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She went up to London to visit the Queen!

A long-standing member of Newton Abbot Spiritualist Church in Devon set out for a once-in-a lifetime meeting on Wednesday 29th May, writes Sue Farrow.

Sheila Scott, secretary of the SNU award-winning church, which will celebrate its 90th anniversary of affiliation later this year, told PN she thought someone was “having a laugh” when they told her she’d been invited to meet the Queen at St James’s Palace.

Phil and Sheila Scott, also known as Father and Mother Christmas!
    Phil and Sheila Scott, also known
as Father and Mother Christmas!

Sheila and Phil, her husband of 36 years and president of Newton Abbot church, volunteer for the Meningitis Trust – a charity dedicated to providing information about meningitis, and offering advice and support to those whose lives have been affected by this often devastating infection.

They first became involved with the trust eight years ago, for very personal reasons.

“Our daughter Vicky had meningitis when she was six,” said Sheila. “Years later her own daughter Molly got it, also aged six. It was a sort of double whammy, but we’re extremely lucky because they’re both OK. We decided we needed to do something about it, and that’s why we’ve taken the trust so much to our hearts.”

Every year, Phil and Sheila dress up as Father and Mother Christmas at the local garden centre. Scores of children come to see them and all the money raised goes to the trust. Last year a staggering £4,000 was raised.

“We do this from 22nd November through to Christmas eve,” Sheila explained. “We’re at the garden centre almost every day but we also visit old people’s homes and schools with special needs. I love it – it’s the best job we’ve ever had!”

Jo Campbell, who works for the trust as volunteer manager, phoned Sheila a few months ago and asked her to write a short note about what the trust meant to her. Sheila didn’t know why she’d been asked to do this, but says, “I put down my thoughts and emailed them to Jo then thought no more about it.”

Some time later Sheila received a very interesting phone call from Jo.

“She told me: ‘We’re going out soon. To St James’s Palace’.

Newton Abbot Spiritualist Church which celebrates 90 years’ affiliation to the SNU this year.

Newton Abbot Spiritualist Church
celebrates 90 years’
affiliation to the SNU this year.


“I didn’t understand what she meant, so I said – ‘What are we going there for?’ and she told me, ‘We’re going to meet the Queen!’ We both fell about laughing, as you can imagine.

“I felt very excited, and a bit scared if I’m honest. I was especially excited for the trust because it really does need to be recognised. It’s not like one of the big charities who have everything. It runs solely on what we raise.”

Arriving at the palace, Sheila and Jo learned that 60 charities were represented at the reception.

“We went through security and then into a great big room with a high ceiling, all gold around the top. It was beautiful. Then we were given a glass of champagne.

“After that we were taken through to another room, where a man announced us all individually. For me he said: ‘Mrs Sheila Scott from the Meningitis Trust.’

“Then it all happened so fast. I literally took one step forward and the Queen was standing there, wearing a turquoise outfit and matching gloves. It was so informal. I curtsied and shook her hand. She’s a very small lady, just over five feet tall. Prince Philip was there and I always thought he was tall, but now I know it’s only because he looks tall next to the Queen!

“Prince Philip asked where we came from. Then we moved into another room with all this gold and burgundy, and a throne under a canopy. It was beautiful – so different from how it seems on the television. Canapes and drinks were brought round by waiters. The whole thing lasted about an hour and a half.”

When I asked Sheila what she’d chosen to wear for her special day at St James’s Palace, her very honest answer humbled me more than any I’ve received in an interview. Let’s face it – many of us, if invited to meet the Queen, would have stressed a bit about what to wear. Living in today’s world of designer-label snobbery, where so much emphasis is placed on outward appearances and image, Sheila told me:

“When I was first told I was going, and shared the news with friends and people at the church, everyone was saying I’d have to get a dress and jacket and hat, and all that. But it’s not me – I’m not that sort of person. I thought I’d feel really uncomfortable all dolled up like a dog’s dinner.”

All the same, Sheila decided she ought to go to a dress shop in Newton Abbot to have a look around.

A painting of St James’s Palace, by famous watercolour artist Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (1792-1864).
A painting of St James’s Palace, by famous watercolour artist Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (1792-1864).

“It was all mother-of-the-bride sort of stuff,” she said. “But when I looked at the prices and it was about £150 for a dress, and the same for a jacket, I personally could not justify spending that amount of money when I knew there were people out there who really needed it. I know how long it takes us to raise £150 for the trust, and I’d rather give the money to the charity. So I went to Debenhams and bought a dress for £25 in the sale.”

What a lesson in having your priorities right!

Summing up her special day, Sheila told me “I felt very proud that the trust and volunteering had been recognised. Meningitis awareness is so, so important.

“We are collecting signatures now for a petition about a vaccine which has been approved, but the government say they won’t release it until the end of this year. We need that vaccine now!”

• For further information on the Meningitis Trust, visit: www.meningitis-trust.org
• You can find the vaccine petition at: 
• For news of Newton Abbot Spiritualist Church, visit: www.angelsofloveandlight.co.uk


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