Harry and Emma asked their guests to join them for a charity-fundraising event in place of a traditional engagement party
Shortly after Harry Vickers and Emma Thornton Jones got engaged, the couple were faced with the heartbreaking news that Harry's father, Tony, was very ill in hospital with cancer.
The couple were due to celebrate their engagement with a party in their favourite pub that weekend, but instead they and their guests joined more than 16,000 other people in Cancer Research UK’s annual Shine Night Walk through London.
Here, groom Harry shares their story...
Instead of an engagement party, you decided to ask your friends and family to participate in the Shine Night Walk - who came up with the idea and why did you decide to do it?
By some miracle, the most sensational girl I have ever met agreed to marry me in May last year. It was the most exhilarating and exciting day imaginable but sadly it was followed just a few weeks later by the news that my dad, Tony, was losing his battle with cancer, with only weeks to live. Without enough time to plan a wedding and knowing that he would not be fit to attend anyway, we decided to hold our wedding the following year and focus on having a big and brilliant engagement party with him instead.
Just two weeks before the party, Dad suffered a complication and was rushed to hospital and we very nearly lost him. As I was on the Tube the following day, I saw an ad for the Shine night walk and noticed that the date and time tied in with when our party was due to be. That night, Ems and I were talking about how we did not feel like we could have a party with Dad so ill, and so it all fell into place. We had been presented with an amazing opportunity to fight back against this awful disease that steals too many people away from their families.
Did it take much planning?
When we made the decision to go for it, we quickly emailed all our friends and the response was phenomenal. The next tricky bit was signing us all up. The closing date for entries had passed and so I emailed CRUK saying what we wanted to do and hoping they would find a space for us. I really cannot describe how amazing the staff at SHINE were in getting us all registered and ready in such a short space of time.
Did you do much training?
Not a jot. We didn't have time! I would definitely recommend doing a bit of training as we were exhausted by the end but the sheer warmth and enthusiasm of all the participants, the wonderful volunteers and even a few drunken revellers who interrupted their nights out all helped carry us over the line. We were lucky to be walking in a huge group of people which meant that time flew as we walked through London together.
The most inspiring story of the night is of a lady who had been training for the event with her friend for a few months. Sadly her friend had a bit of a wobble and could not finish. The lady helped her friend to their car and drove her home tucking her up in bed about 6am. I am pretty sure anyone else then would shrug their shoulders and call it a night. Not this lady. She walked straight out of the door and made sure she completed the remaining miles she had to do all on her own. A true hero.
How much money did you raise?
We originally aimed for £1,000, but my dad in hospital told me I was a prat and said I should aim higher so we settled on £3,000. Over the following weeks and months, the final total raced to £20,000. Dad was right and I know he is smiling about it right now.
What was the atmosphere like on the night?
I would be lying that at times it was not hard, as ultimately we were there for a sad reason. However, the sheer enthusiasm of all the participants and the positive purpose behind the whole event makes it truly inspiring. We were also very lucky to be walking around the most amazing city with people cheering us on as we walked. 18,000 people walking with a combined purpose are always going to create a special atmosphere.
What does Shine mean to you?
That is a hard one. Ultimately, we will always remember it as the night we celebrated our engagement with our closest friends walking in an incredible atmosphere through London looking beautiful at night. We will also remember it as the night 65 of our closest friends and family walked together to show my Dad that we loved him and were united in supporting him and others battling cancer by raising a wonderful amount of money.
What are your top three tips for anyone taking part in this September's Shine Night Walk?
- Talk to the people around you and especially the volunteers. Sadly everyone is touched by cancer and being amongst nearly 18,000 people are doing something positive against cancer is very humbling. It was also very helpful emotional for Ems, my mother and I as my dad was in the last few weeks of his battles at the time.
- Tell people about it and be proud of your achievement. It is amazing where support can come from. We received donations from the unlikeliest of places and people really do want to help you raise money for this crucial battle.
- Wear something bright and loud and shine. Though it is a tough and long walk, the Shine night walk should also be a celebration that you are doing something to fight back against this terrible disease..