Lynda Bellingham
Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Lady's ladies of 2014

From the Nobel laureate to the icons we lost, we celebrate the most inspirational women of the year

Written by Young Ladies About Town
The daughter of The Lady’s former general manager David Mitford, ‘Debo’ was the last of the Mitford girls, and her death this year marked the end of an era. She was rather less controversial than her sisters, including author Nancy and Hitler sympathiser Unity, but every bit as colourful. She became the Duchess of Devonshire after marrying Andrew Cavendish, who inherited the title in 1950, along with glorious Chatsworth House, which she transformed into a viable modern business. Canny, tough, inspiring and a beautiful writer, she was a great British icon.
She said: ‘Waking the  rst morning in the bed [in Chatsworth] I was to come home to for the next 46 years and one month was a joy, and I never tired of the incomparable view west across the park.’ 

The Canadian-born actress, writer and broadcaster sadly died of cancer on 19 October. On learning it had metastasised to her lungs and liver she opted to stop her chemotherapy. Best remembered for the Oxo Family adverts and her part in All Creatures Great And Small, she was also a regular panellist on Loose Women until 2011. Her 2014 memoir offers a poignant record of her fight against her illness.
She said: ‘There are moments this year when I have been more happy and content than I have ever been in my life, just by accepting what you can’t do anything about.

Yousafzai grew up in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, and from the age of 11 blogged for the BBC about life under the Taliban. She also argued for more education for girls in the area. When she was 15, she was shot in the head by a gunman while returning home from school. Following surgery in Birmingham, England, she has continued to campaign for improved education around the world. She was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize – at just 17, the youngest ever laureate.
She says: ‘One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.

Beckham made her name as a member of girl band the Spice Girls in the 1990s and has since become a successful businesswoman, fashion designer and model. Along with her husband David, former England football captain, she is a patron of the Elton John Aids Foundation, and she has also worked with Save The Children. She promotes the use of synthetic furs in fashion and is supportive of Peta. She joined the Ban Bossy campaign as a spokesperson in 2014, advocating leadership roles for girls. She opened her first London fashion boutique this year.
She says: ‘I appreciate that young girls look up to me. And I take that very seriously.

WOTY-Dec12-02-590Left: Malala Yousafzai. Right: Victoria Beckham

She has been acting for more than six decades, and yet audiences never tire of Dame Maggie. Since her debut aged 17 as Viola in Twelfth Night, she has graced both stage and screen, with especially memorable performances in The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, Harry Potter and Downton Abbey (where she has all the best lines). Earlier this year she was made a Companion of Honour by the Queen. She is currently being celebrated in a two-month retrospective at the BFI.
She says: ‘If you have been around long enough you are an icon. A rather dusty icon… or a national treasure.

Tipped as a future Conservative leader, May has been Home Secretary since 2010. She first became an MP in 1997 and was appointed the first female chairman of the Conservative Party in July 2002. Even today, just 25 per cent of MPs are women – and Theresa May stands out as a strong female voice in what remains a male-dominated world.
She says: ‘Like Indiana Jones, I don’t like snakes – though that might lead some to ask why I’m in politics.’

Known as the First Lady of Football, Brady is an English sports executive, politician, television broadcaster, newspaper columnist, author and novelist. In 1993 she became managing director of Birmingham City FC, making her the youngest managing director of a UK plc. She is now vicechairman of West Ham United FC. She is a regular on TV series The Apprentice as an aide to Lord Sugar, and was appointed the Government’s Small Business Ambassador by David Cameron in 2013. This year she was elevated to the House of Lords as a Conservative life peer.
She says: ‘I always say, women have brains and uteruses, and are able to use both.

First elected as an SNP member of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, Sturgeon rose swiftly through the ranks to become Alex Salmond’s deputy, taking the top spot after he resigned following the defeat of the ‘Yes’ campaign in the Scottish referendum. Now this law graduate is both the ’first female First Minister of Scotland, and the ’first female SNP leader. Sturgeon lives in Glasgow with her husband Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP.
She says: ‘I promise that I will give it my all and serve everyone in our country to the very best of my ability.

WOTY-Dec12-03-590Dame Maggie Smith

Well, what hasn’t Baroness Trumpington done? Despite leaving school at the age of 15, she worked at Bletchley Park during the war – later supporting a campaign to give her former coworker Alan Turing a posthumous pardon. She was a land girl, Mayor of Cambridge, a health minister and a government whip. She is an acerbic television commentator and a colourful presence in the House of Lords; when Lord King of Bridgwater referred to her advanced age during a 2011 debate, she gave him two fingers. This year she also published her dazzlingly entertaining memoir, Coming Up Trumps. Bravo.
She says: ‘We used to say my mother’s idea of being poor was going to the Ritz on the bus.

