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Philippa Tatham (1981-2015)

Tuesday, 30 June, 2015

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Philippa Tatham, actress and writer, died on 14 February 2015 aged 33.  Philippa had a great circle of friends through her work in theatre and performance and was a longstanding and very popular writer for Fringe Report.  At Philippa’s funeral at St Peter’s Church in Winchester on Friday 6 March, her mother Liz Slinn gave this eulogy to her daughter, which is reproduced here with her permission.

‘A welcome to you from Mike and me and our family,wherever you have come from we are grateful that you are here at this Mass with us as we say farewell to my daughter, Philippa.

Lest I forget, you are all of you welcome to come into the Pastoral Centre for Philippa’s wake. That Irish side of her loved a wake and she would expect you there.

I want to talk about three surprises. Philippa’s birth and life, why we are here in this place and then her sad and untimely death. Some of the time I will plagiarise something one of you has said in your many messages and tributes. Can I offer a blanket apology but you have said it so much better than I can.

Philippa was born at St Peters Hospital, Chertsey in the evening of 15th September 1981.I was working there at the time and one of my colleagues went to visit her in the nursery and came in and told me I’d had a little rosebud. My mother worked in the local post office  and,coincidentally, wore a rose in her buttonhole and sang ‘Hello Dolly ‘all day.

She was a surprise in my life but my warm family embraced, loved and absorbed her as we do each other and all new comers.  Philippa loved belonging to a large, noisy family which became more and more complicated as time went on and she would take pleasure in bamboozling people when describing it. We loved her dearly and cared for her. For me, she gave my life purpose, meaning and love; she was my constant companion as a child.

She made her stage debut when she was just three. We were at the pantomime in Aldershot and, when DLT invited children to the stage she was last on, when he already had enough children up there, but she stared at him with Philippa defiance, The crowd were on her side, he capitulated,she was stage-struck.

When she was three and a half we moved from the North of Hampshire here to Winchester. She went to Nursery with the Sisters and then three schools all within a short radius of this place. She shone, academically, loved to read and write and of course take to the stage when she could. Her gift of ‘wordsmithing’ became apparent at an early age.

We joined the Chesil Theatre when we moved here. I can’t act but it is a wonderful community as Little Theatres so often are, so we joined for friendship, which has lasted thirty years. I had a small part  in The House of Barnarda Alba when she was six and she was allowed to play my quiet daughter. Of course, she knew everyone’s lines very quickly and I would feel her prodding me from beneath my skirts when I forgot one of my two lines and she would tell me off afterwards.

She performed at the Chesil for many years in many productions and I thank the members there for all the opportunities she was given and for the touching tributes and memories you have given me over the last three weeks.

She suffered, during her teenage years, but asked for help. She fought her illness with  typical stubbornness and determination, we helped her in that fight and I’m glad we did because of what she did next.

After achieving outstanding A level and GCSE results she went to Stratford to do a Year out Acting Course and was encouraged to apply to Oxbridge but determined to follow her dream she went to Bristol to study Drama where she emerged with a First, of course. Her determination to study and succeed took its toll again and so she came home rested and worked for a while and then went off to her great and wonderful London adventure.

Before we go to London I want to thank two people who were so important in her life. Mum, you told me a few years ago that a friend of yours asked how she might care for her daughter and baby in similar circumstances. You walked around your beloved Cathedral for a while and went back and said ‘Just be the best grandparents you can’. Well, you have been and still are the best grandparents there could be. You fed her imagination and creativity, encouraged her intelligence and went beyond the call of duty, never faltering, to the end. The letters and cards you sent her every week through the  years have emerged from every handbag, book and pocket we have sorted through. She knew your love and devotion and carried it with her every day. By God’s grace you are still here with us and I ask you to walk with me a little longer.

Well, many of you here know what she did in London better than I do. She was bold and courageous and joined the Streetwise project living on sixty pounds a week and an oyster card. Being Philippa she created a huge network of friends-you- over those years, acting and writing, socialising, loving, creating, laughing, being silent, despairing and hoping to make the break, getting up and moving on, working to be independent,  running from her room in Tufnell Park every morning, rushing off to work with scarves and hats awry. Just Google her name or look at the Tower Theatre website to see what she did, it was more than even I knew.

This time I want to thank all of you in London and here at home who were her friends. You became her family and many of you had deep and very loving friendships with her. Some of you just liked and admired her without knowing her so well, but she is described as ‘charismatic, witty, disciplined,creative,lighting up the room…..the adjectives ascribed to her, the anecdotes and stories astound and move us. She made a huge impact with a lot of people and we, in turn, are deeply grateful to all of you who touched her and challenged the doubts which pestered her and told her she was a failure. As someone said, she was hard on herself and that was her greatest tragedy. Someone else said she saw life as a mountain to climb when she should have been standing at the top of it looking at her successes and we should have been buying her books in Waterstones. She didn’t realise it but she achieved her ambitions to write and act, she had done so much, even if she didn’t make a living out of it. Achieving potential was important to Philippa and she wanted us all to do what made us happy and fulfilled.

