OPINION - It is never too late to change your path in life — as this story shows
It was July 2001 and I was at a debate camp when the call came to tell me that Vicky was dead.
It was unthinkable.
I still actually don’t remember the moment I was told. Time stopped. I only know from people who were with me that I let out a primordial scream.
Vicky was my step-sister (her dad is my mum’s husband) and we could not have been closer. She was 23 and one of the most important people in my life. Growing up, every day as soon as I got back from school, I’d ring her (me in north London, her in Ealing) and we’d talk for hours and hours.
She was the best of us and I loved her absolutely.
When the catastrophe happened (an awful accident the details of which I can’t relive here), everything changed.
After she was gone, the impulse to call her never left me, but instead I found myself speaking to her mum, Jenny. And as a result, out of our grief the two of us developed a new kind of relationship that, even 22 years later, hasn’t got words truly to define it. I suppose you could say we’re “friends”, but it’s something rarer than that. It’s what some people describe as “having a person”. A relationship wisely enabled by my mum and stepfather, who have always just quietly understood it.
Jenny is as all-knowing as Google. In fact, everyone who’s met her through me calls her “OJ”: Omniscient Jenny. The O in OJ evolved out of years of doing a diverse range of jobs (to say the least); from sales to teaching to personal development training, before finally arriving at coaching (way before it became fashionable). She’s always been outstanding at helping discontented folks find their potential: one bowl of her chicken soup + the benefit of her knowledge = the job you wanted within two years. It is a kind of sorcery.
Of course, none of it touched the sides of her grief. For nearly 20 years, Vicky’s room stayed stuck in terrible time. Then, a few years back — with the help of a therapist and a hearty dose of courage and elbow — OJ began to transform. The bedroom — a place of indescribable loss and trauma — evolved into a studio and she began painting (she’d taught art as one of her first careers).
Over the past few years, I’ve watched her move from early experiments to the most accomplished pieces. Last week in Ealing, she opened her first show (alongside two other brilliant artists) and it’s difficult to overstate my joy as I looked at all her paintings together: not only are they beautiful but seeing them in one space was the finest declaration of what can be possible in life, that even when you might feel trapped in pain, you can find a way out.
London is filled with stories like this — of people changing their narrative and starting anew. It’s vital to remember that, even if you’re in your forties or fifties (or older), it’s always worth trying a new beginning. After all, considering the retirement age is going up, you’ve probably got a solid chance at a quarter century of a life you like better.
So give it a go — no matter how bleak or hopeless things look, something amazing could well be within reach. How do I know? The Omniscient One told me.
My OMG moment with Ruby Wax
I’ve got a long list of celebrities I’m not allowed to meet. I adore them so intensely that I’d become unforgivably weird in their presence. Taron Egerton is on it, as is Lizzo, and very close to the top is Ruby Wax, pictured below, who I’ve adored forever.
Recently I had a huge ‘OMG’ moment when Ruby invited me for dinner. Conversation with her was entirely as I’d hoped for.
She is precisely the turbo-wit that I’d imagined.
But what surprised me was how similar we are in being (very) loud in public, but at our happiest away in private.
I couldn’t be more delighted to move her from my “never meet” list to my “see as much as is humanly possible” one. Next stop, Taron.