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Cheshire VIPs look back on their best day of 2023

Cheshire's magnificent seven meet at Davenports Tea Room. (c) Kirsty Thompson
Cheshire's magnificent seven meet at Davenports Tea Room. (c) Kirsty Thompson

Take seven people who contribute to life in Cheshire. Get them together and ask them about the day in 2023 that stands out. The result: a celebration of those who help make the county a joy.

Great British Life: Noddy Holder (c) Kirsty ThompsonNoddy Holder (c) Kirsty Thompson

Noddy Holder

Singer/songwriter. Frontman of '70s iconic glam rock band Slade

SPECIAL DATE: July 6

Back on stage where he belongs

'These are the sort of nights to remember. I’m now 77 and I’m still rockin''

The night I stepped back on stage after years away, picked up a mic and rocked the crowd in my beloved West Midlands hometown of Walsall has to be my favourite moment from this year.

I was performing a gig with Tom Seals, Cheshire’s own boogie-woogie piano player extraordinaire.

Together we put on a Desert Island Discs-style show with me entertaining the audience with stories and Tom and his incredible eight-piece swing jazz band playing some of my favourite songs.

Great British Life: Noddy Holder and Tom Seals on stage. (C) Ron Milsom Noddy Holder and Tom Seals on stage. (C) Ron Milsom

My last-minute decision to sing a few numbers myself was a shock to the audience and brought the house down.

Why this decision to get back on stage after a long absence?

Well, five years ago I was given just six months to live after being diagnosed with oesophagus cancer. I accepted the challenge to be part of a trial to try a new treatment offered by Professor Was Mansoor and his amazing team at The Christie in Manchester. What had I got to lose? Five years on and I’m still standing.

Tom’s invite came just at the right time, especially as one of the shows we did this summer was in the town, where I began my career. July 6th was a riotous night; fun was had by everyone – including myself and the band.

These are the sort of nights to remember. I’m now 77 and I’m still rockin’.

Great British Life: Ian Puleston-Davies. (c) Kirsty ThompsonIan Puleston-Davies. (c) Kirsty Thompson

Ian Puleston-Davies

Actor, writer, director

Red carpet premiere of his directorial debut, Bolan’s Shoes

'It’s a dream come true, and it’s given me a new flame in my belly'

SPECIAL DATE: September 14

It’s been a few years in the making – and there are points where we didn’t know if it would be possible – but walking down the red carpet with Timothy Spall, Leanne Best and my son and daughter Charlie and Maggie was a real high point.

We were at FACT Liverpool for the premiere of my first film as a director, Bolan’s Shoes.

It started in the confines of lockdown. We filmed it with masks, testing every day, so we never knew whether we would have a full crew from day to day. But, in fairness, had it not been for lockdown, it wouldn’t have happened because I probably would have been busy acting. I wouldn’t have had time to write and direct.

It’s a dream come true, and it’s given me a new flame in my belly.

Basically, it's about separated siblings, from a children's home in Liverpool. One incident takes place in these young kids’ lives that changes the course they’re on forever. We filmed in Liverpool and Anglesey –, some of the places that have always been special to me, growing up here.

Great British Life: Ian Puleston-Davies with the cast of Bolan's Shoes at FACT LiverpoolIan Puleston-Davies with the cast of Bolan's Shoes at FACT Liverpool

We were so lucky with the cast. Timothy Spall doesn’t need to work, but the script landed on his desk, and he graciously accepted, making all my dreams come true. I’ve wanted to direct Leanne forever. She’s known for playing friends, best friends and girlfriends, mums and wives, but I wanted to see her play the lead. This is her moment of glory, and she absolutely shines.

At the premiere, she brought her dad, Roag Best (half-brother of The Beatles' original drummer Pete Best) and obviously, he’s a Liverpool legend. We had so many friends come to the premiere – Sheridan Smith came to support us and lots of the Coronation Street and Hollyoaks casts.

There was a moment when I stopped and thought ‘wow, it’s really happened’. Sometimes things work out.

Bolan’s Shoes is out now.

