I was warned to wear waterproof mascara at the Tesco Magazine Mum of the Year Awards 2011. I wasn’t warned not to whinge to anyone who’d listen beforehand about the horrors of not being able to find the kettle after moving house. Shallow? Yup, I definitely felt it as eight amazing mums came up on stage at the Waldorf Hilton in London to be showered with justified praise and love for their achievements. Naturally these women were not the types to blow their own trumpets. They’d all been nominated by other people and films had been made to show exactly why they deserved every bit of their day in the limelight.
The overall winner, Wendy Watson, has changed legal history in her 20 year campaign to highlight the genetic link to breast cancer. Her actions stopped the patenting of two genes linked to breast cancer, which would have made testing women prohibitively expensive. Her actions have saved countless lives and her case is now taught as part of university law courses.
Margaret Elliott’s son, James, drowned at the age of 14 saving a dog from a river. Instead of disappearing under the weight of her grief, Margaret, the Courageous Mum winner, is now on call 24/7 as a voluntary unit commander of the community rescue team.
Julie Walker’s daughter, Katie, lost her battle with cancer at the age of 20 and Julie, Achieving Mum winner, has since set up the Katie Walker Cancer Trust, tirelessly raising funds and supporting the families of children with cancer.
Inspirational Mum winner Julie Chambers’ daugter, Zoe, died after a heart transplant. Julie’s campaign inspired the Daily Mirror to encourage 1.2 million people to sign up to the NHS organ donor register, saving lives every day.
Community Mum winner Diane Godin set up the Potters Bar Special Needs Group, a special needs swimming club and a holiday scheme for children with severe allergies. Even after being diagnosed with breast cancer, she has run the London Marathon and the Race for Life to raise money.
Joyce Sheriff, the Real Radio Mum winner, has fostered 33 babies, many born to parents with drug or alcohol addictions. She started fostering after the death of her own 15-year-old son, Pete, from brain damage after a brain tumor operation.
Karen Upton was this year’s People’s Choice Mum, voted for by thousands on Facebook. Since the death of her soldier husband, Sean, in Afghanistan two years ago, she has raised thousands for the Forces Children’s Trust and the Army Benevolent Fund, while caring for her children, Ewan, 11, and Hollie, 8.
Celebrity Mum of the Year was Coronation Street star Sally Dynevor, who beat breast cancer while simultaneously playing a breast cancer storyline in the soap. After a very tough year she has come through with the support of her husband and three children, and of course Coronation Street fans everywhere.
All the mums looked a trillion dollars and were clearly worth far, far more to their doting families. Their stories were, frankly, pretty harrowing but the occasion managed to be upbeat and celebratory, even through the audience’s sniffles. Every woman had survived the worst that can hit a wife and mother in life and managed, somehow, to find something positive in the experience and to bring comfort, joy and hope into other lives. I can only hope that, if I were ever tested they way they have been, I would manage to rise to the challenge as magnificently as they have done, and possibly even stop whinging about lost kettles for a moment.
The event was organised like a seamless military operation and the Waldorf’s Palm Court was as chic as an upmarket wedding reception. I was sitting with lovely fellow bloggers Laura, Liz and Claire, on a table with Emma Forbes and Cherry Healey with gorgeous purple flower arrangements on every table, though these did slightly impede our view of X Factor star Shayne Ward, lissome singers The Overtones and the wondrous Beverley Knight.
Luckily, I’d been able to get a sneaky glimpse of all the acts beforehand as I had an access all areas pass (gasp!) and spent the morning backstage watching everyone get ready for the big event and having a bit of a chat to the stars. In fact, I’d seen Shayne in the green room and thought he was a particularly fit set builder – in my defence he was wearing a huge grey woolly hat and those falling-down, inch-of-pants-waistband trousers, accessorised with big tattoos. Nothing like the fancy shirt and trousers he eventually performed in. I did take a picture of him in builder mode during the sound check, but one of his people asked me not to use it ‘as he hadn’t had his make-up done yet.’ Ahem.
The atmosphere backstage was pressured but very good natured – I think the amazingness of the mums rubbed off on everyone around them and all the celebs involved were very unstarry and genuinely lovely. While the mums were having a photo shoot, I bumped into Fiona Phillips, looking amazing in a black lace dress and shiny nude-coloured shoes. She said she’d asked her little boy what the word ‘mum’ meant to him while they were driving home the day before. ‘He said ‘everything,’ and I just welled up. Then my older son, who’s 11, said ‘creep.’ But I think it shows how important mums really are. There aren’t many occasions which just celebrate being a mum, which makes this one so special.’
Tiny Sally Dynevor, also in black lace and with a lovely elfin hairstyle, said she was very moved to have been chosen as Celebrity Mum. ‘It really is so much better than a BAFTA. These women have incredible, inspirational stories and it’s been very emotional spending time with them. I love women anyway and these are really special people.’
I caught up with People’s Choice mum Karen Upton while she was having the creases steamed out of her beautiful oyster satin dress. All the mums had been whisked off by Tesco to find outfits they loved so they’d be comfortable on their big day, and had spent all morning, from 7.30, being primped and groomed. ‘It’s been great just to meet all the other mums involved. It’s quite an overwhelming day for us all, really, we’re all just living our lives and weren’t expecting something like this. I’m so pleased though, for my children, Ewan and Hollie.’
As I left the Waldorf, clutching my goodie bag (thank you, Tesco!) I stepped onto the red carpet. The assembled paparazzi picked up their cameras for a second, then rapidly put them down again. Back to reality. Back to the search for the kettle. But no more whingeing. Well, definitely not today, anyway.