For the past year, residents in Guildford, Surrey, might have spotted a woman walking around dressed as Charlie Chaplin, a smurf or even the Queen – often warranting a double take.
That woman is 42-year-old Nikki Taylor-Hopper who, with the help of her mum and wife, crafted fancy dress costumes and wore them every Friday for an entire year – until March 2018 – to raise money for charity.
Nikki, who lives with her wife Anna, also 42, and step children Rhys, 19, and Lauren, 15, was inspired to take on the challenge after losing loved ones to pancreatic cancer. Her dad was diagnosed on 19 July 2012 and died exactly three months later, aged 63, leaving the family devastated.
“Going through it with a family member, I saw the stages more. I saw what was involved: the care, the nurses, the operation, the medication, everything,” she tells HuffPost UK.
Witnessing all of these measures, a desperate attempt to save her father’s life, made Nikki want to give something back: “The most important thing for me was about [raising] awareness.”
After her dad’s death, the 42-year-old took part in a couple of fundraising runs for Cancer Research UK but felt as though she didn’t know which parts of the charity the money was channelled into.
She wanted to do something bigger and better to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer so she decided to set up Fancy Dress Friday – wearing a different costume at the end of each week to teach people about pancreatic cancer and raise money in the process.
Pancreatic cancer is a silent killer. Approximately 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease every year and shockingly less than seven per cent survive beyond five years.
Nikki’s efforts captured attention wherever she went – including on a holiday to Spain where she surprised her friends by running down the beach dressed as Pamela Anderson. “It didn’t stop. If we were on holiday, we were on holiday,” she laughs.
As well as amusing friends, Nikki was surprised when a woman on the beach approached her and told her she was also from Guildford and had heard about her fundraising efforts online. She later made a huge donation to the cause.
With every costume she would wear a sign explaining what she was doing with a link to her Facebook and fundraising pages – surprisingly perhaps this was a successful way to raise awareness and, in total, she ended up raising more than £4,000 for charity.
The costumes would often be planned up to six weeks in advance, as finding specific items and accessories could be tough. “Nobody knew what I was going to be wearing other than Anna,” she explains. “Every Friday, people would be looking on Facebook or Instagram [to see what I was wearing].”
Some costumes were homemade by her mum, others were put together using purchases from eBay or charity shops. “What I didn’t want to do – I think I did it once – was borrow or buy a onesie,” she says. “That’s why we did things six weeks in advance.” Her Queen Elizabeth outfit took five months to pull together.
The outfits often coincided purposefully with a special occasion – for example, a celebrity’s birthday or seasonal event. Nikki says her favourite of all was Charlie Chaplin: “The idea actually came from having a takeaway from Wagamama’s restaurant. When I finished my meal, the bowl fitted my head perfectly. And from that bowl, we then got the suit, and all the face paint I did myself.”
Nikki was working as a nanny at the time and would often pick the children up from school in fancy dress – unsurprisingly, she was a hit on the playground. “The family were really supportive, so I would go and pick up the children from school and I’d be dressed as a super hero or something like that. And the kids, when we got back from school, they’d join in.”
When the year finally came to an end, Nikki was at a complete loss. She organised a grand finale in her local pub where she auctioned off most of her costumes (she only has four left), with proceeds also going to the charity.
Laura Sutton, community fundraiser at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “We are so delighted that Nikki is supporting us and so impressed with her incredible fancy dress costumes. It’s been so wonderful to see the pictures throughout the year.
“The funds raised by Nikki will help us offer vital support to patients and families, invest in crucial research to help us see the breakthroughs we urgently need, and be a voice for everyone affected by the disease.”
Nikki, who now works as a delivery driver, hopes her efforts will inspire others to fundraise – no matter how big or small the effort. “It’s not just about the person who’s going through this horrible disease, it’s who’s left behind as well,” she says. “I hope it encourages people to do something or raise money – even if it’s just £50.”
Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month is coming up this November. If you’re interested in holding your own fundraising event please visit www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk.
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