SW Newsletter #31

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Feb 5th 2008

Guildhall, London

Picture the scene: a Thursday evening in London, a posh limo, a red carpet with waiting paparazzi, a champagne reception, a room full of very famous people, and me in a dinner jacket. No, it’s not the Star Wards Christmas Staff party, it’s the Morgan Stanley Great Britons Awards. And our very own Marion Janner was up for a gong. (Or in this case, bizarrely shaped statuette.)

To be exact, she’d been nominated for the Great Briton award in the category of Campaigning and Public Life. There were three people on the shortlist: Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the explorer; Shami Chakrabarti, head of Liberty, and Dame Marion Janner of Muswell Hill.

Now I could write this account in a way that built up the tension, that left you wondering until the very last moment whether or not she’d won. But, let’s face it, if she’d won we’d have certainly told you all by now. And anyway, that wouldn’t have been quite true to the event, because when we got in there we had a kind of feeling that it was not going to be our night. For a start we were situated on a table around three and a half miles from the stage; if Marion’s name had been called, she’d have had to have got on a bus to collect her award. Secondly, the winners all had little films made about them. Marion was absolutely positive that, were any film ever to be made about her, she would know about it. (In fact she would want to be in it.)

No, in the end Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty won the award. And deservedly so. Still, as many people said to Marion  and I on the night itself, it’s a tremendous achievement to have been shortlisted, and a real testimony to the impact that Star Wards is having up and down the country. Of course, at the risk of getting far too gushing, we were only there because what you and dedicated staff like yourselves have done with Star Wards ideas. We’re constantly enthused, amazed and impressed by your creativity and hard work. As Star Wards 2 will show – with it’s estimated 400 new ideas!

Given that nearly all the people on the various shortlists – people  like Lewis Hamilton, J.K. Rowling, Damien Hurst, Stephen Fry – were household names, it was fantastic to have our project featured in such a high profile event.

I enjoyed the evening. (But then, being a writer, I always enjoy events where there is free food and alcohol: it’s kind of what we writers do.) There were some tricky moments, admittedly. Like just before we set off, when I had to accompany Marion to the shoe shop otherwise she’d have had to go wearing her trainers. Or the moment, when all the photographers who, up to then had been busy taking snaps, suddenly stopped when Marion and  I walked down the red carpet. (I took a photo myself to prove it.)



Dame Marion Janner, captured on the red carpet by the paparazzi. (Well, me, actually.)

Perhaps the trickiest moment when Lady Thatcher got a lifetime achievement award and addressed the crowd quite clearly believing that she was talking to a load of party workers. This, even for those of us who remember the Thatcher years with a certain shudder, was quite a poignant thing. As Marion observed, leaving aside the politics, maybe we should just celebrate the fact that an elderly lady with dementia was given the freedom to address all these people. Given that so many politicians fake short-term memory loss, it was quite refreshing to find someone who genuinely suffers from it.Sadly we didn’t get to meet J.K. Rowling. She couldn’t make the awards because she was doing something really important in Edinburgh. Like rolling around in her money. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton won the Great Briton award for sports. (He’s a great Briton because (a) he came second in the world championship and (b) he’s moved to Switzerland.) But we did get to say hello to Tim Smit of Eden Project and Heligan fame – and what a lovely man he turned out to be. He even managed to ignore Marion’s nervously muddled up opening line which informed him that ‘She’d always been a hero of his’. (I also managed to shake the hand of Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit. I gushed effusively about his work, while he smiled and tried to attract the attention of security.) I also met excellent people like the social entrepreneur (and last year’s Public Life award winner) David Robinson, who has been a tremendous supporter of Star Wards; and a film director called Chris Atkins whose film Taking Liberties is up for a Bafta.

And I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a nomination than Marion. She has turned a traumatic experience into a project which works collaboratively with hundreds of wards up and down the country, resulting in happier patients and staff. I’ve worked with Marion for around 10 years now. She’s a bundle of energy, a passionate campaigner. She’s a Great Briton. All 4 foot 9 inches of her.

Now, where did I put my OBE?



Nick Page