My first glimpse of a field of sunflowers as I drove from London to La Rochelle during the first week of my holiday, unashamedly brought tears to my eyes.
First of all, quite simply, because they were heart-stoppingly beautiful against the clear blue sky and I felt sharply how precious every single moment is-something that's often upper most in my mind especially when I share on a daily basis the challenges that blood cancer patients and their families face.
Secondly because I felt lucky to be there and I felt very proud of my reasons for being there. Callum James, aged 16, who I have known literally since the day he was born had decided that for his Duke of Edinburgh Award, he would cycle from London to La Rochelle to raise money for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, a distance of nearly 600 miles. It was a "family" effort with my husband planning the route, me booking hotels and Callum doing 2 weeks work experience with our fundraising team and then focusing on fitness post GCSEs, to ensure he could do his first 100 mile ride on the very first day of the challenge.
I must admit that I was very touched that he chose to do this for the cause that matters most to me in the world.Such a young chap, resplendant in his "Unstoppable" cycling kit (accompanied by two middle aged blokes in lycra!) certainly gained attention as we progressed through the French countryside. He was facebooked by Domaine de la Courbe, one of our overnight stops and even the owner of the gite we rented, Trevor Fox, sponsored him!
And of course thirdly, because I couldn't look at a field of sunflowers without thinking of John Baker, Angela and the Calendar Girls. John was given sunflower seeds to plant by his daughter-in-law Georgina while he was being treated for lymphoma, but sadly he didn't live to see them flower. The Girls have included a sunflower in every photo in every calendar ever since and the sunflower has become inextricably linked with their story.
Just 3 weeks later, I found myself in the Devonshire Institute in Grassington for the amateur dramatic world premier of Tim Firth's wonderful Calendar Girls play, to be performed by the Grassington Players.. It couldn't have been more fitting that the Premier was in the home of the Calendar Girls, coincidentally a place that Tim Firth frequently visited for family holidays as a child.
The hall was filled with beautiful hand-made crepe paper sunflowers, which I later poignantly discovered had been donated for the show by the family of the late Lucy Moore, who had made them for a party to commemmorate her 21st Birthday and who were delighted that they could be put to further good use.
I confess I felt some anxiety for the Players for the enormous task that they had set themselves, performing not only in front of the script writer himself, but also his inspiration, the Calendar Girls. I especially felt anxious for Angela and her family, because although the play is essentially a work of fiction, there is no doubt that it is inspired by the tragedy of John Baker's death- a much loved husband, father and friend. I needn't have worried, of course there were some very emotional moments (Angela's grandaughter offered me tissues at one point!), but the Grassington Players gave an extraordinary performance.
Beautiful direction from Edwin Williams was matched by a supremely talented cast and the authenticity of the location, the Yorkshire accents and the evident love, warmth and affection both for their subject and for each other made this an unforgettable and deeply moving evening.
I was quite impressed by my emotional control throughout the evening and then the simplest of things was my undoing, the projection of a field of sunflowers, representing John's field of sunflowers- evoking many memories and emotions.
Tim has a beautiful quote about sunflowers in the play, it says that the sunflower heads always follow the sun and that it's a lesson in life for all of us. In spite of tragedy the Calendar Girls have spent the last 13 years following their sun, taking every opportunity to make make the lives of others better through their humour, warmth and incredible fundraising skills.
Seasons of Love, our thank you Gala tribute to the Girls at the Royal Albert Hall on October 7th, will be a reflection of all that the Girls are and all that they have achieved with special recognition of Terry their photographer too. Beautiful popular classics and songs from favourite shows, with words some especially written for this event, will accompany the true story of the Girls, led by Alan Titchmarsh and Stephen Tompkinson. A highlight will certainly be Beth Neilsen Chapman and Patrick Doyle performing their song " I Find Your Love" from the Calendar Girls movie. And of course, the sunflower will be ever present throughout the show, just as John Baker still is in the lives of everyone who knew him- I hope that you'll be there with us for a celebration of our lovely friends, the Calendar Girls.