When Josh Painter tragically lost his life to a brain tumour in 2006 aged 11, little did his mother Mandy realise then what a legacy her son would leave to the charity ‘Starlight’ which touched his life, just when he needed it; and to the many terminally ill children whose lives are given a little bit of magic in desperate times.
I arrived at Mandy Painter’s Bridgnorth home, rather poignantly, on the eve of All Souls – a time of the year when we remember loved ones lost. It seemed doubly fitting then, that although I was featuring Mandy as our local hero for December, Josh was very much with us in spirit and indeed, has become a true local – if not national – hero, although he was sadly gone before this series or indeed this magazine had been born.
Mandy is straightforward, open and articulate when she describes the awfulness of what Josh and the family went through and the grief and tragedy of losing a child: “There are lots of ‘firsts’ which trip you up – often rather unexpected ones; the first snowfall, the first day back to school, the first Sunday the clocks went back….these and landmark times such as Christmas are the hardest.” This summer Josh would have taken his GCSE’s and Results’ Day was a difficult one for Mandy.
But I had come to talk about the Starlight Foundation, the charity which had touched Josh’s life in such a profound way that Mandy has made it her mission to continue fundraising for. Mandy took up the story: “The Starlight Foundation grants wishes for dying children. It had been suggested by staff at Shrewsbury Hospital, who put Josh forward thinking it would do him good.” It was a difficult thing for Josh and Mandy; for although it presented a special opportunity to have a ‘wish’ granted, it also spelt out that the future was not looking positive. However they went ahead.
Amongst many things, Josh loved Lord of the Rings. In June 2006 Josh was going to yet another appointment at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, when Mandy had a phone call from Starlight inviting Josh for lunch the following week with Orlando Bloom, who had played the elf-prince Legolas in films of the famous Tolkien trilogy.
“The anticipation was so exciting that we felt we were walking on air. When Josh met Orlando there was a real connection. They sparked up a genuine friendship; they were so natural together. Orlando followed up the meeting with phone calls to Josh, and when he died, he sent a book and a lovely, very personal note.”
Josh wanted to do something – he had a burning desire while he was still alive to help others and he raised money for the Rainbow Ward at Shrewsbury and Brain Tumour UK – but it was Starlight which had brightened his life at the very end.
Mandy explained: “When your child is dying there is a relentless black cloud. Life is bleak. Relentlessly bleak. If we can, through Starlight, eclipse that black cloud – even if just for a moment – then that’s why I must raise funds to carry on doing this for other children. That’s what the Starlight Treat did for us; it pushed the bleakness away for a while.”
£467,000 has been raised in Josh’s name for the charity Starlight, much of it through a national doorstep campaign which featured Josh’s story; the rest through Mandy’s tireless efforts and biannual ‘Josh’s Do’ Charity auctions. Mandy is a Local Ambassador for Starlight, and has met many other families in the course of her fundraising. There are 11 terminally ill children in Shropshire waiting for their ‘Starlight Wish’.
“I miss Josh but I get on and do positive things which hopefully make my life a bit bigger. It’s not just about Josh anymore it’s about the other kids – which is just what he would have wanted.”
“Josh was a truly remarkable young man and I feel honoured to have had a connection with his life” Orlando Bloomo
If you would like to donate to Starlight do contact mandypainter66 [at] hotmail.co.uk or for more information visit www.starlight.org.uk – brightening the lives of seriously and terminally ill children.