'I'm doing it for Melanie as she never got the chance': Miss England who lost her sister to a brain tumour
Preston's Elizabeth Grant is still reeling after being crowned Miss England and is '¨preparing to take on the world at Miss World in December. Elizabeth talks to AASMA DAY about the tragedy of losing her big sister Melanie to a brain tumour when she was a '¨youngster and her belief that Melanie is influencing all the happy things in her family's life.
THIRTEEN may be unlucky for some, but it’s the number 12 that has significance in Elizabeth Grant’s life – and she believes it brings positivity to her and her family.
Elizabeth, 20, who lives in Ribbleton, Preston, was gobsmacked enough when she was crowned Miss Preston earlier this year after being scouted while out shopping.
The university student says she never dreamed she would go on to clinch the Miss England title and she will now be heading to Washington DC in December to compete in Miss World.
Although Elizabeth and her family are on top of the world at her success and brimming over with joy, their lives were rocked by tragedy and changed forever when Elizabeth’s sister Melanie died at the age of 12 in February 2001 after being struck by a brain tumour.
Elizabeth, who was just four when Melanie died, firmly believes that Melanie is watching over her family and has influenced everything good that has happened to them – with the number 12 being particularly significant.
Elizabeth explains: “The number 12 is very special to us as a family.
“Twelve was the age Melanie was when she passed away. It is also the date of my birthday – April 12. Twelve is also the age difference between myself and my older brother Chris.
“There as so many things that have happened during the years where the number 12 has been significant for us.
“I was number 12 in both the Miss Preston and the Miss England competitions – and I won them both!”
Laughing, Elizabeth adds: “I might put in my request now to be number 12 in Miss World!”
Even though Elizabeth was very young when she lost her sister Melanie, she has hazy and happy memories of a big sister who adored and idolised her and always had time for her.
Elizabeth recalls: “I have a few very vivid memories of Melanie.
“I remember going to Florida when I was about three with my mum, dad, brother Chris, Melanie and my aunty.
“Melanie and I were sat on a wall and my aunty said she would take a picture of us but our legs kept twitching and shaking.
“We looked down and there were hundreds of ants running up our legs.
“I can remember being petrified and too scared of the ants to move while Melanie was running around screaming. Afterwards, we laughed so much about it and Melanie gave me cuddles.
“Another memory I have of Melanie was one Christmas when we were all downstairs. I was so excited about Christmas and I got a Barbie doll.
“I remember trying to get the doll out of the box, but she was attached with ties around her wrists and legs and I couldn’t get her out of the box and was getting frustrated and upset.
“Melanie took the doll from me and freed her from the box and then played mums and dads with the dolls with me.
“I can still remember sitting there doing my doll’s hair while Melanie did my hair.”
Elizabeth has fond memories of Melanie holding her hand to make sure she was safe and of Melanie and her best friend Cayla Kirton taking her around a fairground on Preston’s Flag Market delighting in her excitement at seeing the rides and stalls.
Elizabeth remembers: “Melanie was extremely caring and looked after me really well.
“My mum has told me how the first thing Melanie used to do when she came home from school was run and pick me up.
“Melanie idolised me and was such a cute sister.
“She was very loving towards me and even at such a young age, we already had such a strong bond.
“If Melanie was still here now, I do believe we would be inseparable and the best of friends.”
Melanie Grant was first diagnosed with a brain tumour when Elizabeth was just three months old and Melanie was eight after her parents noticed she wasn’t using her left hand properly and having difficulty gripping her fork.
Melanie battled through the ordeal of brain surgery and radiotherapy and the Evening Post helped with a fund-raising appeal to send the Grant family on holiday to Florida.
Melanie was given the all clear and was able to get on with her life as normal for four years.
But in October 2000, a devastating diagnosis revealed the tumour was back and more threatening than ever.
Melanie underwent emergency surgery and had high doses of chemotherapy.
However, the treatment was too much for her little body and the chemotherapy, intended to save her life, damaged her lungs.
Melanie slipped into a coma and died of respiratory failure at the age of 12.
After Melanie’s death, her family were asked to spearhead a Lancashire Evening Post campaign in her honour and £463,000 was raised by Melanie’s Magic Wand Appeal for revolutionary equipment to treat brain tumours.
Being just four when her sister died, Elizabeth remembers feeling confusion at having a sister one moment and then suddenly not.
She recalls: “When Melanie was ill, my parents told me she had gone away for a bit.
“When Melanie died, they told me she had passed away but I did not really understand and thought she was gone for now, but would be coming back.
“Melanie’s death devastated our family and it was a very difficult time. My dad’s business went under and we were all grieving.
“I just remember feeling a bit empty at home and as though there was something missing.
“I have the utmost respect for my mum as I kept asking her difficult questions about death and why Melanie died and even though she was grieving, she was willing to answer all my questions.
