“No Strings came about thanks to a puppet called Seamus. I was a humanitarian aid coordinator working as part of some the biggest emergency efforts of the 1990s, and a friend had given me this slightly strange-looking, furry white puppet as a kind of party piece to entertain other aid workers in the evenings, just a bit of silliness really. You sort of had to make your own fun to keep your spirits up. We were overseeing a feeding camp in South Sudan at this particular time; there were a lot of displaced people, hungry and very scarred by their experiences, and I decided one day to put the puppet on to see what response it would get, because in all the upheaval it could be tough getting people’s attention with things they needed to know.
“What happened was incredible. In no time there were crowds around me, not only children, but adults, too. Seamus turned out to be far more effective than I ever was, and the idea dawned that puppets had a captivating power we could use in all kinds of areas where there was a vital need for information.
“From then on, I took Seamus everywhere I went, from Rwanda to Afghanistan and many countries in between. Then coming home one time, he more or less fell apart in the washing machine. My flatmate took one look, and told me her aunt and uncle – Kathy Mullen and Michael Frith – were two of Jim Henson’s key staff on The Muppet Show team. They could make me a new one. I just found the whole thing unbelievable, and within two weeks I was in New York to meet them.
“Kathy did make me a new puppet, Hamish, but she and Michael have given so, so much more. After 35 years in the puppetry world making educational and entertainment shows for kids in the West, they found themselves in the post 9/11 climate where it seemed children in Afghanistan were in dire need of help. They knew there was something they could contribute, but couldn’t work out a way how on their own, so we decided to work together on a project on landmine safety, ChucheQhalin. And that’s how it all started. Talk about serendipity.”