Tony with Young Driver Corsa

Nine-year-old double amputee fulfils dream of driving a car

'I’m sure this is the start of a lifelong love'

A nine-year-old double amputee has fulfilled his dream of driving a car by taking his first lesson in a specially adapted Vauxhall.

Tony Hudgell, from Kent, suffered life-changing injuries at the hands of his birth parents when he was just six weeks old, and now uses prosthetic legs.

However, the student and charity fundraiser has taken his first driving lesson at the South of England Showground in Kent, behind the wheel of a Vauxhall Corsa that had been specially adapted with hand controls. Thanks to the adaptations, Tony was able to steer the car and control its speed without needing to use the pedals.

The instructor explains to Tony Hudgell how the controls work in the Young Driver car

That’s despite Tony suffering a horrendous assault by his birth parents, which left then-41-day-old Tony with multiple fractures and dislocations, as well as organ failure, toxic shock and sepsis. He was left untreated for 10 days and had to have both his legs amputated.

His birth parents, Jody Simpson and Tony Smith, were both jailed for their crimes in 2018, receiving 10-year sentences.

Tony is a fundraiser himself now

Now in the care of adoptive parents, Mark and Paula Hudgell, Tony has become a charity fundraiser despite his ongoing battle with various health conditions that still require treatment nine years on.

During lockdown, at the age of five, he set about a sponsored 10km (six miles) walk on his new prosthetic legs. Subsequently, he and his adoptive parents set up the Tony Hudgell Foundation, which supports children affected by physical, emotional or psychological abuse. So far, he has raised more than £1.8 million for charity.

Tony Hudgell got behind the wheel for his first driving lesson with Young Driver

As a result, Tony became the youngest person ever to be recognised in the King’s New Year Honours list, receiving the British Empire Medal (BEM) in January 2024. His adoptive mother, Paula, was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her services to children’s charities in 2023.

Young Driver offered Tony the chance

After hearing Tony’s story on television, and discovering he would love to drive a car, Young Driver, a company that offers driving lessons to under-17s on closed courses, approached the Hudgell family and offered Tony the chance to get behind the wheel of a car with hand controls.

Since 2009, the company has delivered more than 1.4 million driving lessons to children between the ages of 10 and 17 years old, and says it aims to create “a safer next generation of drivers”.

Young Driver even claims one in five newly qualified drivers in the UK will have an accident in the six months after passing their test, whereas that drops to one in 25 among Young Driver alumni.

Tong Hudgell with his Young Driver instructor

Working with one of Young Driver’s instructors and the adapted Corsa, Tony was able to experience the basics of driving, successfully moving off, stopping and cornering.

“Tony was nervous and excited before his lesson, but when he finished he had the biggest smile on his face,” said his adoptive mother, Paula. “We couldn’t believe how his confidence grew so quickly with the help of his instructor. I’m sure this is the start of a lifelong love of driving, it’s been great to see, and we’re so pleased he’s been able to have this experience.”

Meanwhile Sue Waterfield, the head of marketing at Young Driver, said the company was delighted to have put Tony behind the wheel for the first time.

Tony Hudgell with his adoptive parents Mark and Paul and his Young Driver instructor Neil Cobbin

“We saw Tony being interviewed on Good Morning Britain and he expressed his love of cars and how he’d love to be able to drive,” she said. “We knew we could make that happen for him, so we got in touch with his family and invited them along to our South of England Showground venue in Kent.

“Given Tony’s strong start behind the wheel at such a young age, we can see his skills are only going to refine and grow as he gets older.

“That’s the whole purpose of what Young Driver does — to help youngsters learn in an unpressured and safe environment, so when they do go on to learn on the road, they already have a solid understanding of the physical elements of driving.”

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