Princess Beatrice is on a mission. The Queen‘s granddaughter, who was identified as having dyslexia aged seven, is determined to change the narrative around dyslexia – something she affectionately refers to as her “gift” and “learning difference”.
“Even referring to it as a diagnosis, I feel, does a disservice to the brilliance of some of the most fantastic minds that we have,” Beatrice tells our guest editor Giovanna Fletcher as the pair chat over Zoom for our Back to School digital issue. “Just shifting the narrative a little bit towards something that is positive, something that is impactful, can really help everyone.”
Beatrice has been the patron of the Helen Arkell Dyslexia Charity since 2013 and her passion to speak openly about dyslexia is immediately clear to see from the first few minutes of our call.
The royal, who is expecting her first child this autumn with her husband Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, also says that if her stepson Wolfie or any future children are lucky enough to be identified as dyslexic, then that is a real “gift”. She also opens up about homeschooling (spoiler alert: not her forte!) and her early school memories of feeling “a little muddled” and “the odd one out”.
Giovanna: Princess Beatrice, you’ve been very open about your dyslexia journey. What inspired you to share your story?
“I think storytelling is one of the most fantastic ways to communicate. If by sharing my story I can help one young person, whether they’re 11 or seven just receiving the news that they’ve got the gift of dyslexia, then I think you’ve got such a fantastic opportunity to share some of these great learnings.
“Honestly, what inspired me to talk about dyslexia the way that I have, is because I really want to change the narrative around the diagnosis. Even referring to it as a diagnosis I feel does a disservice to the brilliance of some of the most fantastic minds that we have. And I think just shifting the narrative a little bit towards something that is positive, that is impactful, I think can really help everyone.
“That’s what I really love about what we’re trying to do and the fantastic work that Helen Arkell is really supporting. How do we inspire things to be done in a different way? It’s not a one size, one solution fits all model. And I think that really needs to be talked about.
“I was very lucky that when I was first told that I had dyslexia, not one person around me ever made me feel like it was a ‘lesser than’ scenario. It was always about moving forward, it was always about what you could do. Never about what you can’t. And that’s something that’s really, really important to me. I find it very inspiring every day to talk about it. Because if you can just change one little idea in someone’s head, then you’ve done a great thing.
Giovanna: You talk about dyslexia being a gift and looking at things in a different way. Actually, when you have someone that thinks a little bit out of the box, that’s how great things happen.
“Exactly! I think that having dyslexia and reflecting on where I am right now in my career path, and also as an older person looking back, it definitely has allowed me to look at things in a new way and come up with solutions. I always describe it like being able to think in a circle. Yes, my spelling is appalling, and I wish that I could do something about that. But luckily, spellcheck has sorted that out for me.”
Giovanna: Everyone can benefit from looking at things in a different and new way.
“Completely. When we think about the last year, parents now teaching their children on Zoom and trying to homeschool, I think we’re having a quicker conversation about change. And I’m very grateful that even during the pandemic, Helen Arkell was there, making sure that they were able to deliver that extra support when it was needed.
“Homeschooling, that was definitely not my forte! Not going to lie. Sadly, I can’t blame that on dyslexia. But I’ve felt very lucky to have had the chance to work with my bonus son (Wolfie) over the course of the school closures. It was a huge learning curve for all of us.”
Giovanna: Before you were told you had dyslexia aged seven, what was that run-up in school like?
“I remember feeling really confused – an overwhelming sense of, ‘Why does this all feel a little bit muddled? Why do I feel like these words on the page are just a bunch of… What is going on here? What am I expected to do with this?’ Maybe it’s a personality trait, but I don’t like feeling muddled.
“And I think that mentality really led my parents and others on an age of discovery. I’m very lucky that I had some fantastic teachers that were aware of different diagnoses and different practices that we could work towards.
“But that feeling of confusion, feeling a little bit like you’re the odd one out… I remember one teacher, I’d be looking at the words trying to formulate them in front of me, and I just looked at her with these big eyes to say, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ And her response was, ‘The words are not written on my face.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Well, I don’t know what they’re doing on the page either!’
“I think it was quite an empowering thing actually, between the age of seven and 11, really figuring out what you could and couldn’t do. I actually think it’s been the making of some of my best decision-makings.”
Giovanna: Now that you’re having a baby, does it make you look to the school years and think about what’s to come, and the possible challenges?
“It’s a great question. I was thinking about this as well, that if any child, any bonus son, or future babies that are on their way, are lucky enough to be diagnosed with dyslexia, I feel incredibly grateful to have tools such as the Helen Arkell Dyslexia Charity to be able to tap into, to give them that extra support. I think it’s really important for every parent, that they feel they are not alone in this.
“My husband’s also dyslexic so we’ll see whether we’re having this conversation in a couple of months’ time with a new baby in the house, but I really see it as a gift. And I think life is about the moments, it’s the challenges that make you. Of course, I would never want there to be any difficult situations. But I feel like if we’re able to embrace some of the tools that we have from the Helen Arkell Dyslexia Charity and other organisations, then I feel very, very lucky that we can have this conversation.”
Giovanna: When I say ‘back to school’, how does that make you feel?
“For me, I loved school. I hated writing essays, I hated spelling, but I loved the environment. I think I was very lucky that school gave me such a positive environment. But I still have those dreams where you wake up in the middle of the night going, ‘Which homework have I not done?!’
“Everyone needs a new pencil case, a fresh start, this year now more than ever. When we think of students starting their journey going back into the classroom, it’s going to be a very interesting time after an unusual year.”
Giovanna: You’re a patron who is genuinely so connected and passionate about your charity. The Helen Arkell Dyslexia Charity helped you and now you have that drive to help children who are in your position.
“They’ve really been there for me and I’m incredibly grateful for the work that they’ve done to support me in my life. I also feel incredibly inspired to pay it forward. Now when I look to the future and the great legacy that Helen Arkell has put in front of us to support young people, I feel greatly honoured to be a part of that storytelling, working with the charity to make sure we can get the right messages out there to be able to help every young person and every parent as well.
“I get a lot of questions now from parents who are figuring out how to deal with their children that maybe are on a dyslexic path. ‘Will my child be different? Will my child be bullied?’ I think just making sure that we can do everything we can to support parents to do the best job they can for their children is so important.
“I had the opportunity over the years to spend a bit of time with Helen and she’s sadly not with us anymore, but to really do the work that she set out over her life, is a huge honour. I really encourage anyone that would like to collaborate on this journey with us, of reimagining what dyslexia is and the possibilities that can come with that…
“Young people nowadays are dealing with so much information, whether it’s from social media or other platforms, that adding a dyslexic diagnosis can be a real challenge. So, if we can do even one thing to make sure that they don’t feel different, that’s when all the good things can really happen. We can make sure that no child feels like they are alone.”
Princess Beatrice is patron of The Helen Arkell Dyslexia Charity.