A Burnham-On-Sea couple’s ‘fairytale’ 2018 wedding has helped inspire celebrities including Sir Cliff Richard and Jeffrey Archer to support a local charity’s new bid to help other dreams come true.

The late Claire Rutter was a patient at Weston Hospicecare when she proposed to Rob Cope in May last year.

She had always dreamed of a ‘princess wedding’, but due to her deteriorating health her family initially feared it would be impossible to organise in such a limited time.

However, thanks to the support of family and friends, plus the hospice and businesses across the area, Claire and Rob were able to celebrate their big day in style before she passed away.

Since then, the hospice has decided to set up a new fund to help make dreams come true for other patients.

Named the Jill Dando Fund, in honour of the former BBC presenter who was the hospice’s first patron, it will be used to help the hospice’s patients achieve ambitions which might otherwise be out of reach.

Claire’s mum Katrina and Nigel Dando, Jill’s brother, have both offered their support for the initiative, along with Sir Cliff and Lord Archer.

Sir Cliff was a long-term friend of Jill’s, and performed at a star-studded fundraiser in Weston in 2000 which was organised in Jill’s memory and raised £65,000 to fund a consultant for the hospice.

Before Jill died, she and the Weston Mercury’s then-editor – Judi Driscoll, the hospice’s current chair of trustees – had agreed to jointly launch the consultant appeal, and Sir Cliff and Lord Archer came to the Winter Gardens to help.

Sir Cliff Richard said: “I enjoyed coming to Weston-super-Mare and helping the hospice raise the funds to achieve Jill’s desire to provide the hospice with its own palliative care consultant.”

“It’s now 20 years on – and I believe the hospice is celebrating its 30th birthday – so it is a great idea to launch a Jill Dando Fund for this purpose.”

“Jill was a caring, compassionate person and it will be good for her spirit to live on at the hospice in this way.”

And Lord Archer, who often saw Jill at events, said: “Jill was one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known, whose potential was never fully realised.”

Although Claire and Rob enjoyed a successful wedding day last year, organising their big day highlighted a need for a dedicated fund to help hospice patients of the future.

Judi said: “I spoke to Katrina the day after Claire had asked Rob if they could be married. Claire’s dad had died a few years before and Katrina wanted the best day possible for her daughter and grandchildren. I was inspired by Katrina and the trustees agreed to initiate a special fund for the hospice’s 30th birthday year.”

“We fundraise every day to bridge the gap between the money we need to run the hospice and the Government funding we receive. But our general funding needs to be used to provide for all of our patients and secure our future services.”

“The start-up moneys for the Jill Dando Fund have been generously given for this special project – some by people who would not necessarily be asked on a regular basis.”

Katrina said: “This fund is for people like Claire. She really wanted this fairytale wedding; it was everything to her. It was all she ever wanted, from when she was a little girl, to have a princess wedding.”

“At first I thought it wouldn’t be possible, just because it had to be done really quickly. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to get the money together, but everybody helped, we had a lot of support from the hospice, and about a week in, I then thought yes, we can do this.”

“With help from businesses, friends and family, we were able to give her the wedding she always wanted. It was very, very emotional, but at the same time it was such a lovely day. To have so many family and friends there, the sun shone on her too, and it was a beautiful day. Her family will have those memories forever.”

“It was about giving Claire what she wanted and that’s what this fund can do for other people.”

Nigel Dando agreed immediately that the fund could be named after his sister, who was such a devoted supporter of the hospice during its early years.

He said: “Jill had always been interested in the work of the hospice and supported it and promoted it in any way she could; having been born in Weston, she realised the work it was doing.”

“I think she would have been delighted that such a heartwarming appeal should bear her name in this way. She would be delighted to an extent because it carries her name and she would support anything the hospice was doing, but also because of the reason this fund was set up; to do things far and beyond the hospice’s conventional services.”

“The fund is a brilliant idea and one that I’m sure will be supported by well-wishers from Weston and beyond.”

“It’s been set up to meet the unseen needs of people and families who are relying on the hospice. If this fund can make some dreams and wishes come true, that is fantastic.”

Pictured: Top, Claire and Rob enjoyed their dream wedding surrounded by family and friends in May 2018;  Middle: Weston Hospicecare’s Dr Helen Horgan with Katrina Rutter and Nigel Dando at the launch of the Jill Dando Fund; Above: Nick Ross, Cliff Richard, Gloria Hunniford, Alan Farthing, Jack, Nigel and Vanessa Dando at the Winter Gardens benefit. Picture: Weston Mercury

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