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Duchess meets the Calendar Girls

Published 02/06/2015

The Duchess of Cornwall talks with the Calender girls (left to right) Lynda Logan, Angela Baker, Ros Fawcett and Patricia Stewart
The Duchess of Cornwall talks with the Calender girls (left to right) Lynda Logan, Angela Baker, Ros Fawcett and Patricia Stewart

Britain's most famous WI members - the Calendar Girls - met the Duchess of Cornwall when she joined them in celebrating the institution's centenary year.

The women, who famously appeared semi-nude in a charity calendar that inspired a host of imitators and raised millions of pounds, joined Camilla at a Buckingham Palace garden party.

Their story was immortalised in the hit movie Calendar Girls starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters and now singer Gary Barlow is working on a musical based on their experiences.

Thousands of Women's Institute (WI) members, at least one from every branch in the country, enjoyed afternoon tea at the event hosted by Camilla who was joined by three other royal women, the Countess of Wessex, Duchess of Gloucester and the Queen's cousin Princess Alexandra.

Members of the Rylstone and District WI in North Yorkshire created the infamous calendar in 1999 after John Baker, husband of Angela Knowles, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and later died from the illness.

Mrs Knowles, who married John's friend Charles Knowles in 2005, was one of six of the original Calendar Girls, who still promote the calendar and follow-up pictures, invited to the palace.

They all wore their trademark black dresses, string of pearls and a single sunflower - a bloom Mr Baker grew before he died.

She said: "It's just brilliant to be here with these ladies, all these fantastic WI ladies.

"When we first did the calendar it was a big thing for me to do, John had just died and we were doing it in his memory and we've raised millions for (the charity) Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research."

Mrs Knowles, 69, who lives in Linton in Craven, North Yorkshire, was played by Julie Walters in the movie, and in the calendar was Miss February, pictured playing the piano.

She added: "We never thought we would sell so many copies of the calendar, we don't mind people having copied us, but we were the first."

Camilla, who is a member of the Tetbury WI near Charles' Highgrove home, chatted to the women, and when she met Mrs Knowles, the Calendar Girl joked with her, saying "Do you remember you married just before me? You married a Charles and I married a Charles."

The WI was formed in 1915 a year in to the First World War to rejuvenate rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food to help combat German naval blockades.

It was inspired by an idea from Canada and was first founded in the Anglesey village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll - famous for having Britain's longest place name.

Traditionally associated with "jam and Jerusalem" it has developed its outlook and modernised in recent years. About 500 WI members were left disappointed after they learnt they had been invited to the garden party but their invitations never arrived as all the 8,000 places had already been allocated.

A WI spokeswoman said the issue was down to "human error".

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