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|MY DIARY: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF BABS POWELL - ROBERT THOUGHT I WAS NUTS WHEN I TOLD HIM I WANTED TO SAIL AROUND THE WORLD...
She danced to fame on Top Of The Pops in the 1970s with Pan's People and now Babs Powell will be dancing with danger on the high seas in the 30,000-mile BT Global Challenge yacht race. One opponent on a leg of her world trip will be husband Robert Powell, 56, star of Jesus Of Nazareth and The Detectives. The couple have two children, Barnie, 22, and Kate, 21, and live in Highgate, North London. Here Babs, 55, tells SALLY MORGAN about her exciting adventure...
The moment I wake up, I'm filled with a sense of excitement and nervous anticipation, for on Sunday I begin the longest journey of my life. Over the next ten months, I will be taking part in the BT Global Challenge yacht race. It starts in Southampton then goes to Boston, Buenos Aires, Wellington, Sydney and Cape Town.
I first heard about it through London's Burning actor Sean Blower, who participated in the last one four years ago. Then I met Lucy Fleming who had just returned from completing the Cape Town to Boston leg. A few months later at a charity dinner Prince Michael of Kent told me he had also taken part in the race. Then at another charity event I found that Robert Brook, a member of the Lord's Taverners, had a berth on a yacht in the next race.
These people's accounts of their experiences captured my imagination. Although I had never sailed before, the Challenge sounded like a fantastic adventure. So I applied to participate as a member of the Lady's Taverners charity.
I've always loved the sea and the idea of circumnavigating the globe at my age proves that there is life after 50. You don't have to sit back and wait for grandchildren when you hit middle-age. While there's still enthusiasm and physical strength, you should go for whatever you want to.
In Pan's People we created something new and innovative. We were a forerunner of the dance groups that followed. I have relished a challenge ever since. Four years ago I completed the London Marathon, after only five weeks' training, in six hours 20 minutes. Robert thought I was nuts when I told him I wanted to sail around the world. At first he was disapproving because of the danger involved - people have died on this journey. He was also concerned about the ten months we'd have to spend apart. I've been assured that my time will pass quickly. It will be harder for him and the children.
We've just celebrated our Silver Wedding and after 25 years of marriage neither of us tries to dictate what the other can or can't do. When Robert realised I was serious, he was fully supportive. I suppose he hoped that a middle-aged housewife with no sailing skills would be the last person that Chay Blyth, who runs the Challenge, would take on board. But after a rigorous interview I was chosen as part of a crew of 17 amateurs, skippered by experienced sailor Will Carnegie. Our 72ft long, steel-hulled yacht, the Veritas, is one of 12 vessels in the race.
Every crew member has undergone proper training. I've been learning how to sail since October, which is a bit like learning another language. On my second training session, I forgot one of the cardinal rules of sailing - one hand for you, and one for your boat. As I was reaching to climb up the side of the yacht, a rogue wave hit us. I flew backwards, landed on the deck, and cracked a few ribs. It was very painful but I wanted to stay on board. If I had left then, I wouldn't have come back.
Physical fitness for a voyage of this magnitude is important and I help to maintain mine with a healthy diet of fruit, vegetables, pasta and plenty of lean meat. Once we set sail our meals will be rehydrated food. Conditions will be "cosy". There's no cabin - just a bunk and a box. It's simple, basic and communal. The only luxury I'll take with me will be some Nivea moisturising cream.
As for the prospect of storms and 70ft waves, I have no idea how I'll react. Ignorance is a kind of bliss for someone who has never sailed on the open sea before. Even when I saw The Perfect Storm it didn't put me off and I found that footage of Lenny Henry sailing across the Atlantic fascinating, not scary. I sailed through an electric storm when we brought the yachts up to London from Plymouth - it was an amazing experience.
Robert and I will communicate by e-mail. I'll think about him and the children every day, and keep the locket which contains a family photo that he gave me for our anniversary, close to me. In February, we'll meet up, albeit on rival yachts as Robert has been invited on board the Logica in the Wellington to Sydney leg. The competition will certainly heat up then as far as we are concerned.
We will be raising money through sponsorship for the Lord's Taverners and Save The Children charities. And after we've crossed that finishing line we hope to spend a few days together in Sydney before I set sail for Cape Town.
Even before this race has begun, I'm thinking about my next adventure. As I've explained to Robert, I'd love to sail to the Norwegian coast and up into the Arctic Circle.
Sally Morgan, The Mirror, 9th September 2000
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