Rethink Your Mind 2015 - House of Lords Prize Giving
I remember the exact moment I wanted to be an artist. It was back in 1994, at an exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. I was 15 and myself and a friend had gone up to the city to visit her father, who at the time, was working at the Natural History Museum. He suggested we go and see this amazing wildlife artist. So off we went and as we walked in, there was the artist sitting at a desk by himself surrounded by the most beautiful graphite wildlife drawings I have ever seen. That artist was Gary Hodges.
That was a long time ago and both of us have progressed so much since then. He was the chair of the art panel for the competition and is the UK's best selling and most collectable pencil artist. He has sold nearly 110,000 signed and numbered prints from 128 limited editions and was awarded 'Best Selling Artist of the Year" by the Fine Art Trade Guild. His many fans include Virginia McKenna, Martina Navratilova, Pam St Clement (Pat!) and Rula Lenska.
It was when Gary Hodges shared a link to the Rethink Your Mind competition on his facebook page that I first heard about this fantastic campaign. All I had to do was upload a couple of artworks that I thought fitted with the brief 'I feel better when I am...'. I went for it and a few months later, I'm standing on the terrace of the Cholmondeley Room, House of Lords schmoozing with my art idol.
The day started off fairly relaxed, with a trip to the hair dressers to cover up my roots and transform me into a blond bombshell (or maybe a damp squib). Having been given such a glamorous hair style where I hardly recognised myself, it was time to race home, have a bite to eat, throw on my new dress and jacket and don my beautiful necklace, sourced especially for my outfit by my talented and tasteful friend Liz from Imella (check her out on facebook, her stuff is gorgeous!). My husband and children were also joining me in London, although not at the House of Lords, so with his rucksack filled to the brim with changes of clothes, potty, wipes, snacks and water, we were off to the station.
The last time Molly was on a train, she was a baby, so she was beside herself about going on the train and was convinced it was a ride at a fairground, when at the first stop, asked if we could have another go.
The arrival in London was a shock to the system. Coming from the peaceful Ashdown Forest, to the bustling streets of the city always takes me a while to get used to, but we eventually made it to the House of Lords itself and pushed through all the tourists and their cameras to the gate, manned by two policemen.
The big moment had arrived and I kissed my family as we parted ways. With my gold trimmed invitation and the all important photo ID, I stepped forward and in I went. After the compulsory bag check (where my hidden secret of a messy trash filled bag was laid to bare), I was escorted, along with the rest of the crowd, into what I can only describe as a tunnelled gateway. There we all stood, looking nervously excited and trying to make eye contact with a friendly face, so we didn't all look like complete loners.
A rather strict and wizened looking police woman instructed us to make a parting in the middle to allow those in wheelchairs through (she certainly looked like she'd seen it all and was not going to crack a smile, no she was not!). In a panic we all did what we were told, for fear of being thrown off the premises for disobedience and waited patiently.
'Only those going to the Cholmondeley Room, please follow me!'' called a rather important looking man and off we all marched through a door onto a plush red carpet in an ornate hallway, past a glass display cabinet full of memorabilia for the House of Lords. Then up a few steps and into a long room, ceiling draped with white silk material (everywhere!) and a deliciously enticing table covered with cups and saucers, glasses, sandwiches (crusts off!), cakes and cream teas.
Having been dragged through the crowds of London on the tube with a collapsed buggy and whinging child, I was so parched I bypassed all the lovely cakes and sandwiches and went straight for the water (I probably looked very like a horse at a trough at this point!). It was a beautiful sunny, HOT, day and what better way to cool off than to stand on the terrace, with a glass of icy water, looking out over the River Thames and the London Eye (well, it could have been a glass of rose wine I suppose!).
After some mingling, we were told to make our way inside for the speeches and presentation. We all stood in a crowd facing a podium, where the distinguished looking Lord Patel of Bradford OBE stood to address us.
There were many inspiring speeches, from many inspiring people, from Lord Patel to Professor Dame Sue Bailey OBE DBE, from the Cheif Constable of Leicestershire Police, to the lead singer of the band Refuge and founder of the project, Pete Hirst. All had the same message, that we need to rid the world of the stigma of mental illness and to encourage positive wellbeing through a creative channel, The Yellow Book.
We were also entertained by the hugely charismatic Lucy Ward, an award winning folk artist, who has been BBC Radio 2's Folk artist of the year for 2 years running and Mark Morriss, the lead singer of the Bluetones, who clearly felt uncomfortable with public speaking, but kept us all entertained (to name but a few!)
Then came the prize giving and I was the second of the Yellow Book winners to be called up. I dumped my bag by my feet and legged it to the front. Lord Patel handed me my, MY Yellow Book and with a hand shake and an official photograph with the Cheif Constable of Leicestershire Police, it was over and I was back standing by my bag, with a fixed grin, clutching MY Yellow Book, eager to have a flick through to find my drawing.
Having spotted Gary Hodges a moment before the speeches started, when the presentation was over, I grabbed the chance to speak to him and, perhaps, get a photo with him too. Like a star struck mad fan I bumbled my way through compliments and the story of how he inspired me to draw and he listen with interest whilst tucking into a lovely scone with cream and jam. I then asked nervously if I could have a photo, expecting him to just stand where he was and allow it to happen. But, his friend suggested we all go out on the terrace and have a proper photo, using my phone, with the London Eye in the background. The light was a bit bright that way, so we tried again facing the eye. It took everything I had to contain the squeal of excitment that was building up inside me.
With achy feet I was eventually reunited with my husband and children at Hamleys (you've got to visit Hamleys Toy Shop when in London!), then on to the Rainforest Cafe to have dinner with a couple of sleepy looking elephants who liked to chip into the conversation every now and again.
I am still on cloud 9, although my feet are a little unforgiving. I will shout about The Yellow Book for years to come now. It will be placed in police cells, prisons, schools, hospitals, care homes, doctors surgeries and more in an effort to support positive mental health and wellbeing. It's free! all you have to do is pay for postage and packaging, so pre order your copy today by going to the website www.rethinkyourmind.co.uk.