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Harlesden charity founder Dame Elizabeth Anionwu wins Pride of Britain's Lifetime Achievement Award

PUBLISHED: 10:11 05 November 2019

Sickle Cell Society co-founder Dame Elizabeth Anionwu with Janet Jackson at the Pride of Britain Awards.     Picture: Tim Merry©

Sickle Cell Society co-founder Dame Elizabeth Anionwu with Janet Jackson at the Pride of Britain Awards. Picture: Tim Merry©

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Retired nurse Dame Elizabeth Anionwu was overwhelmed to be handed a Lifetime Achievement Award by music sensation Janet Jackson.

Carol Vorderman looks on as Dame Elizabeth Anionwu receives Pride Of Britain 2019 Lifetime Achievement award from Janet Jackson. Picture: Adam GerrardCarol Vorderman looks on as Dame Elizabeth Anionwu receives Pride Of Britain 2019 Lifetime Achievement award from Janet Jackson. Picture: Adam Gerrard

The 73-year-old received a giant applause at the glittering Pride of Britain awards ceremony on Monday.

Dame Anionwu was the UK's first sickle cell/thalassaemia nurse specialist, and a founding member of the Brent Sickle Cell & Thalassaemia Counselling centre, now the Sickle Cell Society, in Harlesden's Station Road.

"The evening was absolutely fantastic, I'm still coming down from it, I did not expect it," she said. "They'd phoned me and it was a good job I was sitting down watching TV because I couldn't believe it."

She was further surprised when she reached the stage at the ceremony and host Carol Vorderman told her Janet Jackson had arrived.

Formation of the Sickle Cell Society 1979 Lt to Rt Sherlene Rudder, Cynthia McLetchie, Winston McLaren, Ismay Nimblette & Elizabeth AnionwuFormation of the Sickle Cell Society 1979 Lt to Rt Sherlene Rudder, Cynthia McLetchie, Winston McLaren, Ismay Nimblette & Elizabeth Anionwu

"I heard her say Janet Jackson but I couldn't believe it. I must have frozen because she gently tapped me on the arm and turned me around and Janet came from back stage with the trophy in her hand.

"She's a lovely very warm person. What she was saying was so relevant to what I've done but it was so lovely to say thank you to her and the people in America at the national Sickle Cell foundation who helped me enormously. They gave me the success I've had."

The US singer tweeted after the event: "You are so beautiful and inspiring. Thank U."

Further congratulations came from Dame Anionwu's celebrity nephew, actor Charles Venn who tweeted: "So proud of my Auntie Dame @EAnionwu OBE, winning an award at the @PrideOfBritain Awards last night, a fantastic achievement."

Dame Elilzabeth Anionwu with her book 'Mixed Blessing from a Cambridge Union'. Picture: Northwick Park HospitalDame Elilzabeth Anionwu with her book 'Mixed Blessing from a Cambridge Union'. Picture: Northwick Park Hospital

Dame Anionwu, who lives in Ealing, has self published her memoires, Mixed Blessings from a Cambridge Union, about her mixed race upbringing in the 1950's, an absent father, an abusive step father and living in a children's care home until she was nine-year's-old, which she credits with inspiring her to become a nurse.

Her interest in sickle cell started in the early 1970s while she was working as a health visitor in the One Tree Hill clinic in Alperton.

"There were at least three families I visited who had children with sickle cell anaemia.

"I was sitting with one of those families and the mother was crying, not because the medical care was terrible but she wanted more information,

Sick Cell Anaemia Capital Radio helpline in 1984Sick Cell Anaemia Capital Radio helpline in 1984

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"I was feeling very distraught and angry as I'd never been told about sickle cell when I trained."

In 1977 Dame Anionwu visited Los Angeles where they were "a lot more active with sickle cell" and returned to the UK with what she learnt from American nurses.

Collaboration with Haematologist Dr Misha Brozovic at Central Middlesex Hospital came a few years later after attending a couple of her lectures about the illness.

10th Anniversary of the Brent Sickle Cell Thalassaemia Centre 1989 - Lord Paul Boateng, Dr Misha Brozovic, Elizabeth Anionwu, Winston Mclaren.jpg10th Anniversary of the Brent Sickle Cell Thalassaemia Centre 1989 - Lord Paul Boateng, Dr Misha Brozovic, Elizabeth Anionwu, Winston Mclaren.jpg

In 1979 Dr Brozovic got funding for "my salary and a couple of rooms" at Willesden Hospital and it was here that Elizabeth set up an information, screening and genetic counselling centre.

"I did it for six years on my own until more funding came. That's really why I got this award, there's much greater awareness now since those days in Brent when I became the first ever UK sickle cell nurse specialist."

Herself a single mum and now a grandmother, in 2017 she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year Honours for services to nursing.

Vice-chair of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal, she helped raise £750,000 for a statue of the first mixed race nurse who provided care for British soldiers at the battlefront during the Crimean War.

"I was always very happy to be involved with that, she was one of my role models, and was one of the reasons I was awarded a damehood."

Her book has sold more than 4,000 copies and she enjoys "wonderful reviews" on Amazon. "I grew up in a care home, working class background, single mother, finding my father; life has turned out for me despite this very difficult start.

That's what inspires people and cheers people up when I give talks."

A spokesperson for the Sickle Cell Society said they were "delighted" Dame Elizabeth had won the Lifetime Achievement Award.

"It is a significant and well deserved achievement for a true sickle cell champion.

"Professor Dame Elizabeth has been a key part of our work in the sickle cell community for the last 40 years and we hope this award brings recognition for her hard work and awareness to sickle cell in the UK."

Mixed Blessings from a Cambridge Union, which she describes as "Philomena meets President Barack Obama's Dreams For My Father' is available for £14.99.

Pride of Britain Awards is being shown on tonight at 8pm and will be available on the ITV hub.

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