Brought to you by

Yorkshire VIPs look back on their best day of 2023

Stephen Cottrell. Archbishop of York meets Pope Francis. (c) Stephen Cottrell
Stephen Cottrell. Archbishop of York meets Pope Francis. (c) Stephen Cottrell

A new year is about reflection as well as inspiration – we talk to people from across Yorkshire about their high days of 2023, which will definitely give you a bit of food for thought and raise a smile

Stephen Cottrell

Archbishop of York

2023 was a bustling, busy and beautiful year, so it is hard to pick out just one day. But I’m going to pick Monday May 22 when I was in Rome for the first time and had an audience with the Pope.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew the visit was taking place, but I also knew his health wasn’t good, and wondered whether we would just be ushered in, shake hands, share a few pleasantries, and that would be that. But it turned out to be rather more.

A car was sent from the Vatican to the Anglican Centre, where I was staying. We were waved through various security checkpoints, and in the inner courtyard of the Vatican there was actually a red carpet laid out on the steps. It may not have been put there specially for me, but I was suitably impressed.

My wife accompanied me. She is a potter. And as a present for the Pope, she had made a beautiful bowl with some words of Saint Francis of Assisi in praise of God, the Creator inscribed around the rim. Several other colleagues from York were also with me.

When we had been ushered in and shaken hands, and exchanged gifts, and just as I thought the visit was probably over, the Pope invited us to sit down. For about half an hour, we spoke about things of common interest: the need to live lightly on the Earth, the need for Christian unity. ‘We must work together, walk

together, and pray together’, said the Pope. Then, as the meeting came to a close, we did just that and said the Lord’s Prayer.

It was only half an hour in a lovely day and part of a lovely visit, but it was deeply moving. We followed it with cappuccinos in a café nearby. Then a rather lovely lunch. Then other visits to other church leaders. And another excellent dinner to end the day. Polished off with a glass of grappa.

I am privileged to be able to make these visits and do what I can to do the things I spoke about with the Pope, trying to help us all to live in peace with each other, and with the Earth itself.

All in all, it was a lovely day.



Great British Life: Ellis Arey. (c) Gerard BinksEllis Arey. (c) Gerard Binks

Ellis Arey

Student, Leeds Conservatoire

On June 13, 2023, I got an email giving the green light for the ‘movie about my life’. Ok, well a ten-minute short film...

Sky Arts launched a competition aimed at artists and creatives for Leeds 2023: Year of Culture to pitch short film ideas answering the question: What’s worth fighting for?

I’m a student at Leeds Conservatoire and often practice on the pianos at Besbrode Pianos, which is an incredible piano dealership in Holbeck. It’s a warehouse packed with beautiful pianos, including Steinways. I had become friends with the owner, Melvin Besbrode, an artist himself, also from working class roots, who is always happy to support artists and musicians – including supporting local students, sponsoring piano competitions, and gifting pianos to the community.

Melvin worked a lot with a creative agency, Cause UK, run by Clair Challenor-Chadwick. They met to talk through ideas for the Sky Arts competition. And Melvin mentioned me.

They interviewed me on the phone for my life story. It’s pretty rare for a working-class lad, a boxer, in the rarefied world of classical music, to make it. And so, Working Classical Heroes was born.

They pitched to Sky the idea of me performing an original piano piece on a Steinway placed in the middle of a boxing ring! They commissioned another working-class musician, composer Ben Crick, to write the piece.

We filmed for two long days in October. As well as playing Ben’s piece, the short film tells my life story which is this: I grew up with a single working mum, working different jobs to put food on the table. I’d fallen in love with classical music at primary school, after hearing it during assembly. It was one of the most beautiful sounds I’d heard.

At school, I was jumped by a group of kids, which made me really insecure. So, I took up boxing. It grounded me, and instilled confidence and discipline, while the other kids on my estate were getting into trouble or into drugs.

As I was from a low-income family, I was eligible for a free instrument lesson at school, so aged 11, I started learning piano. Then my mum bought me a cheap keyboard from Argos one Christmas. When I was old enough, I got a part time job at the co-op to pay for more piano lessons. Now I’m in my third year at Leeds Conservatoire.

Our film aims to throw punches for the poor to have the opportunity to have careers in classical music. Now that music education has declined in state schools, it’s worth fighting for.

Working Classical Heroes will be broadcast on Sky Arts in 2024


Great British Life: Kate France with a cocktail at Windsor Castle. (c) Kate FranceKate France with a cocktail at Windsor Castle. (c) Kate France

Kate France

Founder of Huddersfield-based charity Uniform Exchange which provides free school uniforms to families in need throughout Kirklees

You don’t hear us Yorkshire folk using the word champion much these days … but my top day of 2023 really was a champion day out.

