Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pride of Britain Awards

I’m glad I popped a couple of tissues into my pocket before I left home. In fact, I’m surprised it wasn’t Kleenex, rather than Lidl, that sponsored last week’s Daily Mirror Pride of Britain Awards.

When we watched the television recording, trying to spot the back of my grey head amongst the huge crowd of celebrities (“No – that’s Phillip Schofield, no – Paul Hollywood, nope – I think that’s just an old waiter”), Jo was in floods. It was even worse at the actual event the previous night, where I was a guest of The Journal. The banker, the baker, the editor – everyone at our table was incredibly moved by the sight of ordinary people being honoured for their amazing achievements. 

The Grosvenor House Hotel normally gives me the shivers. It’s the home of the BAFTA television awards, where I’ve always been the bridesmaid, watching my far more worthy peers take the limelight while I skulk home with my paltry also-ran certificates. While they would be taken round the back of the stage for the winners’ photocall, I’d have to take the long walk up the stairs at the back to drink away disappointment with the other losers: ‘It’s an honour just to be nominated’, we would mumble through gritted teeth. 

 But this night was different. Despite the presence of the great (Cameron, Miliband) and the starry (Cowell, Forsyth), the real celebrities were the incredible heroes behind the stories. These were truly inspirational ordinary people who had overcome adversity or shown incredible courage. 

And some not so ordinary people: it was great to see the self-effacing Sir Tim Berners-Lee receive an award from David Cameron. After which, the inventor of the internet said humbly: ‘What makes this award special for me is the sparkling diversity of people around me here who have done all kinds of incredible things – braver and greater things than me. To be among them is a great honour’. 

He was referring to heroes like Brian Keane, who climbed into a burning car to rescue a driver trapped in a road accident; 75-year-old Betty McGlinchy, who has fostered nearly 1,400 children; the thumbs-up internet sensation Stephen Sutton, who, even after his death earlier this year, continues to raise millions for the Teenage Cancer Trust; or our own North East hero Tony Phoenix-Morrison, who carried his 7-stone fridge more than 1,000 miles to raise money for cancer research. 

But for me, the most moving part of the evening was the story of Cissy Adamou. 

This bright little girl has been through far more trauma than most people face in a lifetime. Diagnosed with a heart defect when still in the womb, by the age of 10 she had endured three major heart operations. When she was placed on life support, the doctors told her parents their daughter wouldn’t survive the night, but she pulled through. 

After a third operation failed, she was brought to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle for a transplant. There she spent months in intensive care, while the doctors also repaired damage to her kidneys, after which she was told she would never walk again. 

After 18 months of dialysis, and a new kidney donated by her Mum, Cissy eventually learnt to walk. But after overcoming all these obstacles, this February, on a family holiday in Turkey, the beautiful 15-year-old who seems to never stop smiling, felt appalling pains in her head, was diagnosed with a brain tumour and had to return to the UK for surgery. There the doctors also found spinal tumours. 

Facing radiotherapy, Cissy decided to shave off her own hair and donate it to the Little Princess Trust, which makes wigs for children who lose their hair during cancer treatment. Her sponsored head-shave raised £13,000, and now she spends all her spare time encouraging other cancer sufferers. 

She also writes a wonderful blog: Cissy says that her sole aim in life is to inspire people. When she received her award, to a long and genuine standing ovation, an entire lorryload of Kleenex tissues couldn’t have mopped up the tears from the great, the good, and rest of us in the Grosvenor House Hotel. 

Congratulations to her, and to all the Pride of Britain winners.

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