It’s hard to put into words what happened last night. For once in my life I have been left absolutely speechless, (which is probably a relief for most people who know me) and for once it’s because something amazingly good has happened and not because my bowel has fallen apart.
Me with the Coriams accepting my award – the proudest moment of my life
Last night I was named Weekly Journalist of the Year for the North West at the O2 Media Awards. To say the announcement was unexpected would be an understatement. Of course I knew I had been shortlisted as a nominee for the Young Journalist category and the Weekly Journalist category, but I never thought in a million years that I was going to win. The category was so strong. I hate the word gobsmacked, and my mum will shudder when she sees me using it, but for the first time in my life it’s the only word that can truly describe how I feel.
After everything that’s happened it feels like a miracle that I’ve won this prize. Things like this just don’t happen to little me. After years of battling through the constant side-effects and flares of Crohn’s/Colitis, achieving this award feels like one giant pat on the back. In fact it feels like being given a giant hug by the industry, like them saying “It’s ok, you’re still here and it’s going to be ok.”
In fact I’m more than ok. But I don’t think that’s sunk in yet. After 13 years I think it’s going to take a little while to realise that. Winning feels like sticking two fingers up to Crohn’s, surgery and all the, well basically, crap I’ve been through, and saying ‘screw you IBD”. Things are finally looking up.
The evening was magical. Yes we arrived exhausted and stressed from a two-and-a-half-hour journey through horrific traffic, and then our digital editor almost ran me over as I walked behind the car (lesson learned, it wasn’t intentional and she had been a hero driving us all there at short notice). But when we arrived at Liverpool Cathedral we were greeted by an ornate venue filled with glittering candles…it was just perfect.
I didn’t even begin to consider I even stood a chance of winning a prize. So when the Weekly Journalist category flashed up onto the screen revealing my goofy mug shot – which between you and me was of me eating a massive plate of spaghetti (I cropped the food out) – I thought ‘how ridiculous do I look’ before feeling a massive sense of relief when my face disappeared and was replaced by my friend and colleague Ellie’s picture and cuttings. To say I was surprised when it was announced that Ann and Mike Coriam were in the room to present the award would be putting it lightly.
I actually think in that moment my brain stopped working. People were smiling at me and saying it’s you…but I really couldn’t register anything.
Having Ann, Mike and Rachael Coriam present my prize was a real honour. Their
daughter, and Rachael’s sister, Rebecca, vanished without trace off the Disney Wonder Cruise Liner as it was sailing off the coast of Mexico on March 22 2011. She was just 24. The day Rebecca disappeared I was the first journalist to meet the Coriam family, and since then I have been in awe of their unswerving determination to find out the truth about what happened to their daughter – no matter what obstacles have been put in their way.
Ann and Mike have been through so much, and although I can’t begin to comprehend what they’ve been through, I feel like I’ve been with them every step of the way. They are truly remarkable people – the whole family are – who have been through and are still in so much pain. But despite everything they are determined to fight for answers and are on a hell-bent mission to stop what happened to their daughter happening to anyone else. I admire them for that.
The fact they took the time, despite all the bad times I must remind them of (the first heartbreaking press conference, the time some moron hacked into Rebecca’s twitter account and bank account, and all the false hope given by potential sightings) to come and give me this award means more than I can say. This family has been a large part of my career, and my life, and I would now consider them as friends – I hope they feel the same.
I felt like my heart would break as Ann praised my determination to not let people forget about their fight to find their daughter. And when the time came me to go up to the stage I felt like my legs were made of jelly. I couldn’t tell you what music was playing as I walked up, or what the woman with the microphone said as she shoved it right up my nose. I don’t think it even crossed my mind I had won, I was just so humbled they had turned up.
The finalists for the Young Journalist of the Year – aren’t we a good looking bunch
God knows what I said to that packed room of industry leaders that night, the editor of the Echo Ali Machray reassured me I’d done fine, but for all I know I did the penguin soldier dance with my kickers on my head. I regret not saying anything about my family or colleagues but I was not prepared. After being raced off the stage I went for a far less intimidating interview backstage, by then the fog had started to lift and I was starting to realise that despite everything that had happened I had done it. I had made it through it all, I was still alive and I had won! I think I gabbled something about Ann and Mike and how amazing it was they were there – either way I’m sure whatever I said will be replayed again and again, and I have a horrid feeling it might even appear to haunt me on local tevelision – I hope it wasn’t embarrassing.
The rest of the night was a mixture of emotions and passed by in a whirlwind. I did see the Coriams as I left the interview and had a few lovely moments with them before they were whisked off for an interview. I don’t think any words could have described how humbled I was they were there and I’m afraid to think it didn’t come across as I was to shocked to even string sentences together at this point.
From then on the wine flowed and after recovering from my shock I joined in the celebrations as the Liverpool Echo won prize after prize for their amazing reports on the Hillsbourgh disaster. It was a fantastic evening, topped by my friend and fellow PA graduate Joe Thomas gaining the Young Journalist of the Year award, finally recognising his dedication and hardwork.
Funnily enough I missed the entire part of this evening. The wine and serious lack of food (we missed dinner) was taking its toll on my ostomy bag, which had been rapidly filling up and nearing explosion point for the majority of the evening, so I thought that it was the right time to rush to the loo and quickly avoid a scene. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It seems the moment I reached the bathroom to deal with Winnie they started the category, which, by the way I was nominated for. I happily chatted away to two of my favourite characters from Hollyhoaks about the Coriam family while my stories where appearing on the screen. As per usual I didn’t have my phone on me so no one could txt and warn me, and I’m kicking myself that i didn’t get a photo with them for the scrap book.
I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it that I met Alex Fletcher aka Dianne O’Connor, and Sophie Austin aka Lindsey Butterfield from Hollyoaks – possibly better known for appearing in Brookside. I even told them about having an ostomy…I’d like to say because I was trying to raise awareness but probably because I’d had too much wine and it felt like literally hours since someone asked me how I was feeling.
SO as per usual I arrived to something late because of having to go to the toilet. I made a bit of a scene racing towards the stage to collect my certificate in a total state of confusion. I could almost feel everyone that knows me smiling and thinking typical Rachel….it was fitting I suppose and made me laugh later, but I was gutted that I missed seeing my friend collecting his well deserved award.
So what does this all mean? You know what I’m not entirely sure. But in the moment my name was announced it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It might sound silly but it was like an invisible line was drawn across the room leaving all the illness and crap and heartache behind it. It felt like I was finally getting somewhere and that at last, hopefully, I won’t be stopped moving forwards in my life and career by this horrible illness. I’d finally done it and it had all been worthwhile.
Sorry this has been so long, but things like this do not happen every day, and I have to add that the award is not just for me but my family, friends and boyfriend who have kept me positive and stopped me giving up when no one else could. Also without the company I work for and the staff at the Chester Chronicle being so understanding about my illness I would not be a reporter today. People from all across Trinity Mirror have gone out of their way to help me, they didn’t have to, and for that I will forever be grateful.