Rob Burrow to be first non-verbal person to read CBeebies bedtime story

The former rugby league player Rob Burrow will become the first non-verbal person to read a bedtime story on the BBC this weekend.

Burrow, who used to play for Leeds Rhinos, will use an eye-controlled computer to read a story on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

He lost the ability to speak without help in late 2020, a year after he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND).

He will read Tilda Tries Again by Tom Percival on the CBeebies Bedtime Stories show at 6.50pm on Saturday 3 December. The picture book is about a girl who finds ways to cope after her life is turned “topsy turvy”.

Burrow, 40, was told he was unlikely to live more than two years when he was diagnosed with MND in 2019.

He made more than 400 appearances for Leeds Rhinos between 2001 and 2017 and was one of the most successful players in rugby league history, winning eight Super League championships.

His wife, Lindsey, and the youngest of their three children, Maya, seven, and Jackson, three, accompanied him to the CBeebies recording studio and had a behind-the-scenes tour.

“I loved doing the CBeebies bedtime story because it brought back so many memories of me reading stories to my own children,” he said in a BBC interview. “Reading is so important and is accessible to everyone, no matter what disability you may have.

“I can no longer speak because MND has affected my speech muscles. But it doesn’t stop me from reading to my three children. I hope you all enjoy listening to the story.”

Burrow was awarded an MBE last year for services to rugby league and for his work raising awareness of MND since his diagnosis.

In a BBC video advertising the show, Burrow tells children: “Hello, I’m Rob, I can’t use my voice in the way that maybe you can, which is why I use this computer to talk for me. I use my eyes to gaze or look at the words and it speaks for me. It’s like magic.”

The computer Burrow uses to speak has been designed to mimic his own Yorkshire accent. He said last year that ​​the device had “completely changed my life” after being unable to express himself when he first lost his speech while Britain was in lockdown.

Burrow joins a host of celebrities who have read bedtime stories on the show, including Dolly Parton, David Tennant and Jessica Ennis-Hill.