Keeping Mum: Leanne is an inspiration

PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 October 2017 | UPDATED: 08:56 24 October 2017

Leanne with her Mum.Ref exr 41-17TI 3471. Picture: Terry Ife

Leanne with her Mum.Ref exr 41-17TI 3471. Picture: Terry Ife

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When Leanne Greengrass's mother was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer she decided to help others with the same condition by raising much needed funds. Six years later she is still going strong. And nothing, not even tragedy, can stop her. Steve Jennings spoke to a true inspiration

Leanne with her Mum.Ref exr 41-17TI 3469. Picture: Terry IfeLeanne with her Mum.Ref exr 41-17TI 3469. Picture: Terry Ife

Leanne Greengrass remembers the moment when it dawned on her that this was actually quite a big deal; when she saw Rio Ferdinand standing just a few yards away. Leanne was in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London attending the annual Inspiration Awards for Women and, like the former England captain, had been nominated for an award. But she suspected she was there merely to make up the numbers: “To be honest, being nominated was like an award in itself”, she confesses. “In fact I never expected to be shortlisted. I read so many inspirational stories from the other ladies which were amazing so, no, I never expected to win.”

Leanne had been nominated thanks to her charity, See The Future, which became a charitable trust four years ago. Leanne’s world had been rocked when her mother, Jacqueline, was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer in 2011. She decided to host a fundraising ball to raise money for research into eye conditions which can lead to sight loss. And it was a success raising £2,660, but was intended to be a one-off. Then friends and family rallied and encouraged Leanne to host more.

Tragically Jacqueline died a few weeks after attending the second ball. Leanne was just 30 years old with a five-week old baby and she was naturally devastated: “It sounds really cheesy but she was my best friend and mum rolled into one”, she says. “I could talk to her about anything and she would understand.

“You have all the emotions; sadness, of course, and anger. I haven’t been able to push these emotions to one side, they are still with me now”, she adds. “But I use them drive me on.”

On the night Leanne was accompanied by her dad, John, and partner, Tim to the awards event and is seen here with them at See The Future ball 2017. Picture: Terry IfeOn the night Leanne was accompanied by her dad, John, and partner, Tim to the awards event and is seen here with them at See The Future ball 2017. Picture: Terry Ife

On 22 September, 2017, Leanne hosted the sixth annual charity ball at Woodbury. Like the previous five nights this was a sell-out and £3,800 was raised for the charity.

Leanne always had a charitable nature. As a child she would often raise money for Blue Peter appeals and is prepared to step out of her comfort zone too. In 2011 she ran the London Marathon in memory of her cousin, Kumi Ife, even though she hates running. And she has been ski diving and abseiled down the front of a building at Exeter University despite a fear of heights. All in the name of charity.

See The Future’s events cater for people of all ages. Next year will see the fifth Easter walk, there will be family fun days and football tournaments. And Leanne is also wind walking, where she will be strapped to the wing of an airplane. Rather her than me.

So impressed were her friends that some nominated her for the annual Inspiration Awards for Women, designed to recognise women who inspire those around them. On the night Leanne was accompanied by her dad, John, and partner, Tim, and they were surrounded by the famous. She admits she found it rather overwhelming at times: “It was all very surreal. I walked in and there were all these beautiful women in wonderful dresses.

“I first spotted Amelia Lily, from X Factor, then I saw Michael Jackson’s older brother and managed to get my picture with Michelle Collins”, she adds. “But it was when I saw Rio Ferdinand that I started to get overwhelmed. My other half supports Manchester United and I have seen him on the telly so many times.”

The awards were presented by former tennis player and breakfast presenter Andrew Castle and X Factor’s Stacy Solomon. Leanne remembers the moment when she saw her name in lights and then confirmation she was an award winner: “Andrew Castle read out ‘the winner is a Honiton lady’, and I said to my dad, ‘there’s another Honiton lady in the room dad!’

“My eyes just glazed over as I was walking up to collect the award, trying to hold back the tears. I was in total shock; it was all really emotional. Penny Lancaster, Rod Stewart’s wife, handed me my award.

“And I look at the award at home and can’t believe I won. It was all just amazing.”

A chance meeting with co-host Solomon gave her a unique memory. “She was great”, Leanne says. “She is so down to earth and lovely. After I won my award I went to the ladies and she came in dressed in a onesie – she had been wearing a glamorous dress presenting the show, but felt more comfortable dressed down - and she congratulated me on my award and I was overawed by it all.”

What makes Leanne’s efforts more impressive is how she manages to run the charity whilst leading a busy life. A mother of two children, aged three and four, she has two jobs; at Body Therapy and front of house at the Honiton Wine Bar. And two years ago she nearly gave it all up due the time restraints on her: “I actually announced that I was stopping the charity because it was all too much”, she confesses. “But that’s when my family and friends gave me a wakeup call and I am glad as I would have regretted it if I had.

“Now I just want to keep it growing and growing each year”, she says. “If that means sitting up until stupid o’clock writing plans then so be it.

“As long as the charity is alive then so is mum, because I can talk about her in the present and future, not the past.”

The charity has a serious message, as Leanne says: “The aim of See The Future is to make people aware how important it is to get their eyes tested regularly.

“I used to get eye test reminders from my Optician and throw them away”, she admits. “I used to think I couldn’t afford to go. Yet I would never miss a hair appointment! Now I get my eyes checked all the time.”

Winning an award doesn’t make Leanne Greengrass an inspirational lady, her tireless efforts taking up countless hours of her precious time do just that. And all so she can raise money to help others. She is a true inspiration. And whatever she achieves next, her mum will be looking down on her. With immense pride.

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For all the latest news and events, and to see how you can buy merchandise or make a donation visit the See The Future website: www.seethefuture.co.uk

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