THIS is an “amazing” time for Bexhill schoolgirl Lauren Gander, who has won a prestigious award in recognition of being an inspiring role model - and appeared on national television.
Lauren was nominated for the Princess Diana Award by Jeremy Marris of Tree of Hope, the Bexhill charity for which she is the Young Ambassador.
This comes hot on the heels of her winning Arrow FM’s Fundraiser of the Year which was an award for her achievement in raising more than £80,000 including £4,700 from her recent zipwire jump reported in the Observer.
Perhaps for Lauren though the most astonishing tribute to her drive and determination to work for others has been her appearance on Tonight’s The Night with John Barrowman on Saturday.
The tears flowed as Lauren realised she was about to have a dream come true - that of meeting her idol Matthew Morrison from Glee and even having the chance to sing a duet with him.
The elaborate set-up began at Bexhill College, which was approached by the BBC because it had the art facilities needed for the intended secret filming.
Lauren was taken there with other youngsters for a session with eccentric art teacher Felix, who turned out to be none other than presenter Matt Baker.
Lauren was visibly stunned when he pulled off Felix’s wig and disguise to surprise her and from then she says her feet have not touched the ground.
“From that moment when I was in the art studio it has been amazing. It has been a dream come true. I would not guessed this in a million years.”
Lauren’s next surprise was to be taken to the Goring Hotel in London to meet her idol Matthew Morrison in his room and the Tonight’s The Night footage showed her to be overwhelmed with excitement and happiness. He then gave her two front row tickets to his concert.
Lauren and mum Linda and dad Lionel, from Whychurst Gardens, were flown up to Scotland for the filming of the show itself, which was when they met John Barrowman, who was obviously moved by the story of the 11-year-old and her early struggle.
Lauren was diagnosed with spina bifida when she was eight months old and doctors feared she might never walk. She went on the confound the experts however, even becoming a talented dancer who loved to perform and appeared in professional productions including pantomime in Canterbury.
She is a pupil at Bexhill High but still fits in plenty of fundraising activities and challenges including sleeping out on frosty winter nights to highlight problems of homelessness and perhaps most impressively gliding at Lewes for the benefit of Sussex charity SASBAH, which works for those with spina bifida.
Tears were shed by Lauren and her mother as the story unfolded on screen and both say the experience was overwhelming.
“You don’t in a million years think something like this will happen,” said Linda.
“Literally our lives have been turned upside down, obviously for the better. I didn’t realise how big this would be, and it was huge... so emotional, there were a lot of tears on my behalf.
“Her problems at birth were a long time ago, and you live with it and don’t talk about it much, but when the BBC came to the house and I did talk about it a lot of emotions came up.
“But she has been so lucky - she really has - and I do think she truly appreciates it, that’s why there were all the tears, she couldn’t believe what was happening.
“This has been such an amazing time.”