- Credit: Archant
She has trekked the world for charity. Now a remarkable septuagenarian is defying disability to walk on air, writes Rowan Mantell.
Lesley Nicholson struggles to lift her feet from the floor – but later this month will soar into the skies on top of an aeroplane. The 72-year-old, of Lammas, near Coltishall, refuses to let Parkinson’s limit her life and has even taken lessons on a climbing wall to ensure she will be able to get to the top of the vintage biplane for her charity wing walk.
Intrepid Lesley has trekked through the Andes, along the Great Wall of China and across the Grand Canyon. She has been lost in the Gobi desert and ice-bound in the Antarctic, learned to tango in Argentina and walked through rainforest to see wild gorillas in Uganda. Many of her adventures have been since she was widowed, and diagnosed with Parkinson’s 12 years ago, but she says: “I really couldn’t keep up with the groups any more. I was always at the back with the doctor and the oxygen. In the rainforest we had to haul ourselves up a volcano using vines. Trekking to Macchu Pichu was six days and six nights of hell and in China we stayed with local families and ate peanuts and gherkins for breakfast, which is really difficult with chopsticks, when it is so cold you are wearing gloves inside. Then I slipped on Everest, we didn’t even get to base camp, and I needed a new knee!
“So when I read about this wing walk in aid of Parkinson’s UK I thought I wouldn’t have far to walk, just from the car park to the aeroplane! The cut-off age was 65 but I had a word with the pilot and told him I was in perfect health except for the Parkinson’s and he said that if I could climb up the aeroplane he would take me. Once you are up there you are really strapped in. You can’t fall off – at least I hope you can’t!”
So, on April 19, she will travel to a grass airfield in Essex, climb to the top of the vintage biplane and soar into the sky. “I’m terrified!” she admits. “Honestly, I don’t know why I said I’d do it. I’ve no idea how high we’ll go, and I really hope it doesn’t go upside down!”
Lesley lives next door to her daughter and three grandchildren, and says: “They think Grandma is absolutely barmy! This is just the sort of daft thing I’d do.”
Last year she became a film extra, when scenes for the forthcoming Forty Five Years, starring Charlotte Rampling, were filmed in Wroxham.
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“When I went to the Antarctic my luggage got lost and I had to wait for three days in Buenos Aires, so I took myself to a dance school to learn the tango. But by the time we were in the Antarctic nobody knew I was lame because the ship was going up and down so much we were all tottering around!”
Many of her treks have been in aid of charities and Lesley hopes to raise at least £4,000 for Parkinson’s UK. Fundraising events include a quiz and supper at Wroxham Barns on May 2. “I’ve paid all my own expenses so every penny given will go to Parkinson’s. People have been so generous.”
Although she walks with a stick Lesley still takes her dog, Maisie, out every day and is a member of a rambling group and a keen gardener. Her husband, Geoff, who was director of a building society, loved sailing and when he retired was part of the winning team in a 10-month round-the-world yacht race in the Millennium year.
“Sitting by a swimming pool in a deck chair would absolutely kill me,” says Lesley.
“And I don’t like being herded around, I like to take myself off round the corner and see how the world really lives.
“I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m not so bad. Everything aches and I need to stop and rest, but I can still get around. When I walk now I feel like I have lead boots and I can’t lift my feet off the ground - but I can wing walk!”
Anyone interested in sponsoring Lesley can send a cheque, made payable to Parkinson’s UK to Lesley Nicholson, The Bungalow, Little Hautbois Road, Lammas, Norwich, NR10 5JH.