St Neots women prepare to bare all for premiere of Calendar Girls

LOOSE Women regular Linda Bellingham has done it. So has EastEnder Letitia Dean. And even veteran newsreader Jan Leeming.

And now three St Neots women are preparing to bear all for the amateur premiere of the hit stage play Calendar Girls, which opens in St Neots next month.

Gill Broome, Louisa Hewitt and Lynda Collins auditioned for the roles of members of the Rylstone and District Women’s Institute back in March. After a couple of readings they were chosen for the parts and the rest, as they say, is history.

But while we may consider it brave to agree to strip in front of an audience to play these characters, it was real-life courage and personal inspiration that brought them to this point.

Grandmother Gill Broome, of Moorycroft Close, Great Staughton, said: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 1998. I was acting in pantomime at the time with the Staughton Stagers. I didn’t want to let anyone down so I waited until it was finished and then went into surgery straight afterwards.”

Mrs Broome, 65, underwent a mastectomy in December of that year but, having acted for 30-years, was determined not to let it break her. She was determined to “get on with life”.

“I was a little unsure at first,” she said of taking the role of retired schoolteacher Jessie, played in the 2000 film by Annette Crosbie. “But I’ve been treated so carefully by everyone – it’s almost as if I feel they’re looking after me. I felt nervous taking my clothes off to begin with, but it does make you more confident and I thought if I can get through this I can get through anything.”

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The poignant, true story of how a group of Yorkshire women from a chapter of the WI ended up as media stars who raised millions for leukaemia and lymphoma research, captured the nation’s hearts in the 2003 film.

The BAFTA award-winning movie was inspired by the death of Angela Baker’s husband, who died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1998. Initially Angela’s friends began to fundraise to buy a new sofa for the visitors’ lounge in the hospital where he was being treated. From there, the idea of producing a nude calendar to raise money for leukaemia and lymphoma research was borne and, after some gentle persuasion, the group agreed and enlisted the help of a hospital worker and amateur photographer to help them with the snaps.

Teaching assistant Lynda Collins, who plays the role of divorced single mother and WI organist, Cora, said: “This was a play I really wanted to do. So many people are touched by cancer in their lives, I thought this was some way of giving back.”

Mrs Collins, of Royal Court, Eaton Socon, explained how her friend, a young mother who is fighting the disease, had commented on how brave she was for taking her clothes off for the role. “It really humbled me,” the 44-year-old said. “I thought, if these people can go through what they do with their treatment, I can sure as hell take my clothes off!”

The amateur rights to perform Calendar Girls are released next month and will no doubt inspire thousands of women across the UK to strip off for the public stage. St Neots Players has invested thousands of pounds in this spectacular production and will be the first amateur group in Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire to perform David Frith’s 2008 play.

The main cast of six women also includes 47-year-old Louisa Hewitt, of East Street, St Neots, who said that taking her clothes off has become second nature ... after she had overcome the initial shock.

“We were invited by the show’s producer Glenys Shaw to meet the other cast members and give a background to our characters,” the mother of two said. “We were told to take our dressing gowns along and were then encouraged to take our clothes off in our own time. It was so surreal. Everybody was sitting around chatting with no clothes on – I wasn’t sure where to look! But it’s been so tastefully done and we had to take our clothes off in the play, so it was good to get on with it and get it out of the way.”

The producers of the original Calendar Girls hope to establish a Guinness World Record for the most productions of one play in a single year, with a percentage of the royalties going to leukaemia and lymphoma research.

And judging by the huge response, which has seen amateur groups from around the country vying to stage the hit play, success is all but guaranteed.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Just like the original Calendar Girls, the St Neots cast has produced its very own calendar which will be available for sale in time for Christmas, with all proceeds going to charity.

INFORMATION: Calendar Girls plays at the Priory Centre, St Neots between September 20 and September 22 at 7.30pm with matinee performances at 2.30pm. Tickets �10-�12 available by calling 07884361366 or by visiting