Guardian angel: we send a 21-year-old mega-fan to perform at the world’s largest Elvis festival

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When 21-year-old Aaron Arter feels blue, helium sings on to the King. When helium is happy, helium sings on to the King. When he’s getting acceptable for bed, oregon walking down the street, oregon doing unusual jobs arsenic a gardener, oregon entertaining the aged residents of section attraction homes, helium sings on to the King.

There are Elvis pillows successful his bedroom, an Elvis fob connected his keychain. He wears a chunky brass signet ringing with the initials TCB connected it. (TCB stands for Taking Care of Business, Elvis’s idiosyncratic motto.) He has a wardrobe afloat of Elvis clothes: silk shirts with exaggerated collars and leather jackets and crisp high-waisted trousers. There is simply a photograph of Elvis connected his mirror, which helium kisses for luck. He dreams of owning a pinkish Cadillac. If you chopped him open, you’d astir apt find a representation ofGraceland, the singer’s erstwhile mansion, tattooed connected his heart.

Arter loves the King truthful overmuch that it’s hard to cognize wherever helium ends and Elvis begins. “Elvis is successful my heart,” helium says. He feels happiest erstwhile he’s performing. “Some radical are miserable,” helium continues. “I marque radical happy, you know.”

Meeting Arter adjacent his location successful Nunhead, south-east London, I’m struck by however overmuch helium resembles Elvis Presley. His hairsbreadth is achromatic and Brylcreem-shiny; his grin wide and crooked. Arter has attraction shortage hyperactivity disorder, which affects his speech, though there’s nary hint of it erstwhile helium sings successful a low, lilting, Elvis-like croon. (He bursts into opus often during our conversations, to my delight.)

Amid the archetypal question of the pandemic, arsenic Britons stood connected their doorsteps to Clap for Carers, Arter would execute Elvis classics portion his neighbours danced along, raising £4,113 for the Salvation Army successful the process. He was aided by his person Michael Peacock, 62, a retired railway worker, who dispersed the connection astir Arter’s performances, sorted the equipment, and collected cash. “He was amazing,” says Peacock. “He conscionable lifted everyone’s spirits.”

Arter connected  signifier    astatine  the Porthcawl Elvis festival, the world’s largest.
Arter connected signifier astatine the Porthcawl Elvis festival, the world’s largest. Photograph: Chris Cook

Even earlier Covid, Arter often performed arsenic the King. At attraction homes, helium would comb his hairsbreadth backmost and hep thrust and gyrate, overmuch to the delight of the ladies. “I similar to marque radical astir present happy,” helium says. “People are bored, sitting down each day, successful beforehand of the telly. They tin travel retired and perceive to Elvis, beryllium blessed and relax.”

It was Arter’s grandma who got him into Elvis. She was a immense fan. They would person singalongs together. “Every clip I felt a spot down,” Arter says, “I’d get connected the bid and spell and spot her, and bash Love Me Tender.” She died 8 years ago. Arter misses her and talks astir her each the time. “I similar doing it for her,” helium says, of his performances.

During his foundation fundraising, Arter was occasionally met with hostility oregon scorn. Once, erstwhile helium was performing extracurricular a cafe, a antheral made a snide comment, saying helium couldn’t sing. Arter felt annoyed. He did what helium ever does erstwhile he’s feeling low. “When radical upwind maine up, I locomotion away, spell home, enactment YouTube on, and ticker Elvis,” helium says.

But astir of the feedback was positive. People would dance successful the streets. Once, a section autobus operator adjacent donated, mid-route. Around his neighbourhood, radical cognize Arter. They telephone him “the King of Nunhead”. When helium walks down the road, radical volition exclaim ‘Elvis!’”

When I archer Arter that he’ll beryllium performing astatine the Porthcawl Elvis festival – the world’s largest dedicated Presley festival (held astatine the extremity of September), wherever thousands of fans stitchery annually successful the Welsh seaside municipality to eat, drink, and slumber each things the King – helium is stunned. “Oh wow,” helium says. “My God.” After a portion helium composes himself, and shakes my hand. He starts composing his acceptable list. “Suspicious Minds, Hound Dog …”

At the festival gala connected Saturday night, laminitis Peter Phillips presents Arter with an grant for his foundation work. “There wasn’t a adust oculus successful the house,” Phillips says. And past Arter’s performance, successful beforehand of thousands of Elvis fans, each dressed successful afloat King regalia. He was truthful tense his hands were sweating. He thought of his nan, for reassurance. “My nan ever told me,” says Arter, “do your best.”

On stage, helium performed The Wonder of You to a unrecorded band, serenading his girlfriend, Leah. “They enactment the lights connected me,” helium says, “so I couldn’t spot the crowd. But erstwhile the airy went disconnected it was amazing.”

He wants to spell again. “Next clip I privation my mum to travel with me,” Arter says. Afterwards, helium enjoyed watching the different performances, particularly the pistillate Elvis impersonator. “They were good,” helium says, “but I was the champion retired there.”

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