Tequila ad will cast the blind in a new light

Louise Jury meets the star of a glamorous TV commercial

It's one of those glamorous drinks advertisements with beautiful people doing sporting, creative, life-enhancing things.

Giles McKinley, playing himself, dives into a deep blue swimming-pool, makes a sculpture, laughs with his gorgeous girlfriend in the park, and sips tequila in a trendy bar.

He is the epitome of the ad-man's dream. And he is blind.

In a rare incursion of the visually impaired in to style-setting commercials, McKinley is the star of a new set of adverts which Allied Domecq hopes will send sales of its Sauza tequila soaring. The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) has hailed it as a significant boost for a group of people more often associated with white sticks and guide dogs.

The concept was simple: Allied Domecq wanted a major shift away from the idea that tequila is a quick, head-splitting shot to get you drunk quickly. The company wanted to emphasise the taste and the smell of its new, aged version of Mexico's favourite beverage. Who better to help them do so than someone who relies on smell and taste, having no sight to help? The solution seemed simple.

Putting it into practice was another matter. Equity has hardly any blind actors on its books and inquiries through organisations for the blind brought no success. Eventually, the advertising agency Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury contacted the Radio 4 programme for the visually impaired, In Touch, to ask people to come forward. It received 50 replies, and chose McKinley. Everything he does in the advert is an activity he enjoys in real life.

Fabian Partigliani, from the drinks company, said: "We wanted to associate Sauza with having a good time and Giles captures that - he makes the most of life. He plays cricket and he skis - this guy is amazing."

When the agency wanted a glamorous companion for him at the bar, McKinley suggested his own girlfriend of seven years, Carla Hendry, a singer.

"So we had a real guy, real girlfriend, real story. It gelled," Mr Partigliani said.

Working with the RNIB was the best thing the firm could have done, he added. At one point, the screen goes blank. At first, the ad creators made the screen black, but the RNIB advised that black was not what blind people see. The screen was changed to brown instead.

It is the kind of detail that matters to the RNIB, which relished the opportunity to have input into a commercial presenting a blind person in a positive way.

Fiona McCarthy from the RNIB and visually impaired colleague Richard Lane advised on the ads from the early script stage. Opportunities for the visually impaired to act are few and far between. Much more common is broadcasters using a sighted person to play blind. They consider the Sauza commercials an important image boost.

"The agency really did try hard. They were almost a casebook of how it should be done," Ms McCarthy said. "We love to be consulted and will help as much as possible to develop the ideas. It helps us to dispel myths and stereotypes which we are concerned that any advert could reinforce.

"We're all used to seeing people with disabilities for adverts which are for worthy causes, but you don't see them advertising a product."

As for McKinley, he was delighted to take part. He is 34, lives in Hove, East Sussex, and manages and promotes bands and musicians including Davy Jones, one of the original Monkees. A friend heard the radio appeal and encouraged him to apply. "I almost fell off my chair when I got the job," he said.

McKinley has been blind since the age of 16, when he suffered a sudden deterioration of his optic nerves, but has tried hard not to let his disability hinder him. He wrote 400 letters to get his first job after leaving the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford. Since then, he has worked in advertising, as a business consultant and is now toying with the idea of professional acting. McKinley plays blind cricket, where the ball has ball-bearings sealed inside so it can be heard, and even manages to ski under the direction of a friend or instructor.

McKinley, who was paid a fee negotiated by his agent in accordance with Equity rates, does "watch" television: "I enjoy it. If I'm watching something and it ends with a quiet patch, obviously I don't know quite what is happening and I might have to ask someone."

He has already listened to his own ad, which will be screened for the first time on 4 August.

Suggested Topics
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn