Happy 21st! Celebrity supporters wish charity Willow a happy birthday

PUBLISHED: 08:29 25 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:27 25 August 2020

Willow co-founders Megs and Bob Wilson. Picture: supplied by Willow

Willow co-founders Megs and Bob Wilson. Picture: supplied by Willow

Willow

Celebrities and sports stars have joined supporters in wishing Willow a very special birthday as the Welwyn Hatfield-based charity turns 21.

Former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson with his daughter Anna, who lost her battle with cancer aged 31. Photo courtesy of Willow.Former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson with his daughter Anna, who lost her battle with cancer aged 31. Photo courtesy of Willow.

The charity co-founded by former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson and wife Megs turns 21 today (Tuesday).

Now based in Gate House, Fretherne Road, Welwyn Garden City, Willow was founded on August 25, 1999.

This followed an extraordinary fundraising campaign led by the Welwyn Hatfield Times and other Hertfordshire papers following the death of Bob and Megs’ much-loved daughter, Anna.

“We wanted to celebrate the life of our daughter Anna and the joyful spirit she brought to every day and everyone she met,” said Megs.

Former Spurs defender Gary Mabbutt. Picture: Supplied by WillowFormer Spurs defender Gary Mabbutt. Picture: Supplied by Willow

“We set up Willow to create much-needed Special Days for seriously ill young adults aged 16 to 40.

“We knew the chance to spend precious time and create magic memories with loved ones was invaluable.”

Megs added: “Seventeen Special Days were created in that first year.

“Over the past 21 years, we’ve created over 17,000 Special Days – days that have touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Linda Lusardi is a supporter of Willow. Picture: Supplied by WillowLinda Lusardi is a supporter of Willow. Picture: Supplied by Willow

Willow’s celebrity ambassadors include football legends Pat Jennings and Gary Mabbutt, glamour model Linda Lusardi, and TV presenter Natasha Kaplinksy.

They have joined hundreds of well wishers on social media sharing their precious memories of Willow from the past 21 years.

“What Bob and Megs have achieved is remarkable,” said former Spurs captain Gary Mabbutt MBE, one of the charity’s founding ambassadors.

“Their efforts to start a charity in Anna’s memory have reached heights which even they would have never thought possible.”

TV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky is a Willow celebrity ambassador. Picture: Supplied by WillowTV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky is a Willow celebrity ambassador. Picture: Supplied by Willow

The former England defender added: “I have been friends with Bob and Megs for about 40 years, my girlfriend of about 30 years ago was Anna Wilson’s best friend and so we all used to spend time together.

“We were all devastated at Anna’s passing and when Bob and Megs discussed their idea of a charity in memory of Anna, I thought that it was a great idea.

“I have been an ambassador of Willow since its conception and have always been so proud of what the charity has been achieving.”

Former Page 3 model turned actress Linda Lusardi and husband Sam Kane got involved through a mutual friend, Arsenal and England goalkeeper David Seaman.

“We were invited to the annual ball and were touched by the amazing work they do,” said Linda.

“We offered our services in any way they could utilise us. We then started to help and became ambassadors.”

Newsreader and TV personality Natasha Kaplinsky knew former sports presenter Bob Wilson, who lived in Brookmans Park at the time, from sharing the same makeup room at ITV’s studios on the South Bank.

The inaugural Strictly Come Dancing winner said: “I was so struck by his grief and complete adoration of Anna.

“We used to sit and eat cake together and over time I came to feel I knew Anna and wanted to do anything I could to help Willow support its huge ambitions.

“Since then I have supported the foundation where possible by joining the endless fundraising activities, sourcing prizes and telling as many people as possible about the wonderful work of the charity and what extraordinary people Bob and Megs are.”

Of her many memories of being part of team Willow, Natasha said: “One of my fondest is when Bob and the team were setting off on one of their mammoth cycle rides from Fulham football ground.

“A number of his grandchildren were there along with many of his wider family and a stream of friends and supporters.

“I felt so honoured to be part of the gang – and struck by the coming together of so many people in support of one goal.”

Willow chief executive Jonathan Aves said: “2020 has been a very difficult year for all charities.

“But thanks to our amazing supporters, Willow is emerging from the lockdown even more focused on helping seriously ill young men and women create precious moments together with their loved ones.

“As we celebrate our 21st birthday, we would be delighted if you would join us in celebrating Anna’s legacy and making sure we can create even more Special Days for young men and women when they need them most.”

Find out more about getting involved at willowfoundation.org.uk.


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