This 24-year-old has proved that there is so much more to her than playing Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter ’films. As well as achieving continued success as an actress – this year she starred in Noah – she is carving out a role as a spokesperson for a generation. Her rousing speech on gender equality at the UN has attracted more than six million views on YouTube.
She says: ‘Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals.’ 

She may have reduced her workload of late, but at 88 years old Her Majesty remains an inspiration. Already the longest-living British monarch and the second-longest-serving current head of state, she will become Britain’s longest-reigning monarch on 9 September 2015. Despite terrorist alerts, she led this year’s Remembrance Sunday commemorations with undaunted devotion and dignity.
She says: ‘To all those who have su­ffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy. With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done di­fferently or not at all.’

You have probably never heard of her, but Iranianborn Mirzakhani, who is a professor at Stanford University, this year became the first-ever woman (and the first Iranian) to win the Fields Medal, the world’s most prestigious mathematics prize. At only 37-years-old, she is a role model for young women with an interest in science and mathematics everywhere.
She says: ‘As a kid, I dreamt of becoming a writer. My most exciting pastime was reading novels; in fact, I would read anything I could  nd. I never thought I would pursue mathematics before my last year in high school.’

WOTY-Dec12-04-590Left: Theresa May. Right: Karren Brady, Baroness Brady

Born in Mexico to Kenyan parents, Nyong’o shot to fame in Steve McQueen’s stunning historical drama 12 Years A Slave, winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as Patsey, the young slave of a brutal Louisiana cotton planter. She is the first black African to win in any category. And she is certainly one to watch in 2015, appearing in next year’s biggest film, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
She says: ‘It broke my heart realising how she [Patsey] had zero choice. All she ever wanted was to be released through death and she didn’t even get that.

Many of us donate to charity at this time of year, but Melinda Gates and her husband, Microsoft founder Bill, have given away $30bn since 2000 through their charitable foundation. No wonder she was made an honorary Dame of the British Empire in 2013.
She says: ‘We feel like we have a responsibility. Any of us that is lucky enough to grow up in a country like Germany or Great Britain or Japan or the US ought to do something for the rest of the world.’

Dame Judi is always a favourite of The Lady. Charismatic, hardworking and modest, she is one of the great professionals – learning her lines to pinpoint perfection despite failing eyesight. She returns to the big screen early in 2015 in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and recently completed ƒfilming as Cecily, Duchess of York in the BBC’s forthcoming The Hollow Crown, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI Parts I, II and III and Richard III.
She says: ‘I was told that I didn’t have a face to be a screen actress. Well, that was it. That was a time when you had to be quite a looker.

Merkel, a former research scientist, has been leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union since 2000 and German chancellor since 2005; she is the ƒfirst woman to hold either ofiice. In 2007 she was President of the European Council and chaired the G8 – the second woman to do so (after Margaret Thatcher). In 2012 she was named the world’s second most powerful person by Forbes – the highest rank ever achieved by a woman – and this year she was named the most powerful woman in the world by the same publication. She became the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the EU this year.
She says: ‘After all the wars and boundless suffering, something very special has emerged. We, the citizens of Europe, have united for the better.’

WOTY-Dec12-05-590Left: Melinda Gates. Right: Angela Merkel

Dubbed the queen of crime fiƒction, Phyllis Dorothy James was one of the world’s greatest-ever crime writers, her best-known character being poetry-loving detective Adam Dalgliesh, who appeared in 14 of her novels and was later played in television adaptations by Roy Marsden and then by Martin Shaw. She made us shudder, she made us think. PD James died on 27 November and will be much missed.
She said: ‘I realised that there was never going to be a convenient time to start that first novel. If I didn’t make time, find the motivation, I would be a failed writer, and that would be absolutely appalling for me.


He is known as the cheeky chappie of the Royal Family, and occasionally finds himself in hot water, but this year Prince Harry revealed more of his serious side. A dedicated military man, he was instrumental in organising the inaugural Invictus Games: a Paralympics-style sporting event for injured servicemen and women. The 30-year-old, who fulƒfils hundreds of public engagements each year, also shared a secret in support of World Aids Day: he is terrified of public speaking.
He says: ‘Despite the fact that I laugh and joke all the time, I get incredibly nervous, if not anxious, actually, before going into rooms full of people.’

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