraged” to get married at the age of 16. This proved another disaster as I endured five years of hell. My husband was violent and abusive, leading to a traumatic break-up where I cited “mental and physical cruelty” as the grounds for the divorce. Isn’t it funny that when you’re down, life seems to have the habit of kicking you in the teeth?
They said that due to infection, my right ear drum had completely disintegrated
At 21 years old, all the problems seemed so overwhelming, and unable to conceal them any longer from my friends and family, I visited my doctor and sobbed my whole story out to him. He calmed me with heartfelt wisdom and discussed the options I had. After his examination, he referred me to the local hospital hearing clinic, which at long last offered me a ray of hope on the horizon.
I went to my local hospital in Weston-super-Mare, where several specialists examined me and pronounced me profoundly deaf. They said that due to infection, my right ear drum had completely disintegrated, but there was a chance that they could use a skin graft as a replacement ear drum which, if successful, might be able to restore partial hearing in that ear. But, they warned that it would be a major operation that carried a life-threatening risk due to potential infection. My left ear, however, was too far gone to treat.
Then came the sometimes overwhelming feelings – being scared to take the plunge. Should I take the risk? Could I cope with the medical risks involved? And probably even more worrying to me at the time, what if it didn’t work? Could I cope with the disappointment?
Eventually, I summoned up the courage to go for it. At long last I could hear again, albeit they could only restore 30% hearing in one ear, but for me, it was a miracle. It took some adjusting to my new sound-filled world, with even the noise of crunching breakfast cereal being overwhelming at first. But, gradually I adapted and have never looked back. It felt like I’d been given a second chance and I was determined not to waste it.
I re-married, this time choosing a much more stable man, who was originally in the Royal Navy but at this time worked in the oil industry. This led to travelling the world, settling initially for a few years in Libya, north Africa. Searing heat, flies, snakes and barren desert made the place intolerable, and add to that in Tripoli they carried out public executions, then you’ll understand why we couldn’t wait to leave. We managed to transfer and relocate to Venezuela, South America, where my new-found love of music was treated to all manner of styles and influences with the local musicians. It was within this environment that my creative abilities blossomed.
Eventually, with Venezuela proving politically unstable and growing somewhat homesick, we managed to transfer again, this time to Edinburgh, Scotland. I immediately started searching for a way to use my creative skills and so I founded the Edinburgh Dolls Hospital – a place where broken dolls and teddies would be lovingly restored and brought back to health. It seemed so natural given my history.
The business grew as my reputation for offering a first-class, sympathetic restoration service established my business as one of the best in the country – and I was recommended by Harrods and Hamleys. But life played another cruel trick, as my landlord literally doubled the rent overnight, making the business not viable financially.
But the rollercoaster had another strange twist up its sleeve, as one of my customers who knew of my love of music invited me to a recording session in his studio. He had previously worked with the likes of Big Country, Wet Wet Wet and the Bay City Rollers. I was fascinated by this creative environment and welcomed the opportunity when asked to provide female backing vocals on one of the tracks.
At the same time, I knew I had to address the void that the closure of the Dolls Hospital, and a recent second divorce, had inflicted on my life. I decided to incorporate all my creative and hands-on restoration skills into a new business venture. I started my jewellery design and manufacturing business, Lady Geraldine Designs Limited. Still based in the culture capital of Scotland, Edinburgh, my business has grown to service two distinct markets: everyday jewellery with quality beads sourced from all over the world; and my Precious Collection made from the finest precious stones. I still hand-make every bespoke piece with the same love, care and attention I lavished on the poor souls that came into my Dolls Hospital. It is now my firm belief that everyone and everything should be treated with respect; whether that be a person, animal or even toy; nothing and no one should ever be written off.
The rest, as they say, is history. My musical partnership has led to my life stories and experiences being turned into songs, that are literally part of me. My new Album Little Miss Blue offers songs from my heart, and really helped me deal with my previous hurtful and damaging experiences. I hope that they are not just entertaining, but convey serious messages about life and all it can throw at you and, most importantly, how to deal with that. Be strong, be positive and never give up on your dream. If I can inspire even one person with my life story, then it’s all been worthwhile.
Lady Geraldine became adept at covering up her hearing loss, but this lead to bullying, and misunderstanding. Like many with a disability, it became easier to hide. After an abusive marriage, a divorce and isolation, she felt she could no longer cope. But after finding the courage to reach out for help, her hearing was partially restored and life blossomed. She is a shining example of the possibility of triumph over adversity, and hopes that sharing her experiences will inspire others to defeat their demons as well.