‘I have a FIGHTING SPIRIT – that, to me, is resilience’
Angela Baker is the force behind The Calendar Girls, who inspired a hit film, and now a London West End musical. But behind her success is a moving story of love and loss
Ours was a perfect love story. I was working in the student’s union at Sheffield University, when a man called John invited me to a dance. He was handsome, polite and charming. A year later, on his graduation day, he asked me to marry him. We had been married for 32 years when John was diagnosed with non-hodgkin lymphoma. He was only 53. The shock was shattering.
John’s deterioration was fast, and he spent most of his final few months in hospital. I was a member of the Women’s Institute in our Yorkshire village, and John was very amused when another member and friend, Tricia Stewart, suggested a group of us pose nude for a charity calendar to raise money for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, now called Bloodwise. It was only after John
died in 1998 that we went ahead with the calendar. The photoshoot was nerve-wracking, but I thought of how entertained John had been by the idea, and we all had a lot of fun posing. Word spread quickly, and by the end of the first year, we’d sold 88,000 calendars. Even then, none of us could have anticipated how things would escalate.
Today, The Calendar Girls, as we have become known, have raised more than £4m for charity. There’s been a book, a film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, a stage play and now a West-end musical, co-written by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow. At times, it feels as though our story has a life of its own, leading to opportunities we could never have imagined. But through it all, I was still dealing with the loss of John. This was the hardest part of our success.
When we were invited to dinners, the other women’s husbands and partners would be waiting to pick them up, but I was always alone. The whole Calendar Girls experience was a whirlwind, but I was in the centre of it all, clinging to my grief.
It’s not the success of our story that drives me; it’s knowing we’re making a difference to real people’s lives – to families, to loved ones, and couples like John and I. Time does heal, and I’m lucky to have fallen in love again, with Charles, who is a vicar and was one of John’s friends. John will always be part of my life. He helped me realise I have a fighting spirit. That, to me, is resilience. Looking inside yourself during the toughest moments, and finding the ray of hope that can bring you to life again.
Angela: ‘John will always be part of my life’