“Derian House helped me a lot with the grief and that’s why I am raising money for them as Miss England.”
Elizabeth admits she did struggle getting past the age of 12 as she knew that was the age her sister had died.
She says: “My mum explained that what had happened to Melanie was a freak thing and it didn’t mean it was going to happen to me.
“I was very conscious at reaching 12 that my mum had only had a daughter up to the age of 12 before.
“My mum and dad both made sure that any opportunities I had, I did to the fullest because Melanie never had those opportunities.”
It was this thought in mind that made Elizabeth take up the opportunity of Miss Preston after she was scouted while in Preston city centre.
Still incredulous at what happened, Elizabeth explains: “I had just finished a night shift at Lofty’s Bar in Preston and I was not looking my best at all! My hair was piled on top of my head, I wasn’t wearing any make-up and I was shattered after working a night shift.
“I went into the St George’s Shopping Centre and Mark Jones, the Miss England organiser for the North West sent one of these beautiful girls up to me to ask for my details and she told me I had been scouted to enter Miss Preston.
“I was so shellshocked, I looked behind me to see if she was talking to someone else!
“But my mum and dad had both instilled into me to make the most of any opportunity, so I thought: ‘Why not – I may as well’ and put my details down. About a week-and-a-half later, I was asked to send in a head and shoulders and a full length photo.
“A few days later, Mark Jones called me and told me I was through to the final of Miss Preston.
“Since then, everything has been a whirlwind.
“When I got the crown for Miss Preston, I couldn’t believe it. I was chatting away and when they read out my name, I turned my head in shock and looked like a startled rabbit.
“I was ecstatic enough about winning Miss Preston and thought that was a huge thing. I never imagined I would go on to win Miss England.
“I went there with no feeling of thinking I would win. I just went to enjoy the experience. I had never done a pageant before and thought it would be fun – and it was.
“I enjoyed making new friends and the experience and everyone was having a laugh and a giggle.
“When they said I was Miss England, I could not believe it and my heart was racing and my face was beaming.
“I thought to myself: ‘Little old me from Ribbleton has done this!’ It felt incredible.”
Elizabeth feels emotional and proud to think she is following in the footsteps of Melanie who first rose to local prominence after winning the title of Little Miss Lancashire Evening Post at the age of six.
Melanie beat hundreds of competitors to scoop the title. She was already a beauty at six, but it was her charming and confident personality which won over the judges.
Like Elizabeth, was modest about her looks and did not think she would win Little Miss Lancashire Evening Post and never boasted about it.
Elizabeth, who is studying psychology and early childcare at Liverpool Hope University and is taking a sabbatical while she concentrates on the Miss England title and prepares for Miss World, says it is wonderful knowing she is doing the same as Melanie.
Elizabeth explains: “It is a beautiful feeling knowing I am doing what Melanie began. If Melanie had not had the cancer, I think she would have gone on much further in competitions.
“I like the sense that I am doing this for Melanie as she never got the chance and she adored walking across the catwalk. I am not your average Miss England and I am not just doing this for me, but for Melanie who never got this chance. Me and my family have been through a lot and I feel that gives me a bigger viewpoint on life and how people feel and react.
“There is a silver lining even though we lost Melanie and I feel she has an influence on everything good that has happened for our family since. Melanie has given all of us the momentum to push ourselves as hard as we can to make the most of life’s opportunities. My mum Catherine, my dad Des and my brother Chris have been so supportive and I want to thank them for everything.”
DES GRANT, ELIZABETH’S DAD
“Elizabeth is my Miss England and my Miss World, but we didn’t think she’d win Miss England as you don’t dare dream.
“It is wonderful to have it recognised what me, Elizabeth’s mum Catherine and her siblings see.
“We see a loving, considerate and caring girl who just happens to be beautiful on the outside as well as the inside.
“The similarities between Elizabeth and Melanie are quite striking. Sometimes I look at Elizabeth and see Melanie staring back at me.
“Elizabeth and Melanie both went into competitions with the same attitude - to have a laugh and enjoy the experience.
“The main reason Elizabeth is the way she is today is because of her mum Catherine. Elizabeth could not wish for a better mum.
“We do feel Melanie is helping our family and has a real influence on our lives and we gain inspiration from her.
“Elizabeth is just herself and very natural. Her reaction when the Miss England organisers asked if she had a message for her family after finding out she’d won was brilliant.
“Elizabeth just said: ‘I’ll see you at the bar!’
“She was just herself and a typical Northern lass.”
CATHERINE GRANT, ELIZABETH’S MUM
“What has happened for Lizzie has been so meteoric as she only won Miss Preston a few months ago. It is amazing.
“We are so proud of her as she works so hard and is just a natural at this.
“Melanie would be extremely proud of her and we do feel Melanie is helping all of us along the way. Melanie was such a down-to-earth girl and so is Lizzie.
“It is an amazing coincidence that they both won competitions.”