Continuing the story of one man’s fight to tackle Parkinson’s disease by staying active. Today, the focus is on the benefits of singing in a choir preparing for Christmas concerts in a prison. He talks to PETER BARRON

OF all the songs Keith Wilson has learned to sing since joining his beloved choir, none of them move him more than You’ll Never Walk Alone.

“I don’t know what it is but that one just always gets me,” he says, wiping away tears that well up just thinking about the power of the music and lyrics.

It's one of the effects of Parkinson’s, explains his wife, Jill, as Keith apologises for letting his heightened emotions get the better of him.

But there’s absolutely no need to say sorry because, by telling his story over the past year, Keith has not only raised valuable funds for Parkinson’s UK, but inspired others to live fuller lives in the face of adversity.

You’ll Never Walk Alone conveys the perfect message: in the leadership he’s displaying to fellow-sufferers; and the generous support he’s receiving from the 50 or so members of the Darlington Sing Community Choir, who meet for rehearsals at Grange Road Baptist Church on Wednesday evenings.

This page has previously highlighted how 71-year-old Keith has responded to a Parkinson’s diagnosis in March, 2020, by throwing himself into a dynamic physical programme of running, cycling, rock climbing and scaling mountains, in the passionate belief that staying active generates adrenaline and dopamine to help hold back the effects of the disease.

But, while being part of a choir might be the most genteel of his newly discovered activities, Keith has no doubt that it’s playing a vital role in his battle for normality.

Joining a choir had never crossed his mind before Parkinson’s, but he discovered that singing to himself – as a natural extension of the speech therapy he’d been receiving –aided his running.

“I found I was getting something called ‘motion freeze’ when I was running on flat ground because there was nothing to focus the mind,” he explains. “My foot used to drag and my legs would turn to jelly, but I found it stopped happening when I sang.”

Before long, John Martyn’s May You Never – another of Keith’s favourite songs – had become a regular accompaniment during his runs, always melting the motion freeze.

Meanwhile, Jill had been a member of two choirs that closed down during lockdown, leading to her joining Darlington Sing with her friend, Christine Arkless, in October 2021. One day, Christine asked Keith how his running was going and his reply was: “A lot better since I started singing.”

“Well, we’re always looking for male members in the choir,” she told him – and that was the spark he needed to go for a singing trial in spring this year.

“I’ve loved it ever since,” says Keith, who hasn’t looked back since his first public performance in the choir’s 10th anniversary concert at Darlington’s Dolphin Centre in September.

At the weekend, the choir performed their new festive repertoire at Beamish Museum, while today and tomorrow, they’ll be singing at Holme House Prison, at Stockton. The first time the choir has performed inside a jail, the concerts will end with a singalong with the prisoners. Then, on December 21st, there’ll be a Christmas concert for friends and family back at Grange Road Baptist Church.

“Ooh, we can’t wait!”smiles Jill, who met Keith while she was a teacher and he was lecturing at Darlington College. She continues to work as a freelance teacher-trainer, while Keith has retired from his most recent role as the college’s Director of Higher Education.

The couple married in 2007 but both admit that communication problems, caused by Parkinson’s, had started to become a source of frustration in the relationship before Keith committed to intensive speech therapy.

“Without him realising it, his speech would trail off and I’d be forever saying ‘pardon’ to the point where I felt I was walking on eggshells all the time. He became reticent and totally lost his confidence,” Jill explains.

The speech therapy was the turning point. Four days a week – on Zoom over five weeks of lockdown – taught him about the importance of volume and articulation and, gradually, his confidence returned. He still has speech therapy refreshers every six weeks, and singing in the choir fills the gaps, taking his self-belief to new levels.

“I’ve no doubt that the choir has been a route back for Keith, and it’s been good for our marriage because it’s a joy we can share together,” says Jill. “It was the catalyst in saving a big chunk of his personality. He’s such an extraordinary man, so unassuming, and yet he never takes the easy path. I got him back thanks to the choir.”

Keith even goes as far as to suggest that getting Parkinson’s has had a positive side because it’s opened up a happy new dimension to his life.

“The choir has given me something different to focus on and enjoy. I can’t think of it not being part of my life now,” he declares. “If I hadn’t got Parkinson’s, I wouldn’t have had speech therapy. If I hadn’t had speech therapy, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to return to running. I wouldn’t have started singing, and I wouldn’t have known the joy of singing in a choir.”

Under the irrepressible encouragement of musical director, Bridie Jackson, every Wednesday choir practice starts with a range of exercises, including “gurning” to get the facial muscles working, followed by breathing, and vocal disciplines.

“It’s amazing what Keith’s achieved in overcoming the challenges of Parkinson’s, and the impact it’s had on his hearing and speech,” says Bridie. “The choir is all about joy and you can see the joy he gets out of it.”

Keith has no doubt that singing in the choir is a weapon in his battle against Parkinson's: “The exercises fit with the speech therapy, while learning the lyrics along with the melodies engages a different part of the brain. I can feel it making a difference,” he says.

“It’s easy to feel isolated with Parkinson’s but the choir makes you feel like you belong to something bigger. It makes me feel normal – and that's the best support you can have.”

Keith has no intention of taking things easy in 2023. There are plans to run a 100k ultra-challenge in Derbyshire, plus a 320-mile cycle ride along the Hebridean Way, raising more funds for Parkinson’s UK.  And, of course, he’ll be singing all the way.

Walk on, Keith. Walk on – with hope in your heart.

  • To support Keith in his fundraising efforts for Parkinson’s UK, go to
  • The Darlington Sing Community Choir is still looking for male singers. Just turn up at Grange Road Baptist Church on Wednesdays from 7.15pm and you'll be made very welcome