Great British Life: Dee Drake. (c) Kirsty ThompsonDee Drake. (c) Kirsty Thompson

Dee Drake

Founder, The Toy Appeal

SPECIAL DATE: May 3

Garden Party at Buckingham Palace to celebrate her BEM in the New Year’s Honours

'That first year we gave out 500 toy sacks. This year it will be 12,000'

It was a day of firsts – the first garden party King Charles had hosted, and his first honours list as monarch. We were there at Buckingham Palace three days before the coronation and there was a real buzz in the air.

I was there to celebrate the British Empire Medal. I couldn’t quite believe it when I was told I’d been nominated for it, for the Toy Appeal.

This is our 10th anniversary, and it’s an absolute labour of love. My husband Chris and I couldn’t have children of our own, so we set this up in 2013, to try to make a difference and help children and young people. That first year we gave out 500 toy sacks. This year that will be 12,000, going to children across the North West who might not otherwise receive a gift.

Great British Life: Dee Drake with friend at Toy Appeal volunteer Christine Yeates at Buckingham PalaceDee Drake with friend at Toy Appeal volunteer Christine Yeates at Buckingham Palace (Image: Dee Drake)

It’s grown thanks to all the volunteers – we all give up our time all year round – and this year there are 500 of us.

There’s more need than ever. The cost-of-living crisis is hitting people hard. People who might previously have been in a position to donate to the appeal are now coming to us looking for help. Schools, food banks and women's refuges are all asking for help.

The response has been incredible. People are so generous. Being part of it is my highlight every year, along with the thought that all those children and young people might have a better Christmas.

READ MORE: A year in the life of Cheshire’s Toy Appeal charity

 

Great British Life: Jeannie France Hayhurst. (c) Kirsty ThompsonJeannie France Hayhurst. (c) Kirsty Thompson

Jeannie France-Hayhurst

High Sheriff of Cheshire 2022-2023. Retired family law barrister

SPECIAL DATE: April 4th

Cygnets Musical Theatre in Wilmslow

'I do think Cheshire is special, and people here go above and beyond'

When they asked if I’d like to be High Sheriff, I saw it as an opportunity to celebrate the people of Cheshire and the truly outstanding work that goes on quietly in every part of the county. The term of office runs from April 2022 to April 2023, so by the time the new year came around, I’d already had so many wonderful days and nights meeting people and learning more about the work that goes on.

For me, after how much people suffered during Covid, it was about getting back to being joyful in each other's company.

I gave out so many High Sheriff’s awards – more than 50 because I kept finding wonderful people all over the place who really deserved it. I’m biased, I realise, but I do think Cheshire is special, and people here go above and beyond.

Great British Life: Jeannie France-Hayhurst at Cygnets in WilmslowJeannie France-Hayhurst at Cygnets in Wilmslow

I was aware that I had to be fair, and I thought if I chose the old, I would antagonise the younger and the middle-aged, but all my life somehow, I've gravitated back to kids. I find them so enthusiastic and so bouncy. I saw a lot of children during my year, and there was so much waving and smiling and dancing and laughing.

One day that really stands out was going to meet a group of children called the Cygnets. They're all going to grow up to be beautiful swans, thanks to a terrific team who bring them on in terms of musical theatre. They were spectacular.

That’s my abiding memory of an extraordinary year – meeting people of all ages who bring joy and cheerfulness to other people's lives. You can't eliminate the darkness in the world, but you can make your own patch feel a little bit brighter.

 

Great British Life: Belinda Davenport. (c) Kirsty ThompsonBelinda Davenport. (c) Kirsty Thompson

Belinda Davenport

Tea expert and owner, Davenports Tea Room, Bartington, Northwich

SPECIAL DATE: August 8

Picking tea in Scotland

'An amazing experience, being a culmination of everything that has happened to me through tea'

I was so sure my best day of 2023 was going to be Davenports receiving the Cheshire Life 2023 Food & Drink Awards Best Tea Room, but it was pipped after I had the most amazing experience on a trip to Scotland.

I've spent the past 17 years studying and serving teas, carefully nurturing my own six tea plants (camelia sinsensis) here in Cheshire for three years, only to have lost five in that awful cold snap earlier this year.

Then this summer we headed to Scotland to meet one of the Nine Ladies Dancing Scottish tea growers group.

