Our Judges

Our Judges

Anna Kennedy Online is proud to announce the following Judges in selecting the finalists for Autism Hero Awards 2023

This year’s judges are David Grant MBE, Kellie Barker, Detective Chief Inspector Dion Brown, Ben Pearson, Samantha Lee Howe, and Jo Luck.

David Grant

David Grant MBE

David Grant MBE is a BAFTA award-winning broadcaster, vocal coach singer and leadership coach. His TV and music career has spanned over 40 years. He was awarded a MOBO award in 1998 and a BASCA in 2008 for his lifetime services to the music industry.

David has had 14 hit records and been nominated for 2 Brit Awards. David was awarded an MBE in 2019 for his lifetime services to music.

Together with his wife, Carrie, David was a judge on Fame Academy and now hosts the Saturday Breakfast Show on BBC Radio London. David is Father to four children three are birth children, one was adopted – all have special needs, two are autistic.

David shared: I am really looking forward to being a judge at this year’s Anna Kennedy Online Autism Hero Awards and particularly excited to hear all the stories of the great work people are doing in the autistic community.

Russ Kane

Ben Pearson

Ben Pearson, founder of BigClothing4U and Uptheir, is a serial entrepreneur with a difference. Diagnosed with autism, Ben has used his platform to create inclusive clothing that strives for change – from clothing in sizes 2XL-8XL, to his Harvey’s Law Collection in collaboration with other Anna Kennedy Online ambassadors, Katie and Harvey Price.

After growing up in the care system and battling homelessness at just 17, Ben has faced more challenges than most. To share his story and inspire others, Ben has been a frequent guest on Anna’s radio show, All Things Autism in Essex, and on her podcast.

Upon being a selected ambassador for the charity, Ben said, “It’s a great honour and privilege to be a chosen ambassador for such a disruptive and innovative charity. As someone with autism, I’ve often been misunderstood. I often wish that I had someone like Anna and her incredible charity growing up to help champion change”.

Kellie Croft

Kellie Barker

Kellie shared: I am delighted to be asked to be a judge for such an amazing event that celebrates and showcases accomplishments of amazing people within the Autism community.

I  attended the Hero awards in 2019 and found it very moving that so many people came together to celebrate and mark each other’s amazing achievements , it was a room full of amazing special people.

Kacey Ainsworth

Samantha Lee Howe

Samantha Lee Howe has everyone talking. She has beaten all the odds to become a best-selling author topping the USA Today book charts with her novel The Stranger in our Bed. She has Hollywood talking as her debut as screenwriter of the film of the same name has become an international hit.

Samantha has also in demand in broadcasting for her wit and down to earth opinions In addition she has become a survivor ambassador for IDAS the Yorkshire domestic abuse charity.

Writing was a way to escape from reality, and her husband’s clutches who saw her endeavours as ‘a total waste of time!’ Despite all this negativity, Samantha graduated with a BA Hons, and went on to escape the marriage, divorcing her husband, and moving to North Wales.

Samantha taught English to ‘A’ Level, but just knew it was never going to be enough. In 2007 she began her professional writing career with her first novel, and has never looked back.

In February 2020, Samantha’s first psychological thriller, The Stranger in Our Bed, was released by HarperCollins One More Chapter, and immediately caused a stir in the industry. This was followed in June 2020 with the signing of a three-book deal for an explosive spy thriller trilogy, The House of Killers (The House of Killers (Book 1), Kill Or Die (Book 2) and Kill A Spy (Book 3)). The titles were all released in 2021. Pitched as Killing Eve meets Jason Bourne, the books chronicle a nerve-shredding, enemies to lovers, tale that simmers with obsession.

Samantha is now in a happy marriage to second husband, David J Howe, and is also a Patron of the charity POhWER, which gives support to those who are often socially excluded.

Detective Chief Inspector Dion Brown

Detective Chief Inspector Dion Brown

Dion is 40 years old and a father of 5. He works as a Detective Chief Inspector with The Metropolitan Police in London.

He lives in Essex with his wife Sara and their children. Two of Dion’s children have autism, his son Hayden who is 12 and one of his daughters Darcy who is 9.

Dion shared: “I feel extremely honoured to have been asked to be a judge for this year’s Anna Kennedy Autism Hero Awards. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Anna and her husband Sean over the last year or so and I am full of admiration for what they do. I am very much looking forward to hearing about the remarkable stories of all the nominees this year.”

Jo Luck

Jo Luck

I am a patron of AKO and a 3 times kickboxing world champion. Kickboxing has always helped me as an outlet for my day to day frustrations that come with living with Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD and sensory processing differences.

I became involved with AKO after I decided to use my success within my sport as a way to reach out to and inspire young people.

It is a privilege to be asked to judge the Autism Hero Awards as through my experiences coping with my own autism and in helping families affected by autism I know on a personal level how isolating and stressful navigating life on the spectrum can be and how valuable good support and input truly is.

It is certainly important to recognise those who go above and beyond their professional remit and individuals who battle on regardless. It is important they know they are not alone within the autism community.

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Our Judges 2023