Insight article

Role models, stories and Dame Vera Lynn

I spent yesterday shooting clay pigeons, racing quad bikes and driving a tank at Newick Park yesterday, all for Dame Vera Lynn’s charity to raise funds for children with cerebral palsy. I get involved in all sorts of charity skiing and shooting events – it’s a great way to contribute to some of the very worthy causes out there. Yet while we are having a great time participating in [usually] friendly banter and competition (and we girls are probably more competitive than most of the men put together), it’s easy to forget why we are there.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to a) shoot more clays than the other ladies and b) receive my prize from Dame Vera Lynn herself. She is a remarkable lady. Now 90, graceful as ever and perched on the back of a chair sporting a chic beret, she was the centre of attention in the room. But it was when she spoke about her charity, telling the story about how the Trust gets no government support because children under five with cerebral palsy are not deemed needy of ‘education’, telling stories about how these children need to be ‘educated’ on how to hold a spoon, to sit on a chair and to do all the simple things that we take for granted with our own children, that the perception and understanding of that charity’s purpose began to rise to a different level. Her lucidity, clarity and passion was amazing. Here was a national treasure, a true role-model, requesting in the most humble way that we dig deep to support her cause – not by asking us outright, but simply by telling stories that struck deep into the emotions. But believe me, some of most vocal and showy men in that room were silenced yesterday, and they certainly dug deep.

A good storyteller can influence and persuade people in the most extraordinary ways, but there’s something about a very special role-model telling those stories with heartfelt passion that really made a difference. Dame Vera Lynn has an incredible story of her own to tell, but yesterday wasn’t about her, it was about asking us all to contribute to something she passionately believes in. I am sure that more than a few people walked away a few pennies lighter and with a new understanding and attitude towards the Dame Vera Lynn Trust. As she said to me privately and quietly, clasping my hand as we said our good-byes, “we all do what we can”.

Nailia Tasseel