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Tributes to a ‘real life hero’

NAWN 1803313AM9 Heather Clark's Coffee Morning,  Heather Clark with Gaynor Barnes, Christa Ackroyd and Christine Talbot. (1803313AM9)
NAWN 1803313AM9 Heather Clark's Coffee Morning, Heather Clark with Gaynor Barnes, Christa Ackroyd and Christine Talbot. (1803313AM9)

There are few people in life who we can call real heroes but my colleague, the ITV Calendar journalist and producer Heather Clark, of Bardsey, who has died at 57, was someone who very much deserved that title.

Heather, who I am proud to have called a friend, was someone who took on every challenge thrown at her in life and sent them all packing.

She always said if somebody told her she can’t do something, a button switched on inside her and stated: “You just watch me”.

Her motto was, “Nothing is impossible”, and she proved that many times, having been born with no limbs – her mother having been one of the pregnant women who took the morning sickness drug Thalidomide during pregnancy. It was later banned.

Heather grew up in Leeds in the early sixties and seventies, when her disability was then seen as a stigma – but she proved anyone with any preconceptions wrong.

With the support of parents, Tom and Christine, who always believed she should never be held back, Heather was determined to live her life to the full. She attended a mainstream school and thrived. At four, using her artificial legs she had ambitions to be a ballerina.

Her family also gave her riding lessons, and loving the freedom and control of movement they gave her, she dreamed of being a showjumper. Her father adapted a car for her as a teenager, using a joystick to steer and she was able to be independent.

She started work at 19, ending up at Yorkshire Television, now ITV Yorkshire, where she enjoyed a 25-year career.

The show jumping came into its own when, aged 30, and working as a reporter, she discovered the Riding for the Disabled Association and she took up carriage driving, going on to win numerous national championships on her beloved horses Barney and, later, Pickle, and compete at international level against able-bodied riders.

Nothing held her back. She travelled the world, thought nothing of going to London to catch a show or see friends on the spur of the moment, and completed a 12,500 foot parachute jump for charity.

When she gave talks to schoolchildren to raise awareness of Thalidomide and they asked, “Would you like to be normal?” her reply was always the same: “What is normal? Normal is whatever you make it.”

Heather was independent and feisty and determined to overcome any obstacles, but even she admitted that her diagnosis with incurable ovarian cancer 18 months ago was a “blip”, as she called her challenges.

Yet, she took it on with her usual positive, fighting spirit and underwent several gruelling rounds of treatment and chemotherapy to hold the disease at bay.

While being treated, she began campaigning in the media for the ovarian cancer charity, Ovacome, determined that no other woman should miss the symptoms that evaded her. Between hospital visits, she planned a huge charity ball to raise money for the charity – an event which sold out in weeks.

Heather said of herself: “I turn into a demon until I achieve what I want – even if there’s a bit of me thinking it won’t happen.”

I knew this to my cost when I dared to suggest she take it easy and maybe have a smaller event.

Heather left her hospital bed a few weeks ago, donned her glad rags to receive the Yorkshire Choice Awards Special Recognition Award.

She died surrounded by her friends and loved ones. Days earlier, she had spent time with Barney.

She is survived by a brother Howard, nephew Sam, and niece Georgia.