Great British Life: Belinda and Ian Davenport picking tea in ScotlandBelinda and Ian Davenport picking tea in Scotland

In the UK we have the largest tea plantation in Europe at Tregothnan in Cornwall, another in Dartmoor, one in Wales, one in Jersey and 50 small plantations in Scotland.

We visited Ronnie Murray Poore, from Perthshire, who has 1,200 seven-year-old plants. This was such an amazing experience, being a culmination of everything that has happened to me through tea, and to pick in Scotland was such a beautiful experience. After the pandemic, we never thought we would still have a business, let alone be visiting people. It really does make you appreciate the experiences.

davenportsofcheshire.co.uk

 

Great British Life: Debbie Dixon. (c) Kirsty ThompsonDebbie Dixon. (c) Kirsty Thompson

Debbie Dixon

Founder, The Aaron Dixon Memorial Fund and supporter of CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young)

SPECIAL DATE: May 10

Collecting the Pride of Britain Award from a young woman whose life was saved by CRY

'The tears started when Charlotte appeared on screen to thank me for saving her life'

I have been very fortunate this year to have been given the Hoppy Award for outstanding service to the community and also chosen as a Coronation Champion – one of 500 people in the UK invited to Windsor Castle for the Coronation Concert.

The day that stood out for me, though, was being awarded the Pride of Britain, Pride of Manchester Special Recognition Award for the work I do in memory of my son Aaron, who we lost suddenly at the age of 23 to an undetected heart defect.

Since losing Aaron I have been raising money to fund heart screening in Cheshire for all 14 to 35-year-olds. To date, £530,000 has been raised, which has screened 5,500 young adults, 217 being referred with abnormalities.

Great British Life: Debbie Dixon with Charlotte Carney at the Pride of Britain AwardsDebbie Dixon with Charlotte Carney at the Pride of Britain Awards

I went to the Pride of Britain Award at the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel, with my husband Gary, our daughter Hollie and her fiancé Dale Offord, two of Aaron’s close friends Jadie Hassell, Oli Daniels and Charlotte Carney.

After being interviewed on the red carpet, the champagne reception was next, much needed as my nerves were at an all-time high.

The Special Recognition Award was announced and my name called out. Before I took to the stage a short film was shown, the tears started when Charlotte appeared on screen to thank me for saving her life.

She had attended one of the Cardiac Risk in the Young Screening Days I hold in Cheshire and was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy and went on to have a heart transplant.

The award was presented by the actors Chris Bisson and Victoria Ekanoye. The evening was so special and meant so much to me personally, as it not only highlights the charity but also the importance of screening for all young adults.

c-r-y.org.uk

 

Great British Life: Jonathan Guy. (c) Kirsty ThompsonJonathan Guy. (c) Kirsty Thompson

Jonathan Guy

Founder and MD, Aqueous Digital, Sutton Weaver, Runcorn. Author

SPECIAL DATE: June 16

Halton Business Awards at Halton Stadium

'We've got five apprentices and they're the ones who are the heart and soul of what we do.

I didn’t realise until later that there was a photo that summed up the best moment of my favourite day of the year. We’d just won the Best Large Family Business award at the Halton Business Awards, and everyone lined up to go on stage and collect the award. The directors are on the two far sides, and there, in the middle are the young people who work with us, right at the centre of the stage, just where they should be.

Our company, Aqueous Digital, is a family-run digital marketing agency based in Sutton Weaver specialising in search engine optimisation, website content strategy and reputation management.

Great British Life: Jonathan Guy with the team at Aqueous DigitalJonathan Guy with the team at Aqueous Digital

Emma, my wife, is chief commercial officer, then we've got son Marcus, 25, who's a financial controller for us, and daughter Gabriella, 27, who does work on social media and some content writing for us. And then our youngest, Elliott, 17, was in the office over the summer holidays helping out as well.

One of the things we've done over the 12 years we’ve been in business is to make a commitment to invest in our people – not just the usual corporate strategy: we try to go the extra mile. Many of our employees are young people just starting out, and we want to give them the tools to achieve their ambitions. We've got five apprentices and they're the ones who are the heart and soul of what we do. The ones who actually make it tick on a day-to-day basis.

It’s a family business in every sense of the word and looking back and I was so pleased to see the young people we work with taking ownership of that award.

Jonathan’s book, Search Never Sleeps, is out now.



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