The Glastonbury musician started a solo career after cancer

  • Authors: Christopher Mace, Rhiannon Yhnell and John Davall
  • BBC News

image source, Monkia S. Jakubowska

image caption,

Holly Wellington said her breast cancer diagnosis marked a turning point in her life

A musician who performed with his band at Glastonbury Festival while undergoing chemotherapy has launched a solo career.

Holly Wellington, from Bristol, of the Ishmael Ensemble, is now performing as Holysseus Fly.

Her song Marigold has received rave reviews and was included in DJ Annie Mac’s Chill Playlist.

The 28-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago and said her recovery inspired her music.

“Going through that has become part of the fabric of who I am,” she said.

“I make it my life’s work to turn that trauma into something beautiful.”

image source, Holly Wellington

image caption,

Holly during a chemotherapy session

His diagnosis marked a major turning point in his life.

“The oncologist said, ‘I’m sorry to say this to a 25-year-old, but it’s true.’ I remember feeling angry and a bit light-headed. It was a very sad day.”

Despite the traumatic time, Holly believed the diagnosis gave her more confidence to move forward with her dreams.

“I was afraid I was going to lose my life and that was something that really pushed me.

“My first thought was, ‘I can’t die now, I haven’t even released my first solo album yet, now’s not the time,’ so I went for it.”

image source, Nick Clague

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Playing Glastonbury was a milestone for Holly

During treatment, her bandmates in the Ishmael Ensemble performed around 40 concerts, many of which Holly managed to perform, including the Glastonbury festival in June 2020.

At the time Holly lost her hair, her white blood cell count was very low and she “couldn’t be around anyone” if she got bugs.

Holly didn’t have to play every time, but if possible, she “jumped” the electronic jazz band.

Despite the difficult side effects of the chemotherapy, she made the decision to play as a singer.

“It’s a huge event that everybody wants to do,” he said.

Holly returned for another performance at the famous Somerset festival in 2022, appearing on stage at West Holts with her band. They continue to do it together.

image source, PC Khali Ackford

image caption,

Holly has performed twice at Glastonbury

Marigold, her debut single as Holysseus Fly, was written a couple of years after cancer treatment and during a period of lockdown.

He said the flower had a special meaning.

“I wrote about daisies because this was a symbol of hope for me,” she said.

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“Going through everything that has become part of the fabric of who I am, in a way, although it is not my identity, it is like the truth of my story.”

The song has also won praise from DJ Annie Mac.

image source, Jack Lilley

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Holly says being ill has changed her outlook on life

Being diagnosed with breast cancer and recovering from it continues to have a huge impact on Holly’s life.

“I’ve written so many songs about it, so it’s freed me up musically to experiment more and be bolder with my creativity.

“I think sometimes when you’re dealing with the most terrible traumas, you know, it’s obviously terrible.

“But those experiences can create powerful things.”

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