'Losing my mum and dad broke my heart but now I'm taking to the catwalk again to raise money and help deal with my grief'
Former model Julie Duckworth from Belfast is bringing back Eighties style with the launch of the Walk of Life Fashion Show, which is aimed at raising funds for Parkinson's UK and The Boom Foundation. She explains to Linda Stewart how the loss of her parents was the inspiration behind this retro extravaganza.
She was once a familiar face on our TV screens and billboards back in the Eighties, appearing in modelling campaigns for the likes of Sunday Life, Dunnes Stores and Dale Farm.
Now, former model Julie Duckworth is hoping to revive the glory days with an Eighties-inspired extravaganza, bringing together ex-models with celebrities, DeLorean cars and ra-ra skirts for a fashion show with a difference - and a serious message.
The idea behind the event is to raise much-needed funds for two charities close to her heart. Julie's father John died 18 years ago from cancer and her mother Sheila passed away with Parkinson's Disease in 2014, so all proceeds from the fashion show will be donated to the charities Parkinson's UK and The Boom Foundation.
"In September 2014 the most devastating, life-changing event happened to me when I lost my mother to Parkinson's Disease. Eighteen years earlier my dad had succumbed to cancer," Julie says. "I was completely broken, but with time on my side as a healer, I wanted to do something positive in their memory."
Julie says her family originally came from Stockport, but when she was a child they relocated to Northern Ireland where her dad took up a role in industrial catering.
"It was just before the Troubles started that we settled here and for a couple of years it was quite difficult being English. Mum found it very difficult to make friends for the first couple of years as there was a bit of suspicion at that time," she explains.
Julie's dad worked for Gardner Merchant, now Sodexho, and was in charge of a number of major operations such as DuPont and the UTV canteen.
"My dad continued working in the Eighties and my stay-at-home mum would have worked in a garden centre. She was exceptionally clever when it came to plants. She lived for her family really - she told me off and looked after me and told me to come home early and not to go out with boys," she recalls.
"Through that time we were accepted into the community and we grew up in Lisburn. I went to Harmony Hill and then Laurel Hill High, but I ended up not doing well at school so mum and dad decided the best thing for me was to go into nursing."
Julie began working at the Royal Children's Hospital, but had to leave nursing after a year due to crippling anxiety which still dogs her today.
After that, she worked at Next, then became a full-time model with Stages, got married and went on to work in a number of advertising agencies, where she was often called in to take part in high profile campaigns. It was here that she developed her love of organising events, going onto key roles in a number of hotels and with Women in Business.
"My mum and dad weren't that bothered about the modelling - they didn't mind me doing it, but they weren't telling people 'my daughter's a model'. They were supportive and happy for me. My mum was quietly proud," she adds.
Meanwhile, her sister Susan, now 54, went on to become a lecturer in market research.
But things became tough when Julie's marriage broke up, followed a year later by the sudden death of her father from lymphoma.
"He hadn't been well for years and I'd noticed that he'd been losing weight. But that year, we managed to get through Christmas and he died by the end of January. It was very, very sad - he was only 60," Julie explains.
"Inside I think he knew there was something wrong. But he would say he had a pain in his back and he thought it was from playing golf.
"Even when he was dying in hospital, my mother was saying 'he's going to be all right'.
"I suffered very badly with depression and mum was there very much for me and my daughter. Mum was very brave - I didn't ever see her cry. She was an iconic figure in my daughter's life and helped me to bring her up."
But over the following years, Julie began to notice worrying signs of the Parkinson's Disease that was to afflict her mum.
"We went to London and I noticed she was having trouble putting the key card into the hotel room door. And bit by bit I was noticing her starting to get a little tremor in her finger. It wasn't very obvious that something was wrong, but I started to notice things getting worse," she says.
One Christmas, Sheila was bringing Julie's daughter Kerry across the road from school when she slipped, broke her arm and twisted her shoulder - but refused to go to hospital.
"I took three weeks off to look after her," Julie says.
"Over the next seven years, she ended up in hospital twice a year. If she had nipped it in the bud, she could still be alive today. She made it worse for herself by not seeking medical help.
"One time when she had just got out of hospital and was able to walk around the house, she ended up for a week not being able to get off her seat. She collapsed and in the ICU they found she had a hernia from stretching to get up. Eventually her kidneys started to fail.
"In the last year, mum started to get dementia, thinking dad was still alive. With Parkinson's you can get hallucinations due to the medicine.
"We ended up getting carers who were brilliant. I would go and see her every night and break some chocolate up for her and I would take her into town at the weekend for Victoria sponge and cream.
"One day when I came home, she tried to speak to me. She said 'you know, something happened to me last night' but she couldn't tell me.
"I asked if she had thought she was going to die and she said 'yes'. She wanted to move into a home and I knew she'd given up."
Julie is full of praise for the home, Rose Lodge, but says that her mother continued to decline and eventually lost the ability to swallow.
"She mouthed to me 'Whatever happens, I'll be fine' and she said 'You're beautiful' and I knew she was going. I was sitting with her for five days," says Juile.
"Then at the end she started to breathe and I said to her 'I'm fine - you've made me a strong person' and she went.
"I'm glad I was there for her. We knew she was going to be with dad."
The family held a service in Roselawn and Sheila and John's ashes were brought to Amsdell near Lytham St Anne's.
Since her granny's death, Kerry has started studying for a Masters in Art Management at Queen's.
Julie says: "She's fine and I am fine, but to be honest over the last two years I still suffered from depression and it has been difficult to pick myself up. So I thought 'what could I do to get me through this?'."
She turned to her love of event organising and came up with the idea of an Eighties-inspired event, bringing back 14 of her fellow models from the decade.
The Walk of Life Fashion Show is a unique, retro-inspired gala being brought to Belfast on April 28 next year by the same fashionistas who were there at the heart of the vibrant Eighties fashion scene here.
"When Cathy Martin (director of Belfast Fashionweek) said she would be interested, that gave me the confidence to do it. I have been organising it since March - it has been like pushing a massive boulder up a hill but the show is going to be fantastic. I am looking forward to modelling again and this has rekindled a lot of friendships," she adds.
Julie has also signed up some of Northern Ireland's most well-known celebrities to take part and has already secured the support of popular faces including comedians Nuala McKeever, John Lenehan, Tim McGarry and George Jones, as well as current and former TV and radio hosts Stephen Clements, Alison Fleming and Paul Clark. It's rumoured that Jimmy Nesbitt, Mary Peters, Eamonn Holmes and even Jamie Dornan may be putting in an appearance.
Julie is calling on people to snap up tickets and is also looking for sponsorship and prizes for the raffle. She has thanked all the loving friends and family who have supported the show.
The show will take place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly Ramada Plaza, Shaws Bridge) on Friday, April 28. The ticket price includes a sparkling wine reception plus a vintage video presentation pulled together by the team at Lyle Bailie, Julie's former employers, along with the Walk of Life Fashion Show and celebrity entertainment.
There will also be a performance by Ian Wilson (former guitarist with Sweet Savage) followed by an Eighties disco.
Tickets cost £30 from the Belfast Welcome Centre box office, tel: 028 9024 6609 or by clicking onto the following link: https://visitbelfast.ticketsolve.com/shows/873560729/events