by Beth Johnsson
At the end of 2015, it was hard to imagine how Rhea Kara, our youngest ambassador, talented artist and prolific fundraiser, could top the year she’d just had: shortlisted for National Young Fundraiser of the Year, recipient of a PM’s Points of Light award, national press coverage, ambassador for GAP and another 120 canvases painted and sold. Not bad for a ten year old. But 2016 had some surprises in store . . .
Having committed herself to continuing her annual canvas-painting challenge, Rhea set out to again paint 100 canvases in 100 days to be sold at the Abbeville Fete in June. Once again, she more than met the challenge and another wonderful, successful day was had when our two families again sold her artwork at the fete in Clapham.
Meanwhile, Rhea continued her work as our ambassador, promoting the cause at her new school and asking them to support Reverse Rett almost as soon as she arrived! Whilst they are already committed this year, they have promised to support Rhea’s chosen charity next year and there is no doubt that she will hold them to it!
And then things got really exciting. In October, Rhea was invited to meet an art dealer who might be interested in buying some of her paintings. Whilst we knew that Rhea was in fact going to meet Lord Sugar, who would present her with her invitation to the Pride of Britain Awards as the winner of Young Fundraiser of the Year, Rhea had absolutely no idea, either that she would be meeting one of her icons or that she had won the award! It was a priceless moment, thankfully captured on film for use at the awards ceremony.
But Lord Sugar didn’t just give Rhea her invitation, he also set her a task: to paint a canvas which would then be auctioned at the awards event. Rhea got to work, and in the meantime Good Morning Britain and ITV got in touch, wanting to hear about Rhea’s amazing fundraising and to meet the girl who first inspired her to get painting – Hannah. So, at the end of October Rhea and Hannah (and I) made our TV debuts, sharing the sofa and the airwaves with Ben Shephard and Charlotte Hawkins for 3 minutes and having a wonderful time with the whole crew, who quite simply could not have been kinder or made us feel more welcome. My personal highlight was the moment when Hannah casually tried to steal a Danish pastry right out of Esther Rantzen’s hands: that’s my girl!
Ten days later the excitement continued as the day of the awards ceremony itself dawned. Rhea and her family attended a winners’ dinner the night before, and then I was privileged to join them for the awards ceremony and an incredible night of inspirational stories, high emotion and sparkling gowns! In true down-to-earth, humble fashion, Rhea was un-phased by the multitudes of celebs or by the glitz and glamour, and certainly held her own on stage alongside Ben Shepard, Susanna Reid, Ant and Dec, and Spice Girls Geri Halliwell and Emma Bunton!
Of course, Rhea had more than met Lord Sugar’s task and had in fact painted two gorgeous canvases to be auctioned on the night, and when Simon Cowell and Louis Tomlinson both ended up paying £15,000 each, the crowd (and we!) were absolutely delighted! Both have now ‘paid up’ and have left lovely messages of support for Rhea, not to mention making those of us who have her art hanging on our walls, at slightly less cost, feel rather smug!
It was an incredible night with so many highlights – too many to mention – but I know that both Rhea and I felt particularly overwhelmed and privileged to stand alongside the GB Olympic and Paralympic Teams, and the incomparable Stephen Hawking. Moments like this will be remembered always. And yet the highlights didn’t stop there, as the very next morning Rhea and her family were whisked off to Downing Street along with the other Pride of Britain winners, to meet Theresa May and have a tour of the famous building. Here, Rhea was again inspired and moved by the other winners, and an idea began to form . . .
Rhea decided that she wanted to paint each of the other winners a canvas which would reflect their story in some way, as a gift for Christmas. In less than a month, she has completed each of these paintings ready to post out across the country, from one Pride of Britain winner to another. Priceless.
There is no doubt that the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of excitement and that it has been an absolute privilege to share some of it with Rhea and her amazing family. The celebs and the glitz and the glamour have been fun of course, but the most exciting, exhilarating part of all is what Rhea has done for our girls and for Reverse Rett: she has raised the profile, she has put the name into the heads of people who had never before heard of Rett, and she has inspired others to do whatever they can to help. And all with such humility and grace. When interviewed about Rhea as part of the VT for the awards night, I was asked probably one of the easiest questions I’ve ever had to answer: ‘do we need more people like Rhea in this world?’ Yes, yes, yes.