‘I have a FIGHT­ING SPIRIT – that, to me, is re­silience’

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Gh Spotlight -

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’

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