By Peter Mack
Derek Paravicini was born fifteen weeks prematurely in July 1979. Due to his early delivery he was placed into a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where he received oxygen therapy. This therapy was blamed as the cause of his blindness and also for affecting his developing brain resulting in severe learning difficulties.
He is the son of Nicholas Paravicini and Mary Ann Parker Bowles, the former sister-in-law of Carmilla Parker Bowles, who later, by her marriage to the Prince of Wales became the Duchess of Cornwall. He is a great-grandson of author William Somerset Maugham. His stepmother is Susan Rose “Sukie” Phipps (born 1941), who was brought up by Fitzroy MacLean one of the models for James Bond. His cousins include the food writer Tom Parker Bowles and the gallery manager, Laura Lopes. This remarkable pedigree should have given him a great start in life however it was not to be. Derek is Autistic.
His Nanny gave him a keyboard when he was to years old and he began to show some signs of accomplishment immediately. His parents later enrolled him in the Linden Lodge School for the Blind in London. There was a young music teacher named Adam Ockleford that taught blind children to play the piano at the school for the blind.
Adam fondly tells the story of his first meeting with Derrek over twenty-five years ago. “I was teaching a young girl to play the piano when I felt a thump on my back. Derek’s family had brought him to the Linden Lodge School for the Blind that day, and when he entered the room, he immediately rushed across the room and pushed me away from the piano. He sat at the piano and began this series of karate chop actions across the keyboard. After getting over the shock of being beaten up by a four year old that I thought was a total madman, I suddenly heard the very definite tune ‘Don’t play for me Argentina.’ I was amazed as it became apparent to me that this little guy had taught himself. “My diagnosis went from madman to potential genius in seconds.” Adam still smiles at the memory.
At nine years of age Derek played his first major concert as a guest with the Royal Philharmonic Pops Orchestra, and at ten was presented with Barnardo’s Children’s Champion Award by Princess Diana. Adam recalls those moments with pleasure and great detail but he is not so sure whether Derek’s memories are so detailed.