I was among 500 people throughout the UK named as Coronation Champions for their community or charity work to commemorate King Charles’ coronation.

For me, that included being lucky enough to be invited to the Coronation Concert at Windsor Castle with a line-up that included Take That, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli and Welsh bass-baritone Sir Bryn Terfel.

Wow, what a line-up. It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be there, and I went with my hubby, Andrew.

We have a hectic family life with three children, busy work lives and other family responsibilities so to take a whole day off and away from everything was a wonderful break in itself.

We loved walking around Windsor and, as it was a really special occasion, Andrew treated me to lunch at The Ivy there. I’ve a confession here – I love to check out the toilets at posh restaurants to see if they live up to the high standard of the rest of the place. They did.

After a cocktail at Windsor’s oldest restaurant The Drury House – well, you have to, don’t you – it was off to the show at the Castle.

I think the amazing spectacle of the 2012 London Olympics showed just what amazing events the UK can stage and this lived up to that high standard.

When the Royal family arrived the cheering was incredibly loud, which made me think that everyone who was there really wanted to be there. All the performers were phenomenal – it was the first time I’d seen Take That, and I’d always wanted to see them live – and the light show towards the end brought tears to my eyes.

It was just so spectacular and emotional – a moment in time that I’ll always remember and treasure.


Great British Life: Trek of a lifetime - Robyn Davies. (c) Robyn Davies.Trek of a lifetime - Robyn Davies. (c) Robyn Davies.

Robyn Davies

A work placement co-ordinator at Askham Bryan College, in York, took part in a horse ride across the Pyrenees with the Forces Wives Challenge.

It’s almost a year to the day, since an email dropped into my inbox and set in motion what would lead to ‘my best day of 2023,’ - June 26 – the start of what would be ‘my best week of 2023’. The email was from Forces Wives Challenge, telling me I had been picked to be part of a team of eight military wives who would take on FWC’s Ride to Freedom.

An expedition on horseback retracing the steps of those escaping occupied France during WW2 following ‘freedom trails’ in the Pyrenees mountains. What made it more challenging was one of our team members, Steph, being fully dependent on a wheelchair. She would become the first person with her level of disability to ride by horseback across the Pyrenees.

We landed in Toulouse on June 26 and travelled to the small town of Biert to begin our expedition. Over the five days of trekking, we spent two nights in mountain accommodation and two nights camping under the stars. Our trusty steeds were the incredible Méren horses, who are native to the Ariège region of the Pyrenees.

Every morning after a hearty breakfast we groomed and tacked up ready for a long day's riding. We tackled river crossings, fallen trees, wild herds of horses led by stallions and overly curious cows. The mountain passes we followed from France to Spain were challenging, with sheer drops, steep ascents and descents and the potential for falling boulders. Our route was made even more hazardous by the rapidly changing weather, extreme heat in the valleys, cold winds and thunderstorms at the top of the exposed mountains.

Through this journey of remembrance, our aim was to demonstrate the power adventure can have to those living with disability, chronic illness and mental health conditions. This expedition gave us the opportunity to show that anything is possible with determination, passion, dedication and a good sprinkling of laughter.


Great British Life: Abeer Mukhtar. (c) Abeer MukhtarAbeer Mukhtar. (c) Abeer Mukhtar

Abeer Mukhtar

LEEDS 2023 Neighbourhood Host for Hyde Park & Headingley

The LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture celebrated all the wonderful aspects that make Leeds special; local talent, strong communities, a vibrant cultural scene and of course amazing food. Hosting my event in July, meant that I had to brace myself for the inevitable. Rain. ‘Just showing you a bit of British culture’ I remarked in my opening speech, at the Cardigan Community Centre in Hyde Park. Fortunately, the rain did not discourage our community from showing their support and we persevered. The event was a resounding success.

I had the privilege of representing the Hyde Park and Headingley ward, a place I’ve called home for 35 years. Brimming with culture, Hyde Park and Headingley offers community hubs, artisan shops, local groups and coffee meets. There is something wondrous and surprising on every corner. Inspired by the creativity of the local community, I took my vision and began my quest to bring it to life.

From the rhythmic tapping of the Morris Dancers clogs to the melodious chiming of the ghungroo (musical anklet) worn by the Kathak dancer, it was a mesmerising day that left everyone in the community hall spellbound by the raw talent. The day celebrated a variety of performances and art workshops to storytelling and finally, closing the day with chair-based exercises whilst waving colourful pom poms in the air. All of this was accompanied by the inviting aroma and taste of homemade samosas and barbecued chicken wings, even if it was served under a gazebo in the middle of the car park.

