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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 22:12 GMT 23:12 UK
Real calendar girls stay grounded
Real calendar girls
The 'real calendar girls' do not let fame go to their head
For many people, the idea of having their life turned into a big-budget movie would most certainly lift their feet off the ground.

But not the ladies of the Rylstone Women's Institute, who have seen more than just their faces splashed across newspapers and billboards.

These are the women who so outrageously stripped for a charity calendar, raising a fortune for charity in the process.

The down-to-earth women from Yorkshire refuse to let the attention and adulation go to their heads, despite seeing their lives transformed for the big screen.

And despite their trips to Hollywood and the glamorous Cannes Film Festival, they believe nobody in their home town treats them like celebrities.

"We're no big deal to anybody at home," said Tricia Stewart, one of ringleaders in starting the calendar.

"We aren't actresses and we aren't stars as long as we keep that knowledge we're fine."

Best friend Angela Baker, whose late husband the calendar was dedicated to, said: "We still do our washing on a Monday, ironing on a Tuesday and go to the supermarket."

Apprehension

They are proud to say they are still regular attendees of WI meetings, with Beryl Bamforth, the oldest of the "real calendar girls", proud of the fact that she will be back there just days after treading the carpet of the UK première of the film.

Julie Walters and Helen Mirren
Julie Walters and Helen Mirren are the stars of the movie
And because the women come from a small village, their local WI has hardly seen an increase in numbers despite the worldwide attention.

Originally, 11 women from the small Yorkshire become world renowned after stripping off for the charity calendar.

When Hollywood first came calling there was a lot of apprehension among the women as to whether to sell their story and carry on living in the public eye.

Eventually five women decided to step back from the limelight and did not sell the rights to their stories, leaving just six: Ms Stewart, Ms Baker, Ms Bamforth, Lynda Logan, Christine Clancy and Ros Fawcett.

Much of the film has been fictionalised, while the friendship between Ms Baker and Ms Stewart, played by Julie Walters and Dame Helen Mirren, remained true.

The idea behind the calendar was to fundraise for the local hospital following the death of Ms Baker's husband John from leukaemia five years ago.

Ms Stewart came up with the idea of an alternative WI calendar featuring members of their group nude, persuading her friends to take part.

And unlike in the film, where the Women's Institute at first frowns on the idea, they encountered nothing but support from their own group and the national organisation.

Trust

The image of the WI is still one of an organisation for genteel and conservative women, so when news of the calendar broke it made national headlines.

And it did not stop there, as the advertising and film offers began trickling in.

Calendar Girls, with Helen Mirren (second left) and Julie Walters (centre)
Calendar Girls is expected to be a huge hit
But after living in the spotlight for some time, Ms Baker admits that the thought of her life story, and the death of her husband, being put on screen did not immediately appeal.

"My first reaction was that I probably did not want to do it," she said.

But after building up a trust with producers Suzanne Mackie and Nick Barton she felt ready to hand over her story.

And then after four years in the planning and production, which the WI women were allowed to be involved with, the time came to begin marketing the film, alongside the actresses, with a star-studded première in London.

Such is the camaraderie between the WI women that they all met up and chatted on the red carpet, before all striding in together.

And they never forget the reason why they embarked on the project, to raise money in the name of John Baker.

Ms Baker said her husband knew about the plan for the calendar, and was even going to be the "token man" in it, but was too ill to take part.

They have so far raised £600,000 for the Leukaemia Research Fund, and do not intend stopping any time soon.

Calendar Girls is showing in London now, and goes nationwide from the 12 September.


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