A TV extra is hoping to inspire other disabled people to follow their dreams after landing a place on one of his favourite shows – the Welsh version of Gogglebox.
Self-confessed soap addict Aaron Pleming, from Caernarfon, who was born with hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy, is one of the new faces of Gogglebocs Cymru.
The 33-year-old, who won over producers with his off-the-cuff quips and comedic timing during test screenings, appears alongside his mum, Linda, 59, on the second series of the hit show on S4C.
The first six episodes are being shown at 9pm on Wednesday nights in October and November before taking a break and returning for a celebrity Christmas version on December 27 and a further eight episodes from February 14 next year, with the programmes being once again narrated by comedian and broadcaster Tudur Owen.
Aaron, who spends his time working as a volunteer when he’s not on TV, is no stranger to the limelight having appeared in multiple shows as a TV extra, including seasons two and three of Y Salon – a documentary series shot in hairdressing salons around Wales capturing the weekly gossip – and Gwlad Yr Astra Gwyn, a comedy set in a Welsh taxi.
But a place on Gogglebocs Cymru tops them all according to the former Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen pupil.
“I saw the first series of the Welsh version and am a massive fan of both the English and Welsh shows and so this is something of a dream come true,” he said.
“I don’t really know what drew them to us, maybe they liked our chemistry on screen. I’m close to my mum and do everything with her. We laugh a lot and there’s good banter between us. We also love watching lots of TV.
“When I got the email, I was like ‘wow’, I honestly didn’t think we’d get through. I’d like to think it will lead to more TV work in the future in some way.”
Aaron, who volunteers for Pontio Bangor, Mantell Gwynedd, Radio Ysbyty Gwynedd, was born with Hydropcephalus and Cerebral Palsy.
Hydrocephalus is a condition caused by excessive fluid in the brain. This places pressure on brain cavities and can cause brain injuries that lead to conditions such as cerebral palsy (CP). CP impacts movement, coordination and posture. It is usually caused by an injury to the brain before, during, or shortly after birth such as a lack of oxygen or illness.
At four weeks old, Aaron underwent surgery to fit a shunt in his brain to reduce pressure and drain the excess fluid, which has remained in place. Further operations followed some years later when he had surgery to lengthen his hamstrings to make walking more comfortable.
Despite his difficult start in life, Aaron insists on focusing on the positives and doesn’t let any barriers stand in his way for long.
“I don’t let it define who I am. I’m a normal person, I don’t see myself as Aaron with a disability or Aaron with a walking frame and I hope that comes across,” he said.
“It hasn’t held me back. I mean, obviously there are barriers sometimes. If I’m going away for instance, I have to plan way ahead of time to work out how I’m going to get there and will there be access where I’m going but it doesn’t stop me from doing what I want to do.
“I hope whoever’s watching the show will see me and think if he can do it, I can do it too. Nothing should hold you back.”
Mum-of-two Linda, who works for Argos in Bangor, added: “Aaron loves being in the limelight and doesn’t let his disability define anything he’s done. I’m so proud of him.”
The show, nominated for a BAFTA Cymru award, is made by two Gwynedd-based television production companies, Cwmni Da, in Caernarfon, and Chwarel, from Criccieth.
It is the first time Studio Lambert and Channel 4 have licensed the Gogglebox franchise to another UK-based broadcaster.
In the second series, the run has been extended from 11 to 15 episodes which will be broadcast in two blocks.
In addition, there are five more groups – families and friends – this year, giving producers an ever-greater spread of opinion across a wide range of programmes.
Among the newcomers are propulsion technician Dylan Roberts and wife Gwen, who live in Valley, Anglesey.
The dad-of-two, who works at RAF Valley maintaining airfield safety equipment including testing equipment for the Hawk T2 aircraft, was invited for a screen test after he was spotted on S4C nightly magazine show Heno discussing his passion for restoring 1980s/90s Peugeots.
The 47-year-old rugby fan, who was born in Bangor, said: “We’re pretty opinionated and like a good discussion but we had no idea how we’d done. We had good feedback and were told they enjoyed the screening.”
Producer Huw Maredudd, from Cwmni Da, said the team was looking forward to laughing and crying again with both the new and returning households.
“The show was very well received with lots of traction and attention on social media. The comments were overwhelmingly positive and of course the BAFTA nomination from our peers showed appreciation for what we’d achieved on a professional level,” he said.
“This series is longer which is a reflection of how much people have taken to these characters and the programme.
“We’re very proud of all the different people that we managed to find and now we’re back even bigger and better and will be reaching out even wider and showing even more diversity and expanding the range of shows.”
Sioned Wyn, Director of Chwarel, added: “It’s groundbreaking. Not only are people discovering S4C content that perhaps they wouldn’t have watched before, for the GoggleBocs’ contributors themselves it has been pretty life changing,” she said.
“Everybody has found it pretty life-affirming and transformative, and their confidence has improved. People are already getting recognised and are being asked for their autographs – they’re loving every minute of it.
“We are also bringing people to S4C who were not there before. We are a wide and varied society, and we try to go to all regions of Wales from Wrexham and the Valleys to Pembrokeshire and Mid-Wales.
“It’s been one of the most inspirational shows I’ve ever worked on. The figures speak for themselves – we quadrupled the viewing figures for that slot.”
The first six shows will be broadcast at 9pm on Wednesdays in October and November before taking a break and returning for a celebrity Christmas version on December 27 and a further eight episodes from February 14 next year, with the programmes being once again narrated by comedian and broadcaster Tudur Owen. English subtitles will be available and the programme can also be viewed on S4C Clic, BBC iPlayer and other streaming platforms.