Monday, 30 November -0001

Meet our Lady of Substance

To mark our 130th birthday, The Lady and bestselling author Barbara Taylor Bradford sought to celebrate one truly remarkable reader. It’s time to announce the winner, says Matt Warren

Written by Matt Warren
It is a momentous year for The Lady. In February, we celebrated our 130th birthday, a remarkable achievement for a magazine that has been published weekly, without fail, through financial booms and busts, political earthquakes, two world wars – and the break-up of The Beatles.

But The Lady’s longevity ultimately comes down to you, our readers. Without you, the magazine, like bread and dripping, the television test card or the one-pound note, would have given up the ghost long ago. Your enthusiasm, your loyalty, your support keeps The Lady thriving. Which is why we wanted to mark this anniversary year by giving something back – and recognising one truly exceptional reader in a very special way.

The Lady of Substance award was, in part, the brainchild of one of the world’s most successful authors, Barbara Taylor Bradford, who made her name with the 1979 bestseller A Woman Of Substance and has just published her 30th novel, The Cavendon Women. She suggested that it celebrate an ‘ordinary’ heroine, a lady who has gone beyond the call of duty to make a genuine contribution in her career, to her country and to her community.

LadyOfSubs-Apr10-02-590Celebrating our new Lady of Substance at the Caledonian Club

‘Of course, these “ordinary” women aren’t really ordinary at all,’ Barbara wrote when announcing the award earlier this year. ‘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.’

Many inspiring women were nominated for the award by friends, family and members of their community, but one lady ultimately stood out for us. Kate Fussell was born in Bristol in 1929 and moved to London a few years later. When the war began, she was 10. At the time, she was visiting her aunt in Somerset, but returned to London ‘just in time for the bombing’.

‘It was uncomfortable, mainly,’ she told me with typical understatement. ‘We had a shelter in the garden that was five feet in diameter. It was circular, so no one could lie down comfortably. My parents sat in deckchairs and I used to lie on the floor, curled around the wall. The lesson I learnt was not to be scared.’

LadyOfSubs-Apr10-04-590Kate Fussell was surprised to be chosen as our winner

Clearly it was a valuable lesson. In her teens, Kate didn’t think much of her physics and chemistry education, so she boldly persuaded her father to get her into an all-boys school: ‘where the science teaching was better’.

The move paid off and she won a place to study medicine at the University of Birmingham, graduating in 1951. Quickly she became one of only a handful of female Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons and was appointed Consultant Surgeon at Wigan Royal Infirmary. She has pioneered research into breast cancer and reconstructive surgery after mastectomy, campaigned tirelessly to raise funds for a local mammography unit and helped establish a health centre in Africa. For her, ‘the patient always comes first’.

Champion and Mentor
Kate retired in 1990, but the work continued. She became a non-executive director of the local primary care trust and then a governor of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Foundation Hospital Trust.

She is also a member of Soroptimist International – a global volunteer movement working together to transform the lives of women and girls – and became president of the Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, which at the time covered 17 countries, 14 of which she visited during her presidential year.

Kate has led a campaign to develop a service for people with osteoporosis, has been a founder and trustee of a community centre in Wigan, is a local champion of older people and still volunteers one day a week to help preserve and transcribe the local borough archives. Her efforts have been recognised by her community, and in 2000 she was made an Honorary Freeman of Wigan Metropolitan Borough. At 86, she is also a mentor to A-level students who have chosen medicine for their career, bridging the generation divide and sharing her invaluable experience. In short, she really is a Lady of Substance.

Kate was presented with her award and a beautiful bouquet of flowers by Barbara Taylor Bradford – who earlier had been interviewed on stage by author and presenter Annabel Giles – at a very special literary afternoon tea and champagne reception. The beautiful room at London’s historic Caledonian Club was filled with readers of The Lady, and the sound of laughter and merry conversation.

‘It was a lovely day and I was very surprised to win,’ Kate modestly told me after being named our 2015 Lady of Substance. ‘Cynthia Horrocks, the friend who nominated me, writes books, and so I think she just put me forward because she wanted to meet Barbara Taylor Bradford.

‘For me, a Lady of Substance is somebody who has done more than just grow up and get married,’ she added. ‘I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a family – I couldn’t stick to a boyfriend, because I never had time for them. No offence, because you are a man, but on the whole, boyfriends like to come first, and they didn’t as far as I was concerned. There were a couple I thought at the time I might marry, but I’m glad I didn’t.’

Sorry, chaps.

And in her ninth decade, Kate still has an awful lot to give. As Louise Tipping, the principal of Winstanley College, where Kate helps mentor students, said, ‘Kate is certainly inspirational… She is helping us to inspire women doctors of the future.’ Hear, hear. The Lady seconds that.

Is there someone in your life that The Lady should know about? Send the details of their story to the usual Bedford Street address or via email to

The next Literary Lunch is on 21 April at the Caledonian Club, London SW1. The reception starts at 12.30pm. To book, call 020-7379 4717 (9am to 5pm) or click here

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