Lady Crabtree is Patron of the Association of Carers.

The Dowager has been entertaining audiences since 1978 with her comic views on life. She has made countless radio and TV broadcasts; written several books, including The Secret Journals of Queen Elizabeth II, and speaks to a large variety of clubs, groups and societies each year with her comedy talks such as How To Grow Old Disgracefully and Glad To Be Grey. If you can’t get royalty, then Lady Crabtree is the next best thing and she invariably finds herself presenting prizes and trophies, opening fêtes and fairs, and speaking at special birthday and anniversary celebrations.

In the theatre, Lady Crabtree has hosted variety shows and Old Time Music Hall. She’s had a cocktail named after her; The Lady Crabtree Waltz was composed in her honour, and in 2012 the Scottish firm Mesmerick added Lady Crabtree’s Old Fashioned Lavender Soap to their range. In 2018 Lady Crabtree was shortlisted for a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Eastbourne Business Awards and was also a finalist in the Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community category.

Over the past forty years Lady Crabtree has raised many thousands of pounds for a wide range of charities and is particularly delighted to be Patron of the Association of Carers. “In 2017 I unexpectedly found myself taking on the role of carer when David, a member of my family, fell and broke his neck while opening the front door to the postman,” she says. “As many carers know, life changes in an instant. Because he had broken the first two vertebrae – C1 and C2 – specialists told me that there was a high chance that he would die or be paralysed from the neck down. The break is rather gruesomely known as the Hangman’s Fracture, because they are the two vertebrae that hangmen aimed to break to dispatch someone swiftly!

“In David’s case a piece of bone called the Odontoid Peg had also broken off one of the vertebrae and was touching the spinal cord. An operation to repair the fracture was considered extremely dangerous and no surgeon was prepared to take the risk. Consequently, David was put into a metal frame, that was quite literally screwed into his head, which meant that he could not move his head or neck at all.

“When he eventually came out of hospital, our dining room was turned into a downstairs bedroom, complete with electronic adjustable bed, and I became a 24-hour carer as David could do little for himself. Clothes wouldn’t fit over the bulky metal frame, so I had to adapt shirts and buy huge cardigans as nothing could go over his head. Each morning there was a two-hour process of getting him up, toileting, washing, shaving, dressing and so on before I could even give him his breakfast.

“The days were not only filled with caring for him and his various needs, but dealing with physiotherapists, dieticians, a chiropodist and an endless stream of visitors, on top of having to do the shopping, walk the dog and the day to day running of the house. I suddenly found myself learning how to cut hair, dealing with obstreperous hospital receptionists, or standing in chemists chatting to the pharmacist about constipation and the various unpleasant side effects of all the medication. Not to mention trying to arrange care when I had to fulfil my diary of engagements so that I did not let other people down. Plus we regularly had to make long journeys in an ambulance for various scans and hospital visits. At the end of each day I would collapse into bed at midnight, close my eyes and before I knew it, the alarm would go off and it would be time to begin the procedure all over again. I can honestly say that I have never felt so tired in all my life, and I lost about two-stone in weight.

“So, I do understand just a little of what carers go through and what it entails having to look after a loved-one. The hours it takes, the energy required, the inevitable stress involved, and how at times it can feel very isolating. Thousands of people in East Sussex are spending more than 50 hours a week as an unpaid carer.

“In our situation, dire though it was at times, there was one thing that got us through. Laughter. However bad things were, we never stopped laughing. There must be a reason why they say that it is the best medicine.

“I hope that, as Patron, I can help with fundraising for the Association and publicise the charity in the media whenever I can. I also look forward to meeting carers, volunteers, and some of the people that they look after. Along the way, I hope that we can have a bit of fun. It has been said that laughter may not add years to your life, but it certainly adds life to your years. ‘I have seen what a laugh can do,’ wrote the comedian Bob Hope, ‘It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.’ So, if I bring nothing else, I hope that we can have a laugh together when we meet.”