Silence was golden for Bill’s big surprise

PUBLISHED: 16:07 25 April 2013 | UPDATED: 16:07 25 April 2013

Bill and Evelyn Lankester celebrate their golden wedding anniversary in Kennaway House in Sidmouth. Photo by Terry Ife ref shs 1118-16-13TI To order your copy of this photograph go to www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24

Bill and Evelyn Lankester celebrate their golden wedding anniversary in Kennaway House in Sidmouth. Photo by Terry Ife ref shs 1118-16-13TI To order your copy of this photograph go to www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24

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Hubby plots incredible surprise wedding anniversary bash for two years

A STILL-SMITTEN husband plotted an extravagant bash with hundreds of guests to celebrate half-a-century of wedded bliss with his true love – and kept it all a secret from her.

Bill Lankester gave wife Evelyn the surprise of a life-time by orchestrating a five-act evening of entertainment at the Manor Pavilion attended by scores of friends and family.

Cancer survivor Bill’s painstaking efforts were for a golden anniversary he once feared he would not live to see, writes Stefan Gordon.

The 70-year-old spent two years organising the event and managed to book performers and get more than 300 guests along without anybody saying a word.

“I couldn’t believe there was all those people and no-one let on to me,” said Evelyn, 68. “It was such a surprise and overwhelming.”

The grandparents-of-five, of Summerfield, met on a blind date in the Byes in 1960 and have been inseparable ever since.

They have helped hundreds of people after founding Sidmouth Living With Cancer and had a front room packed with more than 120 cards this week.

The popular couple didn’t ask for gifts or donations at the party, but those who attended gave more than £1,300 to their charity.

Festivities moved from Kennaway House to the Manor Pavilion on Monday evening.

“All I knew was that we were going to two venues, but had no idea what was happening,” said Evelyn, who only realised the extent of Bill’s big surprise when he took her onto the stage in front of a packed theatre. “It was a shock, but a lovely one. Everyone that came had touched our lives in one way or another.”

The occasion was all the more special as Bill was diagnosed with bowel cancer 12 years ago. He initially ignored the symptoms and thinks he had the disease for four years before doing anything about it.

“We didn’t think we would make 50 years, and count our blessings every day,” said Evelyn.

Bill added: “We had a fabulous night. I don’t think I could have done anything better!”

The couple were delighted to be joined by their son, Stephen, who jetted in from Dubai, daughter Jacqueline who lives in Sidmouth, and their grandchildren.

Their verdict on one another was identical and simultaneous: “It’s true love.”

And the celebrations.......

What a swell party it was when guests packed the Manor Pavilion this week for a five-act show given by the founders of Sidmouth’s Living With Cancer group to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary, writes Kinglsey Squire.

Bill Lankester dedicated a joyous three-hour evening of song, bonhomie, music and laughter in tribute to his ‘princess’, his wife, Evelyn, writes Kingsley Squire.

“Without her I would be nothing,” said Bill.

The evening, preceded by a buffet supper at Kennaway House and the Arts Centre, was the couple’s ‘thank you’ to so many - their family, their friends and the fundraising people of Sidmouth who, over the years, have supported their charity.

It was also a celebration of life as exemplified by the enjoyment, support and shared comradeship which Bill and Evelyn and their helpers have given, and continue to give, to cancer sufferers.

There are currently 85 members and their gratitude to the couple was, perhaps, best summed up by the secretary, Lynne Maxwell who, 14 years down the line, is in remission from her cancer.

“They are lovely, lovely people who would help anyone,” she said. “They really are a golden couple. They do so much for the group, much of it behind the scenes, and for individuals as well. It is unbelievable. Nothing is too much trouble.”

Her thoughts were echoed by joint president Eddie Cannings who has prostate cancer.

“They are a wonderful couple for the work they have done,” he said. “I can’t thank either of them enough for the help they have given, not just me, but for the comradeship and shared support of the group. It is always there to help you.”

Tribute was also paid by Ian Skinner, welfare officer of Sidmouth Lions Club.

“It is amazing the work Bill gets through,” he said. “So many are indebted to him. He is always there. “Just recently we had an elderly couple in Manstone in need of a stair lift. We got together with Sidmouth Consolidated Charities and Living With Cancer. Bill ordered it and arranged for it to be installed. He does things. Whereas there are people who think about it and think about it again he gets on with it. That’s his style. He’s a doer.”

Taking part in the show were local folk band Mischief and Mayhem, Sidvale Folk Choir, of which Bill and Evelyn are members, the very funny Stage Door Johnnies from London’s East End, singer Sue King, a family jazz duo from Suffolk and the Rivertones Barber Shop Choir. All were on stage for the finale, the singing of Rolling Home. But the last word appropriately went to Bill. “Everyone here means something special to us,” he told the audience. “Thank you for celebrating our golden wedding.”

The cheers and applause lifted the roof off the Manor. Well, almost!


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