It started as a hobby but now Liam Holt’s love of wheelchair basketball has helped him land his dream job.
The 25-year-old will be helping to present next year’s prestigious Paralympic Games coverage on Channel 4 and can’t wait to take his moment in the spotlight.
Liam discovered his passion for wheelchair basketball at the age of 10 when he joined local team, the Hampshire Hedgehogs. He has been playing ever since and currently captains the Cardiff Celts.
When he spotted that Channel 4 was looking for presenters to help out with its coverage of the 2012 games, Liam wasted no time in applying.
The Half a Million Quid Talent Search was launched by the broadcaster in a bid to make sure that at least half its presenting team for the Paralympics would be disabled themselves.
Liam currently works as a researcher for television company, Boomerang, which makes That Paralympic Show, but fancied a chance to go in front of the camera for a change.
After whipping up an audition tape of himself interviewing one of his current team mates, Caroline Matthews – who also plays for the GB women’s team – Liam, from Southsea, sent it in and hoped for the best.
‘We were doing a piece about Channel 4’s Half a Million Quid Talent Search for That Paralympic Show and I thought it looked like a lot of fun so I uploaded a clip of me and Caroline and then forgot all about it,’ explains Liam.
‘I couldn’t believe it when I found out that I had got through to the next stages of the competition I was gobsmacked.’
Out of hundreds of entries, Liam – who was left paralysed from the waist down after he had a tumour on his spine removed when he was a baby – was one of only 12 people to make it through to presenter’s boot camp.
‘When I got there it was absolutely wicked,’ he says. ‘We learned everything from using earpieces and reading autocue, to structuring interview questions and then we produced a mock TV show. It was brilliant.’
At the end of the intensive week he was delighted to be told that he had become one of the final six to present the London 2012 Paralympic Games on Channel 4 – the official broadcaster of the event.
‘It was such a buzz when I was told that I was in the final team,’ he adds.
‘I really love the job I am doing just now behind the cameras, but to be on screen is the absolute dream. It’s so exciting and I really hope I can pursue it further after the Paralympic Games.’
In a bid to gain some experience, Liam and his co-presenters were given the opportunity to report from the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester.
The sports enthusiast conducted interviews with GB Sitting Volleyball team members and reported on the men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball matches, live on Channel 4’s website.
He also worked alongside paralympic gold medallists, double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius – otherwise known as ‘blade runner’ – sprinter Danny Crates and swimmer Giles Long.
‘I was such a good experience, I loved it,’ he adds.
‘It reminded me of being on stage because I was nervous beforehand but then when we went live it was an amazing feeling, just like the feeling you get when you are on stage performing. It was just so cool.’
Treading the boards is an experience close to Liam’s heart, having studied cornet for a music degree at the Royal Welsh College of Music.
After picking up his skills at Portchester Community School, Liam played alongside his father, Gary – who also plays cornet – in the Portsmouth City Band, while also playing for Hampshire County Youth Band.
He even took home the gold trophy at Portsmouth Music Festival in 2004 for best individual brass performer – one of the top prizes at the festival.
‘It’s amazing how what I thought was an unrelated sequence of events has led me to where I am now and has given me the chance to do a job that matches my interests perfectly.
‘I never thought that I would be doing something like this, I always thought I would be teaching music and that wheelchair basketball would be a hobby, I never thought it would become my career – but it’s so exciting that it has.
‘It feels like a natural progression and now I can see how much I’ve learned through performing music which will really help me with presenting.’
Throughout it all, Liam has had the backing of his family, including mum Lynne, 54, and sister Erin, 28.
In particular, he’s been helped by his able-bodied dad, Gary, 56, who used to play alongside him in the Hampshire Hedgehogs. As soon as he decided to join the team in 1996, his father took to the courts in a wheelchair too.
Liam says: ‘It was wicked having the support of my dad and it felt amazing when he played alongside me.
‘He’s always been there for me and helped spur me on in everything I do, as my mum and sister have too.
‘They are all really proud of what I am doing now because it took them by surprise a bit. They all thought I would be doing music stuff, so when they open the paper and see a picture of me with a basketball in my hand they get very excited.’
There’s little doubt that there will be many more similar surprises in the coming months, as Liam gears up to present the games next summer.
See paralympics.channel4.com to keep up to date with Liam’s progress and behind the scenes of the talent search.