Sunday, December 06, 2009

I can't believe I was there! Downing Tweet Christmas Party Pt 2

I've said numerous times in this blog that it wasn't just William who got a new life when he had his transplant. It has been an incredible year for him. It has been an incredible year for Hope and Ellie who have been able to settle back at school with their friends and live the kind of life a 10 and 13 year old should live without waking up every morning the fear that their brother may die today. My own journey this year has been somewhat challenging and, at times, surreal. Like most Mums of a sick child. William and his care has dominated my life. I had to give up my work and completely fell off the social radar. There was no getting life back to normal for me after William's transplant because the life I lived before he got so sick had gone for good - my career, my partner (although he is still a good friend) and some of my other friends too. There was no picking up where I left off - I needed to start again and it isn't easy. I think this year for me can be summed up well in the chorus of Duran Duran's classic "Ordinary World" Even such a fantastic change as a life saving transplant can leave you searching where you go next. Life is certainly unrecognisable from that it was before William was born or to what it was when I lived in hospital with him month after month. I am still trying to find my way back into the 'Ordinary World' but I don't think I'm doing too badly. I look back on this year and see a near finished novel, several magazine features published, The 'Gifts of Life' images - the exhibition is postponed but the project has already had a huge impact, The 'Save Jess Campaign and Save Jess-tival and all the organ donor awareness that came out of that. I am now running the Christmas media campaign for Live Life Then Give Life with great success so far. It has been an exciting year, a whirlwind. I recently updated my website so please do have a look to see what I have been up to and what I will be getting up to in the future. It tells a very different story to that it would have done a year ago.

I am a single Mum and so can't always get out and about easily. A lot of this has been possible through social networking on Facebook and Twitter and, through those, I have made some connections with some amazing and inspiring people. Twitter, in particular, is fantastic in enabling you to connect with people who share your interests and passions. It also breaks down barriers and I have had many a conversation on Twitter with people I could never dream of connecting directly with in any other way. The Save Jess campaign utilised this by asking celebrity tweeters to forward messages about organ donation to their thousands, sometimes millions, of followers. One of the people it has been amazing to connect with on Twitter is Sarah Brown. Through Twitter, she has given us valuable support and personal encouragement towards our organ donation awareness campaigning and I have learned about many, many other campaigns and charities, including the Million Mums campaign I blogged about yesterday. If you didn't read yesterday's blog then please do now before reading onto. The message is important.

Sarah Brown has sent me messages of support and encouragement in the past but a week or two ago, I got a message from her asking for my postal address. A few days later, I received an invitation to the 'Downing Tweet Christmas Party' I had no idea what to expect. It is a very long time since I received an invitation to any party, let alone one from the Prime Minister's Wife to a party at Downing Street. Thankfully, I managed to arrange for Paul's Mum and Dad to look after William and the girls so, off I went to Downing Street. Emily Thackray and Holly Shaw were also invited and Emily and I exchanged several excited and nervous phone calls on the way. We were both grateful that we had arranged to meet and go in together and felt more confident feeling our way and networking as a pair.

That famous door, together with the Christmas tree and special road sign for the occasion.

I met some amazing people and so enjoyed hearing about them and their own passions and interests. With some of them, I shared a particular connection and hope that we will get to know each other better through twitter, following blogs and meeting up again. I'm not going to mention all those inspirational twitterers I met because I'm sure I would miss someone out and feel terrible about it but they were; people who have a disabled child or who lost a child and now run charities to support other families; people who have rebuilt their lives after a difficult break up and now help others to do the same; people who support and help Mums and families through the daily stresses and beyond; people who work in PR and have a particular interest in social networking; some young labour party supporters and political bloggers (a future PM?); writers; broadcasters; choreographers...and, of course Sarah Brown and Gordon.

I can't believe I chatted about William to the PM and his wife

Emily and I had a chat with Sarah about organ donation, cystic fibrosis and parenting a child with a medical condition. She was so down to earth it was incredible. I wasn't at all nervous, it felt just like chatting to another Mum about our children. Later, we went along to introduce Holly and found Gordon Brown there as well. Sarah introduced us to him and I had a chat with him about William and organ donation. He told me about a friend of his who had a heart transplant many years ago and assured me he "is doing everything he can" Like Sarah, he was very down to earth, easy to talk to and very genuine in his interest about William and organ donation.

Beverley Knight performing absolutely unplugged - no mic

One of the biggest supporters during the Save Jess Twitter campaign, and who often 're-tweeted' our messages, was Beverley Knight. She is a very warm and open blogger and someone who you really feel you get to know a little through her tweets. We were really happy to hear Sarah announce she was here and would be performing a couple of songs. Emily and I took the opportunity to thank her for all her support. She greeted us like friends and chatted for ages. You often think that the more famous tweeters won't remember your tweets in the way you remember theirs to you but she certainly remembered some of the exchanges I'd had with her.
She was also down to earth and absolutely lovely. She sang 'Shoulda Woulda Coulda" and "Gold", which she dedicated to all of us there. Both songs are great affirmational songs and have been made really special to me for being played by someone who has been so integral to the twittering that bought me to such an occasion on such an amazing night.

"Tweetipies" - mini mince pies with Twitter birds on them

Other celebrity twitters I chatted with included Brian Friedman from X-Factor who was very friendly and open. I told him how much William loved John and Edward and how gutted he was when they went out. I had a bit of exclusive news about them and when they may make an appearance again and was told he would see what he could do to arrange a hello for Wills, especially because we are supported by CHASE Hospice Care for Children, whom Simon Cowell is associated with. I'm not expecting anything to come out of that but we'll see. It would be an amazing and much deserved special treat for Wills, Hope and Ellie if anything does happen.

We felt quite bad because we would start chatting to people who were feeling upbeat and in a light hearted mood and would then move them with our stories about organ donation and the happy and tragic endings we have seen. The '3 people die every day' line was never far from my lips. Kirsy Allsop, from 'Location Location Location' was wonderful and moved enough to take an organ donor leaflet and form from me. We spoke at length to Margaret Vaughn, wife of Alistair Darling, who had popped next door from No. 11. She also has a dear friend who was one of the first to receive a lung transplant and is very supportive of organ donation. I did get a strong feeling how committed our Government are to improving the outcome for those waiting on transplant lists and I so hope they win the next election to continue the good work (for that, among many other reasons). The comedian, Peter Serafinowicz was also very moved. Sorry we bought the tone down right at the end of your evening Peter! To everyone I met and chatted with, every single one of you was inspiring in a different way and I am so glad to have met you. Please do stay in touch on twitter and, who knows, out paths may cross again in the real world again.

I'm sure there is more I want to say about the night. It was amazing and showed me how far I have come this year. From living a life pretty much entirely in isolation rooms in hospital and, if I am open and honest, pretty low in self confidence - to this, not just standing in No 10 with all these amazing people but everything that has happened on the way to that. It is, as I said earlier, surreal but incredible and something that I just hope I can build on now.

I'll just leave you with a link to the equivalent Friday a year ago so you can see what I mean.

Photo credits: All official No 10 Downing Street, Courtesy of @ SarahBrown (through Twitter)


Jesse said...

Wow! The party at Downing Tweet looks amazing!

It's great that you are raising awareness of organ donation. Do you know about the current NHS organ donation campaign? We thought you might be interested in 'Save the Tin Man' , designed to encourage people to sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register. Hope you like it, and do pass it on!

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