It was a near-death experience that led to Garry Jones retiring from his high-powered job at Warwickshire County Council to start up one of the UK’s biggest boys choir.
The 64-year-old from Warwick suffered heart failure while out jogging but, luckily, collapsed in front of an off-duty paramedic who rushed to his rescue.
On his road to recovery he made the life-changing decision to eventually ditch his day job as director of the county council's music service and focus full-time on developing his group, the Warwickshire County Boys Choir for youngsters aged between eight and 13.
Now the boys are taking part in the semi-finals of the UK’s largest amateur singing competition, the Choir of The Year contest, in Birmingham on Saturday.
“It’s a great achievement,” he said. “We are in the position of establishing a boys’ choir that will last and be nationally recognised.”
Mr Jones’s dream to form his own choir came true in March 2008. But to make it happen he realised he had to give up his high-powered position at the council.
“I was in charge of around 180 staff at Warwickshire County Council and was also an Ofsted inspector,” he explained. “I realised I couldn’t really do both as the choir was taking up so much time.”
It was that morning’s jogging session five years ago that led him to change his life.
“I used to run around the canals in Warwick, but for some reason I decided to take a route through the city centre. It was lucky that I did because when I collapsed it was in front of an off-duty paramedic,” he said.
“I was extremely fortunate as normally only one in 50 who suffer cardiac arrest survive. But because the paramedic treated me within two minutes, I didn’t.
‘‘I never found out who he was, only that he was from Dudley. I would love to be able to thank him face-to-face.”
After regaining his health Mr Jones decided to make it his mission to get boys singing.
“The choir was launched in March 2008,” he said. “I managed to get a grant from the council to get things going. There were about 50 members to start with and now it’s grown so much with around 180 members.
“It was a difficult task convincing young boys to sing in a choir, but I promoted it through a programme called Action Aloud. It meant that those taking part would go on adventure courses in things like kayaking, but also have to join the choir too.
"After four months of juggling the choir with my job I decided I needed to do it full-time so retired.”
The boys sing in three parts, songs ranging from the Beach Boys’ pop classic Fun, Fun, Fun to more traditional chorale tunes such as Elijah Rock.
“Some of the boys here today, they wouldn’t have believed they could sing and they’ve discovered voices,” Mr Jones said. “It’s all about bringing this out.’’
The former Oxford University choral scholar added that television programmes like Glee and reality show Last Choir Standing had also helped to bring children forward.
“It convinced the parents more than anything. It changed their feelings, making them realise that boys should sing more.”