Hyde Park and Headingley had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the beauty of why we need culture which is to learn, explore and celebrate differences as well as similarities. I could not have achieved my goal without the support of LEEDS 2023 and our community, local people who are passionate about what they do and who truly embody the incredible culture that defines Leeds.


Great British Life:  John Bruce, centre, with Chris Cubitt and Terry Newman on the NYMR. (c) Charlotte Graham John Bruce, centre, with Chris Cubitt and Terry Newman on the NYMR. (c) Charlotte Graham

John Bruce

North Yorkshire Moors Railway volunteer

On May 1, 1973, I was the Signalman at Goathland when the North Yorkshire Moors Railway formally celebrated the re-opening of the line between Grosmont and Pickering, by running a royal train conveying the Duchess of Kent. At that time, we had a paid signalman (John Hardy) at Grosmont, and myself (a volunteer) at Goathland. The train had originally been planned to run from Whitby, but, due to a national rail strike, was only able to run from Grosmont, and I had to rely on one of my fellow volunteers to transport me from my home in Darlington for the day, rather than catching a British Railways train from Darlington via Middlesbrough.

Fifty years later, on the same day in 2023, I was again the signalman at Goathland, and, as part of the day’s duties, had the pleasure of dealing with the commemorative train, hauled by the same two locomotives, and with some of the members of the footplate crews from 1973 on those locos. What did strike me was that there were so many more people at Goathland in 2023, than there were in 1973, as the focus was so much on Grosmont for the ceremonies and plaque unveilings.

The train briefly paused at Goathland this time (it passed through non-stop in 1973) for photographs, and it was a delight to see so many of the volunteers and staff from 1973 on board, enjoying the journey, and no doubt sharing many memories of those pioneering days, when almost everything we did was new. We certainly did not envisage how the railway would develop and grow into becoming one of Yorkshire’s major tourist attractions.


Great British Life: Mark GallimoreMark Gallimore (Image: Mark Gallimore)

Mark Gallimore

Charity fund-raiser

Step by step, Mark Gallimore has been raising funds for, and awareness of, children’s cancer following his son George’s diagnosis with leukaemia at the age of just two years. On March 19 of this year, he completed his 2,000th mile for Candlelighters.

The Gallimore family, from Acomb, York, had their life turned upside down by the news back in 2013 when George started treatment. Mark was introduced to the Candlelighters Children’s Cancer Charity and he has been raising funds for them ever since – the figure is more than £43,000 so far.

The wonderful news is that George received the all-clear in November 2016. Mark says: ‘I wanted to do something that you hope can make a difference to other families going through what we did. I did my first marathon in 2014 to raise money and as I crossed the finishing line I thought about what I could do next and I have carried on running ever since.

When I got to my 2,000th mile for Candlelighters having taken part in more than 150 events, including the Yorkshire Six Peaks and London Marathon, the day was certainly quite emotional. ‘I will carry on until my knees give in. My philosophy is that my knees may ache but that is nothing compared to what children are going through. Candlelighters have done so much for us so I want to do whatI can to spread the word about whatthey do. George, who is now aged 13, has also taken part in a few junior events and I plan to keep on running.


Great British Life: Dickie Bird, right. (c) Garry AtkinsonDickie Bird, right. (c) Garry Atkinson

Umpire Dickie Bird

One of Yorkshire’s most favourite characters.

My best day this year was on Wednesday April the 19 when I celebrated my 90th birthday. We had a marvellous lunch at Headingley where my best friend for many decades, Sir Michael Parkinson, with whom I played cricket at Barnsley, was present. It was the last time I saw him because he died in August, aged 88.

I miss him very much. I spoke to Michael the day before he died, and in October, I attended the ceremony in Cudworth where he was born, to unveil a plaque in his honour. My birthday lunch was brilliant and there were more than 300 people there. They’re still talking about it.

It was great to see so many friends. Jack Birkenshaw, who played for Yorkshire, Leicestershire and England and a former team-mate, was there as was Bryan Stott whom I played with at Yorkshire.

Michael Parkinson was interviewed by his son Mike. He chatted about me, how we first met and how important our friendship was. It was a memorable occasion. The profits from the lunch went to my foundation which provides grants to young people, under 16,so they can take part in a sport of their choice.

The one thing I was sorry about was that a few of my friends couldn’t be there because they were poorly. Clive Lloyd, the former West Indies captain, couldn’t make it, nor could Farokh Engineer, who played for India, and Jack Simmons, who was fine player for Lancashire.

Since then, I’ve enjoyed watching Yorkshire at Headingley and seeing our young players develop.


Yorkshire Life Read more

Latest articles

More from Yorkshire Life


Yorkshire Life Read more