Barbara Taylor Bradford
Wednesday, 21 January 2015

WHY WE SHOULD SALUTE OUR REAL WOMEN of SUBSTANCE

From carers to lollipop ladies, Britain is full of unsung heroines. Here, a bestselling author announces The Lady’s special award

Written by Barbara Taylor Bradford
My father once said something to me that I shall never forget. ‘Stand tall, Barbara,’ he told me. It is a piece of advice that has shaped my life, my career and the characters in my books. It is, perhaps, the best lesson I was ever taught.

Way back in the early 1970s, when I was working as a journalist but dreaming of becoming a novelist, my father’s words inspired what would become my first novel. I knew I wanted to write a family saga set in my native Yorkshire, but I spent a lot of time thinking about who the main character would be. And then it came to me: I needed to tell the story of a woman who starts with nothing but becomes ‘a woman of substance’.

That book, which was appropriately called A Woman Of Substance, was published in 1979 and is now one of the top 10 bestselling books of all time. Thirty-five years on, I have finished my 30th novel. The Cavendon Women tells the story of six inspirational and determined ‘women warriors’ who come to the rescue of Cavendon Hall and estate, a stately home facing ruin after the First World War. If you want to know how they save it, you’ll have to read it, but one theme binds my first book to my most recent: I love to write about women of substance, in all their guises.

As someone who likes to think of herself as a strong, motivated and ambitious woman, I have always been attracted to the great women of history. Elizabeth I, for example, one of our greatest monarchs. Or Marie Curie, who discovered radium. I am also fascinated by Catherine the Great, who was not a monster, as she is often portrayed, but modernised Russia and created the extraordinary Hermitage museum, filling it with great art.

Extraordinary women
More recently, I greatly admired Debo, who like the women in my new book, beat the odds to save Chatsworth, and our first, and only, lady prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. In fact, Margaret was a bit of a fan of my books and invited me many times to Downing Street. She was a strong, inspiring woman, who stopped Britain going down the drain, but she could make me laugh, too.

On one occasion, we were at a reception, and Carol, Margaret’s daughter, came in to ask if she could borrow a pair of her old diamond earrings. Margaret said yes, before adding, ‘This is Barbara Taylor Bradford, who writes bestselling novels. Why don’t you do that, Carol?’

I always used to giggle to myself, too, because no one seemed to notice that Margaret had fantastic legs as well as a truly spectacular mind – well, apart from Denis, I presume.

The Queen, of course, is marvellous, too. She must cope sometimes with a rather difficult family, but thinks only of the country and her people.

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But women of substance needn’t be well known. Indeed, most aren’t anything of the sort. They are often unsung heroines, ‘ordinary’ women who do extraordinary things but are often recognised and fully appreciated only by those closest to them.

Of course, these ‘ordinary’ women aren’t really ordinary at all. They are women who stand up to be counted. They are the ladies who go out there and correct an injustice, or help raise money for charity. They help look after relatives or vulnerable members of their community. They are lollipop ladies and teachers, nurses and carers. Often they are just good friends.

They are women like my mother, who gave me so much love and did so much to inspire me. Or my teachers, Mrs Fox and Miss Simpson, who first encouraged me to write. In many cases, however, they go unrecognised by broader society.

I want to salute these everyday women who ‘stand tall’, these ladies of substance. Which is why I am supporting and will be presenting this magazine’s The Lady Of Substance Award. So please send us your nominations and help give them the credit they deserve.

The Cavendon Women, by Barbara Taylor Bradford, is published on 24 March (HarperCollins, £16.99).

The Award

And Now nominate YOUR own Lady Of Substance
Is there a special, unsung heroine in your life? Perhaps it’s a neighbour who goes out of their way to offer companionship, help or just a friendly smile when you need it most. She could be a teacher, a carer, a relative or a health worker who has gone the extra mile. Perhaps she is your cleaner or nanny. She could be the inspiring older lady at the end of the road who loves skydiving and is always game for a charity challenge. Her efforts haven’t necessarily brought her acclaim or riches; she is likely an ‘ordinary’ woman who does extraordinary things.

Whoever she is, The Lady and Barbara Taylor Bradford want to salute her. Which is why we are asking you to nominate a lady in your life for our very special The Lady Of Substance Award.

All you have to do is tell us in no more than 250 words why she deserves to win. The Lady editor, Matt Warren, and Barbara Taylor Bradford, will then pick a winner, to be announced by Barbara at a special literary tea on Tuesday, 24 March – we will also tell the stories of some of the runners-up in subsequent issues.

Please send your 250-word nominations to The Lady Of Substance Award, The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER by 1 March. You should also include your own name, address and telephone number.

Good luck, ladies. It’s high time we celebrated our hidden heroines.

To book your place at the literary tea click here.


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