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An Act of Kindness

Paul Critcher visits Kingston Hospital to meet actress Felicity Montagu who has recently become patron of local charity Momentum.

Sitting in the calm, beautiful setting of a tucked away garden, it seems strange to think that I’m actually in the middle of a hospital. But that’s exactly where I am, visiting the Momentum charity’s new Secret Garden which has been created by award-winning gardener Tom Massey to support children and teenagers undergoing treatment at the oncology unit at Kingston Hospital. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and I’m here to find out more about Momentum, which supports children with cancer and life-limiting conditions, and their families, and to meet its latest patron, actress Felicity Montagu.

Momentum was founded in 2004 by Bianca Effemey, who at the time was working as a receptionist in the Paediatric Department at Kingston Hospital. She recognised that small touches could make a huge difference to families with seriously ill children. Along with two parents, she founded Momentum to fill a much-needed gap – initially buying a fridge freezer for the hospital to stock ice creams for the children and putting families in touch with others who were in the same situation. Since then, the charity has expanded to support five hospitals in south west London and Surrey.

Momentum’s help can be divided into two main areas. Firstly, it helps hospitals refurbish rooms to enhance the healing environment, with projects such as the Secret Garden, the Day Surgery Unit and an Isolation Cubicle on Sunshine Ward at Kingston Hospital, which have been transformed with scenes of blue seas and brightly-coloured tropical fish. Other treatment rooms have been decorated with scenes from the books of local author and patron Dame Jacqueline Wilson. The other part of Momentum’s work is the emotional support it can provide families and access to respite holidays, boating breaks and various treats. It also supports bereaved families for as long as they need support.

For Felicity Montagu, who has recently moved to the area, a charity in Kingston supporting families in such a positive way was a perfect match; and the actress who is perhaps best known for her role as Lynn Benfield in Alan Partridge has committed to Momentum in a big way by becoming a patron.

“I met Bianca and I was bowled over by her,” says Felicity. “Her compassion, her drive, her presence and her ability. She’s tackling this charity like a trojan. She gets a brilliant idea and she follows her nose, and she’s just an incredibly good woman and that’s what’s impressed me. And then when I found out what this charity does here and at other hospitals as well – I just wanted to be a part of it.”

Felicity recently supported Momentum with a photo-call at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show where Momentum won Gold for its garden created in conjunction with Tale Valley Nursery in Devon. The charity’s mascot Mo the Owl was a big hit with the crowds, and with Felicity, who can been seen holding the owl and being interviewed on Facebook.

“It’s most unfortunate,” laughs Felicity, “because I started off directing the boy [the interviewer], telling him to get nearer to the camera, which my children thought was hilarious. But it was a gorgeous owl.” Even comedian Bill Bailey came over to see the owl and to meet Felicity.

“Someone like Bill Bailey will take it [the charity] on a national scale,” says Felicity. “It’s whether Bianca wants that but I think it would be wonderful to go national. I’ve already got people in the profession noticing the work the charity is doing. And people are wonderful – they’ll do anything they can. In a way acting’s a selfish profession, but in other ways it’s full of rather wonderful people.” Talking of acting I ask her what she’s working on at the moment?

“I’ve just finished a series called The Tunnel. It’s the English version of The Bridge, with Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy, and I’ve got about two scenes in every episode. I’ve also done an episode of the new Porridge with Kevin Bishop and I’ve just done the Antiques Road Trip this weekend with James Braxton. That was quite a laugh. I was so tired from filming that I said ‘I can’t drive a vintage car’, so James drove it. A door got stuck and James had to climb in through the window. At the beginning of the year I did a tour with Matthew Kelly, Pride and Prejudice, which was great fun and reunited Matthew and I after 30 years.”

Felicity has been in everything from Bridget Jones’s Diary to the new Dad’s Army film, but for many it is her portrayal of Lynn in Alan Partridge that has become a defining role. I ask her to tell me about the experience of being Lynn and how she went about constructing that character?

“It was extraordinary. I had an audition with a casting director, Andy Cryer, and I’d been longing to meet Steve [Coogan], Armando Iannucci and Pete Baynham. Baynham was the gag writer, Armando was the structure and Steve was the character. I walked in and they weren’t there, which was really disappointing.”

Although Coogan and co. weren’t there, they were able to see Felicity’s audition on screen. “I didn’t know much about the character because there weren’t any lines. I was told: ‘This is the sort of area they’d like you to go in,’ and that I was a PA. And I started to improvise. I invented Lynn’s mother because Andy asked me if Alan gets on with other family members and I went very quiet and said ‘Well, my mother doesn’t get on with him’. And that was it, I talked about all the terrible things that Alan had done to Lynn – blanked her mother and so on.”

“At the start of the second series Armando walked past me and said: ‘Your mother is dead’. And then Coogan turned around. He was on his mobile and he said ‘She’s dead – who cares? It’s only you who cares about the mother of this fictional character’.”

“I didn’t find Steve funny when we were filming but sometimes during the rehearsals Armando used to say: ‘Can we watch the tapes back because I can’t hear anything because you’re laughing so much’. I do find Steve incredibly funny. After we recorded the scene when he was sick on the lectern, I went out to dinner with one of my children and I suddenly realised how funny it had been. I was paralytic with laughter; tears were running down my face. I mean he’s a Rolls Royce, Steve, he’s genius really, he’s an absolute genius.”

And will there be more work in the role of Lynn? “Well you never know. Steve thinks there might be another Partridge but it’s whether it’s in Norwich or somewhere else. But Lynn will always be there in the dressing box ready to go.

I don’t really have a career structure – I’m ambitious, I love working and I want to develop more. I love period stuff and am ideal for it really – the background I come from, the way I act – that would be a great area for me.”

Throughout Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Momentum will be encouraging people to ‘Go Gold’ and fundraise to help the charity to continue to support the families of children with cancer and life-limiting conditions across south west London and Surrey.

Why not?
• Have a gold-themed cake sale. Bake some cupcakes and decorate them with gold sprinkles and sell them at work/school.
• Hold a gold-themed mufti day at work/school. Encourage everyone to wear a gold item of clothing or accessory and have some sparkly fun.
• Buy and wear a Momentum Golden Ribbon to show your support of CCAM.