Sir Cliff treat on Dreamflight trip
Sir Cliff Richard burst into a rendition of his hit Summer Holiday on board a Florida-bound plane carrying 192 seriously ill or disabled children this afternoon.
The veteran pop star serenaded the excited group before the plane took off from Heathrow on the holiday of a lifetime thanks to British Airways-supported charity Dreamflight.
Now in its 27th year, Sir Cliff said the annual trip - which includes the opportunity for each child to swim with dolphins - is "probably one of the most exciting things that's happened" in the children's lives.
Having just jetted in from Miami to wave goodbye to the group - who are from all over the UK - he said: "Dreamflight is such a wonderful idea. The fact that these very sick children who have a dream of going to Disney, and suddenly, there's this plane.
"They have the most fantastic time.
"It's probably one of the most exciting things that's happened to them in their lives."
The children have left their families behind and will be looked after during the action-packed week of fun by 15 doctors, 50 nurses and 12 or 13 physios - all volunteers.
The total cost of the trip is around £750,000, all of which is funded by voluntary contributions and covers chartering a Boeing 747, medical equipment and medication, swimming with dolphins, police security and communications equipment.
Sir Cliff described the work of Dreamflight as "vital" and said it makes him feel positive about the world.
"All charity is vital. How do these people have a life? How do they get something as magical as this without a charity involved?
"It warms my heart, because it goes to show that with all the evil there is in the world, there are obviously people who will give their time, give their money, give their commitment and dedication to help young sick children have maybe one fabulous moment in their lives.
"I think it's worth every penny that it costs."
Sir Cliff, who has been involved in the charity for 20 years, sang Summer Holiday through the plane's PA system before it pushed back and took to the skies.
To fit in with the occasion, he changed the lyrics to Dreamflight Holiday, adding: "No more sickness for a week or two."
A crowd of airport staff waved the children off, and fire engines soaked the plane in a water canon salute as it approached the runway.
Ryan Shannon, 14, from Belfast, said he was "really excited" about the trip.
He said: "I can't wait to go. All of us can't wait
"It'll be rubbish going back to school after it."
Ryan said he is looking forward to "everything really", but especially Universal Studios.
"We all slept well last night but everyone woke up excited. It's great," he said.
Ryan said his family are "delighted" that he is going on the trip.
Tegan Badger-Osmond, nine, from Swansea, and Connie Taylor-Bates, also nine, from Worcester, shared in Ryan's excitement.
Having just made friends, the two girls said they were very excited about swimming with dolphins.
Tegan said her family were pleased about her going on the trip.
"The were really happy but then they were sad to let me go," she said.
Tegan and Connie said they think they will be friends for life.
Sisters Georgia and Lottie Conley, 13 and 11, from Bedford, said they were so excited they were "jumping around all day".
Lottie said her friends were "really jealous" because while she is jetting off to have fun in the sun, they are still at school.
Georgia said she is really excited about the rollercoasters, adding: "The bigger the better."
"Everyone's really friendly. It's like a big family," she said.
Shoaib Khan, 13, from London, said he is most looking forward to the Simpsons ride at one of the theme parks, adding: "I feel really lucky and excited because not everyone gets this chance.
"Only a couple of kids from every city."
Shoaib said his mum will miss him a lot, and he will miss her too.
During their holiday, the children will visit Disney and Universal parks, as well as swim with dolphins at Sea World's Discovery Cove.
Kaitlin Stewart, 12, from Dundee, was all packed and ready to go last weekend, because, as her mother Tracy said - "she likes to be organised''.
Kaitlin, who suffers from juvenile idiopathic arthritis and is affected from head to toe, said she is "really excited'', and has been dreaming about the trip.
"I have dreams about it every night... swimming with dolphins under water,'' she said.
She is also looking forward to going on rides at theme parks, adding: "I'll try anything once.''
Her mother, Mrs Stewart, described Kaitlin as a "water baby'' last weekend and said she is delighted that she has been given this "opportunity of a lifetime''.
"She's a wee fighter. She's never known any different. She was diagnosed when she was two. She's grown up with it.
"We would need to save for years. This is a holiday of a lifetime," she said
Nicole Lewtas, 14, from Wirral, said she "can't wait'' and described Dreamflight as an "inspirational'' charity.
Nicole, who suffers from thyroid cancer - a condition rare in children - hopes to one day become a neurosurgeon and is looking forward to chatting to other children who are going through similar experiences.
"I can't wait to have fun in the sun,'' she said. "I just love the idea of being in Disney - a magical experience.''
Nicole said she likes the prospect of further travel because she loves to "learn new things''.
"The more you learn, the better, I think,'' she said.
Speaking about Dreamflight, she said: "I think it's a really inspirational charity and I think people who work for that charity should be proud, and I'm proud to be going away with them.
"It's just such a lovely charity.''
Nicole's mother, Sharon Kane, who recently performed a skydive to raise money, said she believes her daughter will be in "really good hands''.
Ms Kane said Nicole had major surgery last year which "basically saved her life''.
"She has missed quite a lot of school because of it. She went back in September and hasn't missed a day,'' she said.
Ms Kane said Nicole is managing to catch up with all her work despite all the days she missed.
Just like Kaitlin, Nicole also had her suitcase packed a week in advance.
"She's just on an absolute high,'' Ms Kane said last weekend. It has made her feel not so alone.''
Noah Cunningham, nine, from Southport, was "counting down the hours'', according to his mother Vicki.
Noah, who is a wheelchair user with muscular dystrophy, said he is most looking forward to the "really fast rides'' and swimming with dolphins.
"I've never really done anything like that before,'' he said.
Noah, a wheelchair football player who one day hopes to play for England, is excited about getting to know the other children on the trip, adding: "I'm very good at making friends.''
Mrs Cunningham said the trip was a "fantastic opportunity'' and said she is not worried about Noah getting homesick.
"I don't think they're going to have a minute to be thinking about home. I think we'll miss him more than he'll miss us,'' she said.
She also said she was "very content'' and "very happy'' with how he will be looked after, and is pleased that he will not miss out on any of the activities.
Mrs Cunningham said the family have started fundraising to "put our bit back in''.
Television gardener Charlie Dimmock is one of the escorts on this year's trip.
Dreamflight has helped more than 5,000 children since it was founded.