Paul Harvey, a musician with dementia whose piano playing went viral, receives OBE

19 June 2023, 16:35 | Updated: 19 June 2023, 17:37

Dad with dementia plays beautiful Bach

By Kyle Macdonald

A “fairytale end to an incredible story,” as a former music teacher living with dementia is appointed an OBE in the King’s birthday honours.

Four random piano notes have become three incredible letters, as a pianist living with Alzheimer’s has been awarded an OBE in the King’s birthday honours for 2023.

Over the past four years, Paul Harvey has found fame online through his heartfelt piano performances and inspired spontaneous compositions.

Read more: Violinist Tasmin Little and operatic tenor Nicky Spence recognised in King’s birthday honours

Paul’s son Nick, a TV composer from East Sussex, first shared a video of his father’s playing on Twitter in June 2019.

“Dad has dementia. Sometimes he drifts into another world and I feel like I’m losing him. He is never more present, however, than when he plays the piano,” his son said in that tweet. Watch him play above.

In his most famous performance, the pianist turned four notes, dictated by his son, into a beautiful, expansive piano improvisation. The video of the piece composed on those four notes, F, A, D and B, went viral with millions of views on social media.

Harvey and his son then saw TV fame, sharing their message of the power of music for those living with dementia.

A follow-up recorded version of this improvisation, ‘Four Notes – Paul’s Tune’, was released as a charity single in 2020. It reached No.1 on the UK singles download chart and raised over £1 million for Music for Dementia and the Alzheimer's Society.

Then, in December 2021, the pianist teamed up with singer and Classic FM presenter Aled Jones for a Christmas charity single, entitled ‘Christmas Isn’t Just Another Day’.

In the King’s birthday honours, announced ahead of the monarch’s official birthday on 17 June 2023, Harvey’s contribution to fundraising was acknowledged with the award of an OBE for services to charity and to people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. In total, the 83-year-old pianist has raised over £1.5 million for those causes.

Harvey passed his Grade 1 piano at just four years old, going on to study at Guildhall School of Music in London. He worked as a composer and pianist until the birth of his son, Nick, when he began teaching at Imberhorne School in East Grinstead. He taught there for 20 years, becoming head of music. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2019.

His son, Nick Harvey, says the OBE is a “fairytale end to an incredible story. Dad can’t quite believe it and is moved beyond words.”

“Dad, on behalf of your three sons, we are bursting with pride, and love you to the moon and back.”