How Lego clicked for man with no hands

Being born without hands hasn’t hindered Co Londonderry man Desmond James Calvert from indulging his hobby - Lego. He talks to HELEN MCGURK

By Helen McGurk
Tuesday, 17th December 2019, 7:00 am
DJ with some of his Lego creations
DJ with some of his Lego creations

Desmond James Calvert has a fairly good idea what gifts he’ll receive this Christmas, and, in fact, every Christmas, for the Portstewart man who is crazy about Lego is sure to get a box or two of the brick-tastic building sets.

“When someone asks me ‘what do you want for your birthday or Christmas?’ I say, ‘Do you really have to ask me that?’,” he laughs.

Desmond James, 47, has gained international fame for his ability to construct Lego kits, a task which is even more impressive as he was born without hands. Known as DJ The Lego Man, he has been mastering Lego since he was a child and today shares his love for the brightly coloured plastic bricks at demonstrations with schoolchildren and, since earlier this year, with prisoners.

Lego creations

DJ was born without arms or legs, but building Lego has always been a cinch for this determined man.

To date he has completed over 80 Lego models - some with thousands of pieces and many with lots of fiddly bits.

‘‘I was nine when I got my first Lego- I think it was a train set.

‘‘The year after that I got my first Technik set which was a digger.

‘‘In those days there wasn’t a lot of money around so you were lucky to get a Lego set once a year at Christmas.’’

During his teenage years DJ abandoned his Lego hobby as he thought it was ‘‘uncool’’ and instead developed a passion for real diggers, tractors and forklifts.

‘‘I actually drove tractors and forklifts for years and I had a quad bike for nearly 20 years.’’

But during his 30s, his passion for Lego was re-ignited and he remains loyal to the construction toy.

‘‘I like the challenge of working with the Lego because, the way I look at it, Lego wasn’t designed for somebody with no hands, so to me that’s the challenge of building it.

‘‘When you get the box and you see all the bags with all the pieces of Lego in it, you think how is that going to turn into what’s shown on the picture..

‘‘People say I have a logical brain, but I have dyslexia. I would get my words mixed up and my numbers mixed up, but when it comes to building Lego I am fine.’’

DJ has two dedicated Lego rooms at his house,

‘‘About two years ago I built a summer house out the back of the house. When it comes to winter time it gets very cold, so at the beginning of this year I re-designed a small room in the house. I bought a secondhand teacher’s desk and build Lego in the house all year round now.’’

He has built between 80 and 90 sets and has at least another 200 boxes still to build - and when the sets are built he never dismantles his creations.

‘‘It’s a lot easier to build it than it is to dismantle it, so I just keep it built.

‘‘I am actually starting to run out of room to be able to display it all. I think I need to get a bigger house!’’

Having so much Lego in his home, and therefore the potential to lose pieces or mix bits up, DJ admits to being a stickler for order and tidiness.

‘‘They call me ‘OCD DJ’. I have everything in its place. When I go into my Lego room it’s all in its box and I know where everything is.’’

DJ was born five weeks premature with no hands and legs.

‘‘It was a big shock to my parents. My legs go down to my knees and my arms go to my elbows. There was no reason why it happened. It was just one of those unfortunate situations.

“I was born in Ballymoney and I had trouble breathing so I was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast and the doctors said to my parents ‘give him a name because we don’t know if he is going to last’.

‘‘A lot of the doctors said I wouldn’t amount to much. I just wish I could see those doctors now.

‘‘If somebody says to me ‘DJ, you can’t do it’ - I will do it just to prove them wrong..’’

These days DJ is invited to local schools to demonstrate his Lego-building skills and encourage youngsters to pursue his passion.

‘‘Building Lego is a good way to get kids off their computers and iPads. It gets them to create and use their mind and focus.’’

And he said children look beyond his disability.

‘‘They don’t really bother with the disability, it’s just about building the Lego. One kid came up to me and said ‘DJ, you’re more famous than Justin Beiber’,’’ he laughs.

He said it also gets kids ‘talking about disabilities’.

‘‘There’s a lot of bullying goes on, but if kids see me and see that I’m a normal person, OK, I’ve no hands and legs, but I’ve never met anybody yet that has been rude to me - everybody has been so nice.’’

In May he was invited to work with prisoners at Magilligan Prison and was such a hit he now goes every two weeks.

‘‘I work with prisoners that have mental health issues. Some of them have never built Lego in their life. I sit down and do a one-to-one with them and teach them how to build Lego.

‘‘The feedback I’ve got is brilliant; it’s helping them and it’s making them feel better.

“To me that’s a good thing, because when they get released into the community, they will look back and think about me helping them and then maybe they will do something to help other people, rather than going back into crime.’’

DJ, who has become something of an internet and media sensation, is intent on using his profile as a way to prove that we can all overcome life’s obstacles.

‘‘It’s easy for me because I’ve been born without limbs, but for someone who has lost a limb, maybe in a car crash or through illness, that has to be devastating, so if I can get across to those people that this is what I’ve done and I’ve done it all my life, then there’s no reason why you can’t do that.’’