So, a word with her siblings. Siobhan, David, Caitlin, Lucrezia. She loved you very much; saw your individual gifts and talents shining out of you and wanted you to do what you knew would bring you joy and fulfilment. So, go out and do your best, carry her with you in your hearts and listen to her voice!

Again, while I remember there is a table with many of her vast collection of books out there. She has read them all, an intelligent, discerning and varied reader. Please go home with one or two, you who knew her. Carry it around with you and so remember Philippa. And the hats…please take a hat.

We can all now see, with the help of social media, the  success she was and it says it all about her London career and life, it speaks for itself, so I move onto the next surprise. Why are we here in this Church? Philippa, Church?!

Well, she was raised here. She received her First Holy Communion here, she stood on a chair over there, one Good Friday, when she was seven and moved everyone with her reading of Jesus’ last hours. She would happily come back and join us here for family celebrations and events and was always comfortable in this place.

Most importantly, her natural tendency to walk on the boundary with the underdog, the outcast, was formed and developed here. She was fed on the Word and heard every week about the Gospel message of love, acceptance and action.

Did any of you, walking down the streets with her in London, late at night find you were talking to yourself because she was talking and giving to the homeless? How many of you, frightened of being despised or shunned found Philippa drawing you from the boundary to the centre? How many of you sad and grieving, happy and rejoicing found her at your side? We shall hear about the Good Samaritan in a minute and I know some of you have been slung across the back of her donkey and taken to safety while she shouted at the bandits. Nothing shocked her, nothing surprised her. She was intelligent and perceptive, intuitive and empathetic and entirely tolerant of who we were. Look at us here, a diverse and varied group of people, she gathered us around her and made us all feel important.

In the last week of her life she picked up her ninety year old neighbour from a collapse on the bathroom floor, continued to encourage a colleague to reach her potential and comforted a friend whose mother is seriously ill.

Now, she wasn’t a Saint, none of us are. Sometimes she went into into dark places and she would go off our radar for a while. That was painful for us. She could be cross and indignant when she felt an injustice or wrong had been done and we would run for cover. There was nothing docile about Philippa but we loved her anyway.

She was born in St Peters Hospital and it is right that we say goodbye to her here in St Peters Church. We need the certainty and comfort we will find here. So please,Join in, sing, listen to the words and  The Word. She used to make us sing that Magnificat over and over on our journeys to a place called Taize in France, where it was written. Whatever you believe or don’t believe, be moved and touched.

So, the surprise of her death. Many of you know, she had been suffering from a very painful skin condition for some months. She had several diagnosis, occasional comfort and relief from treatments.  Just a few weeks ago, after she had a small biopsy, I spent a peaceful afternoon with her in her room at Tufnell Park. I took a picnic and we laughed, talked and ate for several hours.  She was very peaceful. She had been room bound but far from having cabin fever, she had been writing, resting and had received many visitors. She said that if she could just earn enough from writing and dog walking….her beloved dogs, any would do….she would be content there. I was grateful for that afternoon with her.

Anyway, the pain came back and she had to go off sick from work, cancel arrangements, She hated letting people down. She had to pull out of a play, can you imagine that? It all became too much. The finely balanced scales tipped and now,we are here.

She was at peace with all of us, we had a wonderful Christmas with her and she had seen us several times since. She wrote that she loved us all but needed to be free. She knew how much she was loved and that if she had cried for help any of you or us would have been there in a heartbeat but now she is free with her wonderful creativity in….the great creation somewhere.

I know and some of you know, like I do, that she is at peace at least. Thanks to those of you who have shared your dreams and feelings with me since she died. Light shines in her dark places and she is where she belongs.

There is a fourth surprise and its to do with the hope we find here,but it is not my place to preach. You will hear of that later from her Godfather, Father David, but it is that certainty we celebrate.

Before I finish I want to thank many of you from the bottom of my heart for all for all you have done with such sustaining love, prayer, food… and for my amazing family and friends who have paced my every step for the last three weeks. But that would take a long time and we have a Mass to get on with. Mike will say more about thankyous at the wake, so I have to thank Mike now.

I’m not usually given to talking to statues but I did happen to have have a chat with St Joseph about the challenges of being a stepfather on the day I now know, Philippa died.  I asked him to say a prayer for Mike. Little  did I know what I was praying for and Mike, thankyou, for walking with me for the last three weeks and dealing with stuff even dear old St Joseph might have found tough. You heard, just last week, from a friend, how much Philippa valued you and I won’t embarrass you by repeating it, but she knew she left me in safe hands.

Time to move on. So, my beautiful, lovely Philly. Intelligent, intuitive, creative, charismatic, wilful, witty, determined, devoted… I’ll finish here, because, as someone said, there are no words left to say, she took them all with her.

Thank you.’

Liz Slinn 6 March 2015

[photo Stefan Lubomirski De Vaux, 3 September 2012]

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