Queen of laughs who put smiles on the faces of kids with disabilities during Covid wins gong

EVEN as a child, Annie Aris knew she could make people laugh.

Growing up, Annie discovered how rewarding it was to connect with people through humour and performance.  


Annie Aris is the founder of the Laughter Specialists which she launched in 2007Credit: Oliver Dixon
Not only does Annie help children with disabilities, but she also helps support their families


Not only does Annie help children with disabilities, but she also helps support their familiesCredit: Oliver Dixon

Today, Annie is as passionate about communicating through laughter as ever. 

Combining years of performing arts and social care, Annie co-founded The Laughter Specialists in 2007 – with National Lottery funding – to help make a real difference to children living with illnesses or disabilities.

The dedicated charity supports children across southeast England by providing laughter therapy in hospitals, schools, hospices as well as one to one sessions in families’ homes. 

For Annie, bringing laughter to young children going through treatment or living with disabilities not only helps brighten up their day, but supports their families too. 

She says: “Once people have had a session with us, the difference and the impact lasts a lot longer than that session.

“To see a child who’s poorly in hospital is tough on the children, most importantly, but it’s also tough on the families and the people around them. 

“So one of the things is to cheer them up and give them a day that’s worth living for.”

Annie’s incredible skills for spontaneous humour were honed during her 16 years as a clown doctor in Great Ormond Street. 

As the hospital’s first female clown doctor, she brought joy to children as they braved treatment. 

There, Annie learnt that laughter could make children feel secure and adapted her performances to each and every child depending on their illness, age and needs. 

Then, in 2007, Annie co-founded The Laughter Specialists to bring her expertise to the hospitals, hospices and schools in her local region in the East of England. 

Who Cares Wins awards

The Who Cares Wins awards honour those who have helped take care of the nation.

Here are the categories:

  • 999 Hero
  • Best Charity
  • Best Doctor
  • Best Midwife
  • Best Nurse
  • Groundbreaking Pioneer
  • Mental Health Hero
  • National Lottery Award
  • Ultimate lifesaver
  • Unsung Hero
  • Young Hero

Now, the mum-of-two brings the same dedication and skill to her work with The Laughter Specialists. 

Annie, 50, says: “The entertainment is endless, it’s very spontaneous. 

“You can’t always plan when you go to someone’s house or a classroom, what they’re feeling or what’s happened just before you’ve arrived.

“You can’t always guarantee you’re going to be able to do a certain trick, so you really have to play with it. 

“You start very gently, very slowly, make sure the children are enjoying what you’re doing and then you build from it and that’s when you get the magic of the Laughter Specialists.” 

For mum Carly Hughes, Annie’s work with her son Bobby, has helped the family through a difficult time. 

Five years ago, Bobby was hit by a learner driver while playing outside his front door.

The tragic incident left Bobby with severe injuries and requiring three rounds of brain surgery. 

Over the last five years, Annie has visited Bobby to help cheer him up during his four months in hospital and later during his recovery at home.  


Carly, 40, from Thaxted, says: “Annie was there right from the beginning when Bobby wasn’t talking or able to walk. 

“Annie’s visits have been such a great part of Bobby’s therapy. She’s got such a good, kind heart.

“Especially after a brain injury, the care can be very fatiguing.

“It’s very hard, so to bring a bit of laughter to it is fantastic. Without laughter, you’ve got nothing, have you?

“Annie has seen Bobby with all the odds against him and now he’s doing so well, they’ve been there with him on that journey. 

“She always goes that extra mile.” 

As Annie and her team have grown The Laughter Specialists, the charity has been able to reach out to more children in need. 


During lockdown, Annie performed for children through windows and in gardens outside family homes to continue brightening up their days. 

The charity’s two new projects in Saffron Walden and Harlow will provide a weekly club for children to come together and enjoy laughter therapy. 

As well as hoping to expand their services to further afield, Annie has also been teaching GPs in their final year of training how to reach out to children through laughter. 

For her unfailing dedication to her local community, Annie has been chosen as The National Lottery’s Local Health Hero. 

Annie, from Saffron Walden, says: “This is a team award for The Laughter Specialists. 

“Winning this award for the charity means that we’re out there, people know about us.

“All the team we work with behind the scenes, the volunteers, the fundraisers, they’re all going to be recognised for what they do.”

Annie has helped many families, including Bobby Hughes, who is pictured above with his dad Jeffery and his mum Carly


Annie has helped many families, including Bobby Hughes, who is pictured above with his dad Jeffery and his mum CarlyCredit: Oliver Dixon

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