Rhythm & good times
Actor Shavaughn Ruakere recalls precious days with friends Hollie Smith and the late Helena Mcalpine, at a musical festival in 2009.
“I’m at Rhythm and Vines and with my friends Hollie Smith the singer – she’s in the middle – and Helena Mcalpine. Helena passed away from breast cancer not last year but the year before. She’d just started losing her hair from chemo. It was coming out in chunks. The night before we went to the festival, she wanted to shave it all off. We’ve got a video of it – she’s got a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and our friend, who also used to be a TV presenter on C4, has got big clippers, hacking off her hair. She made it into a mohawk.
She put on an afro wig and me and Hollie said we’d wear them, too. So we’re in our wigs walking in, and this 18-year-old ran past and whipped Helena’s off her head. She went nuts. I’m sure he got a big fright.
During her illness, Hollie was very much the nurse/ mother – she’s a very maternal person – very, very caring. She always knew about Helena’s treatments and where things were at. I feel like my role was more like, the fun friend. Helena wasn’t someone who talked about her illness, and she didn’t want it to define her.
Her funeral was amazing, it was at the St James Theatre. We called it a “fun”-eral because we knew that’s what she’d want. It was a celebration. This was the first time I’d lost a very dear friend. Even though I knew it was coming, she never got that ill from chemo.
When she did go downhill, it all happened pretty darn quick. She was really out of it because of all the drugs. When she was awake she wondered what was going on, was a bit grumpy, that sort of stuff.
When we brought her home from hospital, there were lots of people at the house. I went into her bedroom where she was sleeping and I was sitting on the floor, just listening to her breathe. It was almost dusk, sunlight was streaming through the French doors. There was this beautiful birdsong. I felt like it was a really special moment to have alone with her, because we might lose her soon. Out of nowhere, eyes still closed, she just went, “F...king birds...”
I was like “Oh yeah, you’re here.” Then she was trying to get up to go to the bathroom, walking into the wardrobe. She had her eyes closed but still seemed to know where she was. I was trying to get her back in the bed. At one point she said: “It’s all right.” And she called me Shavvy. It was the only time, during that time, I knew she knew it was me. Britt Mann
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