I told the Queen: ‘I’m sorry I can’t shake your hand’

Jean Almond with husband, St Helens' mayor Geoff Almond, and their grown-up children
Jean Almond with husband, St Helens' mayor Geoff Almond, and their grown-up children
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FROM the moment she became mayoress Jean Almond knew it was the book she had to write.

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than 10 years ago, the 60-year-old is now largely confined to a wheelchair with limited use of her legs and arms.

But she’s lost none of her old sparkling wit and confidence and has now pledging to turn her experiences as St Helens’ mayoress into a book which she hopes will inspire others.

“This book is about getting the message across that MS is not a death sentence and that there’s life after a diagnosis,” said Mrs Almond, a mum-of-two grown up children and a former teacher.

Despite not yet starting the actual writing process, she already settled on a title: The Mayoress With MS. However, because of her condition she is seeking the help of a ghost writer.

“The book will tell all the funny and light-hearted things that happen to me during my year,” she explained. “It’s also about getting the message across that MS is not a death sentence and there’s life after a diagnosis.

“I have no use in my arms so writing it myself is out of the question. I tried a dictaphone but that didn’t work for me.”

With her husband, councillor Geoff Almond, she was forced into making a snap decision about whether to accept the mayoral position. Former councillor Suzanne Knight was due to serve as mayoress but lost her seat in May’s local election.

“It was very much a quick decision about whether I would be mayoress, literally it was decided at 2.30am when it became apparent that Suzanne would lose her seat and Geoff would become mayor,” she said.

Among the highlights of her year so far are encounter with the Queen, but she also plans to shine a light on some of the difficulties she has endured as a wheelchair-user.

Said Mrs Almond: “One of our first engagements was meeting the Queen. We were in a line of people waiting to meet her. I’d already spoken to the organisers and explained that I didn’t have use of my arms and that I wouldn’t be able to respond if the Queen offered her hand for me to shake.

“When she got to me, I realised the message hadn’t been conveyed and so I had to say’ ‘I’m sorry, Ma’am, I can’t shake your hand because I can’t use my arms. She wasn’t at all fazed and took my hand in her’s, looked me right in the eye and spoke to me. That was a really nice moment and it was so good of her.”

“On the other side, without naming names, we were at an even in Warrington and there was group of a photo shoot, and someone said to me, ‘you’re getting in the way, why don’t you go inside’.

“Obviously, Geoff wouldn’t stand for that and I was brought into the centre of the photograph. People are surprised by those sorts of comments, but I get them even though I am the mayoress and you’d expect people would be being extra nice.

“There’s also access issues, there’s plenty of places where we’ve ended up going through the kitchen because the front of the building doesn’t have wheelchair access.”

Despite the difficulties, the couple, who live in Windle and are both retired teachers, are thriving in the hectic role of St Helens’ mayoral couple.

“I love it, I really do. Being mayoress is a once in a lifetime opportunity but it is so hectic, we are constantly on the go.”