A North Yorkshire woman who became globally famous as one of the Calendar Girls has been honoured for raising £6m for blood cancer research.
After her husband John was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Angela Knowles joined up with friends from the Women’s Institute to pose for a naked calendar to raise money for Bloodwise, a charity that funds research for blood cancers.
Intending only to make a few thousand pounds, they printed 1,000 calendars to sell for £5 each, featuring Mrs Knowles at a piano as Miss February. However, the women were amazed after the calendar captured imaginations, eventually selling 88,000 copies and being featured in a film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, and a musical, written by Take That star Gary Barlow.
The film grossed $100m and the musical, which was a fixture of the West End in 2017 and toured the UK last year, became the most successful UK touring stageplay ever.
“We would have been happy to have made £1,000,” said the 74-year-old, who served as a trustee for Bloodwise for seven years and is now honorary president.
Blood cancer research has made enormous strides in the last two decades, partly as a result of the money raised directly and indirectly by Mrs Knowles and the Calender Girls.
“When we first started in 1998, nine out of 10 children with leukemia would die. Now it’s the other way around and nine out of 10 survive,” she said.
The Skipton woman said she has been lucky to have had an international impact through her work and her story. “It has been an incredible journey. Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself. I never thought I’d receive this honour in a million years. I’m totally surprised - I had absolutely no idea.”
Mrs Knowles, 74, who has honorary doctorates from Bradford and Sheffield universities, hopes the Calendar Girls play will tour America.