Meet the physio who helps run an NHS choir

She has worked with producer Timbaland, sang on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and recorded a single at Abbey Road Studios. Is Caroline Smith the next big thing? Actually, she’s a children’s community physiotherapist and a member of The Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir.

The choir, which was formed as part of BBC’s Sing While You Work with Gareth Malone in 2012, released With a Little Help from My Friends earlier this month (July) to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS. The track features Seal, Englebert Humperdinck, Beverley Knight and HRVY, among others, alongside the 32 singers from Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust.

Smith has been involved with the choir, who are supported by the Communications Team at the trust, from its inception and co-ordinates all its activities, from its weekly rehearsals to performances with Squeeze at On Blackheath. She is also part of the six-person campaign team responsible for turning their latest idea into reality, from getting the arrangements to members to getting members to where they needed to be.

In this case, “where” was Abbey Road studios. “To be able to record at Abbey Road is just incredible, really special,” says Smith, who sat in the control room on the day of the recording with producer Jon Cohen, listening to the artists at work.

The choir in the recording studio. Photo by Brian Rasic.

In fact, it is one of a number of “incredible” moments in the choir’s short history, which also includes a Christmas number one (A Bridge Over You, 2015), supporting The Jacksons at Greenwich Music Time, singing at the FA Cup Final and, as part of their latest endeavour, arranging a live singalong with NHS choirs across the country as part of ITV’s The Big NHS Singalong Live.

“Every time we get something I can’t quite believe it,” says Smith, who previously sung in choirs but has no formal training. “We are just NHS staff. We’ve carried on doing our jobs and ended up having all these amazing opportunities.”

The choir’s exposure is “a combination of word of mouth and social media”. Smith secured The Jacksons’ gig after contacting the concert promoter, while Joe Blunden and Dr Katie Rogerson, her colleagues on the campaign team, contacted all the celebrities who sang on the latest single.

“It’s always good to have big events that give you a focus,” says Smith. “The choir want to push themselves.” But it’s more than that: “When we sing at big events like Glastonbury we are putting the NHS at the forefront, creating that goodwill towards the NHS in places it wouldn’t normally be.”

Their achievements are all the more remarkable considering their makeup: doctors, nurses, those who work behind the scenes, physiotherapists, a speech therapist and a hospital chaplain. Because of their shift patterns, not everyone is able to attend rehearsals but they work around this by uploading click tracks to Dropbox and sending recordings via WhatsApp groups.

When they’re not rubbing shoulders with celebrities – or doing their day jobs – the choir sings for the NHS: on wards, at awards ceremonies and at the Forget–Me-Not memorial service for babies and children. Smith says: “All of those things are as important.”

For Smith, choir is the “space” between her busy work and home life and, as a community worker, reinforces her sense of belonging to the hospital. She says: “I remember the first time we sang together, it was just an amazing sound. That feeling – you don’t get that singing on your own. When we are rehearsing a new piece and it starts coming together, I love it.”

As for what’s next, well, how do you begin to top a trip to Abbey Road? “After a big project like that it’s important for everyone to have a bit of time, to get some new songs on board and focus on the singing.”

Jo Horne is a writer and editor who lives in Sussex. When she's not working, her three young children and the PTA distract her from her goal of writing a novel.