I'm delighted to report that the walks for CRY in July 2007 were a great success and over £60,000 was raised.
My personal challenge on July 7th was to walk from Hampton Court to Tower Bridge crossing all the bridges and covering the 32 miles within the day.
My great friend Diana Watson walked the entire distance with me as did Mark Shepherd from CRY. Mark walked in memory of his sister who died suddenly at the age of thirteen.
For the first twelve miles we were also joined by Hilary Herbert, Carolyn Stirrat and Julia Snow – names familiar to those who read my Opera Walk blog.
We were incredibly lucky with the weather. After weeks of torrential rain the sun shone kindly on us all day – what a summer!
I'd like to thank my son Will and his girlfriend Sharon, Diana's son and daughter, Richard and Helen and my devoted fan Beverley Bickerstaff for joining us along the way – they imbued us all with renewed energy and fresh conversation as the miles rolled by.
We were wonderfully fed and looked after by Rebecca Zouvani and her team from CRY and the 32 miles sped past as we were fuelled by the most amazing flapjacks any of us had ever tasted!
Thank you especially to Koula for her marvellous catering.
When 8.40pm came, it saw us all clasping our drinks as we sat outside the hotel beside Tower Bridge. It was cheers all round for a great day and the successful completion of the first part of the CRY Walk.
Jill Phillips, a splendid friend and veteran of both my previous charity walks, not only ran the 'girls' back from Chiswick Bridge to Hampton Court but massaged my feet – twice! This was undoubtedly above and beyond the call of duty. She also took me back to Putney after the walk and gave me a bed for the night! I have to say, the whisky went down very well before bedtime … and I'm enormously grateful for her wonderful support and friendship.
The main walk on July 15th was an altogether different occasion.
Four hundred and twenty people assembled in the Victoria Embankment Gardens and at 10am I led the first fifty people past the Houses of Parliament, over Westminster Bridge and onwards back and forth across the Thames to Tower Bridge.
At least 300 of those who walked were bereaved; it was heartbreaking and uplifting to see the courage of so many who had lost so much.
I spoke to as many people as I could and time and again found myself fighting back tears as I heard about the deaths of their beloved children.
It brought home to me why we were all there – not only to raise money and awareness but to walk in memory of so many lost lives. To see the beautiful young faces printed on so many official T shirts drove home the terrible tragedy of such losses.
I'd like to say a huge thank you to all those who were in involved in the walk – Rebecca and her team and all the walkers and supporters.
My abiding impressions of that day were the astonishment I felt to see my idea turned into reality and the admiration and compassion I felt for my fellow walkers.
It looks as if the London Bridges Walk for CRY is going to be an annual event and I hope it will grow and grow until the time comes when a national screening programme is put in place in the UK and no more young lives are lost through undiagnosed heart problems.
The date of the next CRY Bridges of London Walk is provisionally Sunday July 26th 2009 – so I hope you'll join us and help me help CRY.
For all the latest from the Opera Walk click here.
To many people the world of opera is a glamorous and magical place; a world full of beautiful sets and costumes and with music sung and played by extraordinarily gifted performers. Behind all the glamour, however, an opera company is like any other group of people working towards the pursuit of excellence in their field. And, like any other group of people, those who work in opera are subject to illness and injury.
The Benevolent Funds at ENO and WNO help former employees to survive when times are really hard. Opera singers and orchestral musicians are frequently perceived as wealthy individuals whose gifts exempt them from the trials of everyday life. Well, this really isn't true for the majority who work in the theatre. There are some artists who make it big time and earn enough money not to worry about financial hardship should they fall ill and be unable to work. But for most this is simply not the case.
The funds support employees from every branch of the company; stage hands, canteen staff, administrative staff, cleaners as well as the orchestra and chorus. And to the beneficiaries, the money they receive from the Benevolent Funds can make the difference between surviving and going under.
It would be marvellous if I could harness the legendary generosity of the great British public through the Opera Walk. If every one of the millions of classical music enthusiasts donated £1, the future of the funds and the beneficiaries would be assured.
So, please join me on my big adventure by helping the people who make opera possible and bring mystery, glamour and music into our everyday lives.
I devised the Opera Walk a year ago whilst working in France for Lyon Opera. After a rehearsal five floors below ground, I was talking to international tenor and chairman of the English National Opera Benevolent Fund, John Graham Hall. He was playing my poor, put-upon son in Janacek's opera, Katya Kabanova. As we waited for the lift, Johnny asked me if I had any ideas on how to raise money for the ENO Ben fund because they were in difficulties. I heard myself say, "I could always go for another long walk," and the Opera Walk was born.
Five years ago I walked from John O'Groats to Land's End for the aphasia charity Speakability. With my great friend and fund-raising genius Jill Phillips organising the project and driving the red transit van like a demon, I raised £86,000. I also had an absolutely brilliant time walking 1,000 miles, giving concerts and getting to know some of the most courageous people I've ever had the good fortune to meet.
Aphasia is a terrible condition which robs the victim of his or her power of speech to a greater or lesser degree. To lose the ability to communicate via words is a shocking loss of freedom on so many levels. People with aphasia are often treated as if they are drunk and stupid. Because they have few or no words, they can't answer the phone, fill in forms, ask for help...the list goes on and on. And people of all ages can become aphasic; head injury, sustained for example in a car accident or riding a bicycle, brain surgery and stroke can all take away the power of speech. While I was walking a boy of eleven had a stroke and lost his speech.
Tragically, not everyone receives the speech therapy necessary to regain as many words as possible immediately after the illness or injury. Speakability runs self-help groups all over Britain and is one of the chief lifelines for victims of aphasia.