The best of friends

It is wonderful to see how open and entertaining Natty and Olly are with each other, says Hayley Goleniowska.

The best of friends

Hayley Goleniowska – January 6th 2023

It is wonderful to see how open and entertaining Natty and Olly are with each other, says Hayley Goleniowska.

Photo: Hayley Goleniowska

My daughter Natty, who is almost 16, met Olly about six years ago. Olly is a dashingly handsome young man a couple of years her senior.

He’s witty, amusing, caring and shares her love of acting out Mamma Mia and taking silly selfies. He tells her she’s beautiful, and loves her just the way she is.

And, just like Natty, Olly has Down syndrome.

They met when Olly’s mother, actor Sally Phillips, was creating her award-winning documentary A World Without Downs.

I have watched their friendship unfold with envy, for Natty and Olly bring an honesty to the relationship table that the rest of us would do well to adopt.

After meeting Natty for the first time, Olly drew a beautiful picture of the house he hoped they would one day call home together; he labelled it No 3 by the Sea.

No hiding his feelings until a socially acceptable period of time had passed or playing cool mind games – he just told her what he felt.

Natty is in Cornwall and Olly in London. They speak about once a week, usually via video. We meet several times a year.

Nowadays, their phone calls start with an exchange of “I love and I miss you” – phrases that most of us squeeze in just before hanging up at the tail end of our conversations.

Olly carries Natty if her legs are tired, provides a shoulder for her to rest on and is super protective of his smaller friend.

The duo adore making each other giggle with funny stories or reciting lists of the daftest words they know.

They love getting dressed up in their own flamboyant way, and there is never a hint of embarrassment if Natty chooses a tiara or Olly an umbrella hat. On one video call, Olly wore Elvis-style sideburns and Natty was dressed up to the nines, inspired by Strictly Come Dancing.

Both are incredible gift givers too, picking out fun badges, temporary tattoos, lovely cards or pieces of jewellery they know the other will love.

Olly is the longest-standing and closest friend Natty has and around whom she has a certain ease. Somehow, when you have a learning disability, those special friendships are even rarer and more precious.

This article is based on an extract from Hayley Goleniowska’s Downs Side Up blog.