Katherine Lee is a self-confessed Formula 1 fanatic and has followed the sport since she was a teenager. Katherine’s mother, Diane Lee, approached St Clare Hospice who care for her daughter, and asked if they could assist in arranging a special 40th birthday surprise for her.
Katherine has been supported by the Essex-based hospice since December 2016 when she was diagnosed with terminal heart failure. Her condition began after treatment for childhood cancer, aged 12, which saw her undergoing radiotherapy that caused later complications and heart failure.
It was Katherine’s social worker at the Hospice, Michele Tavarone, who first took on the challenge of planning her special day.
The hospice arranged for Katherine and her mother to attend the F1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone this summer after securing a grant to pay for the tickets from the Willow Foundation – a local charity that pays for seriously ill young adults to have a special day out. Having secured the tickets, the hospice’s communications team undertook a social media campaign to attempt to reach Lewis Hamilton.
The ‘Katherine’s F1 wish’ campaign reached over 50,000 people on the hospice’s Twitter page and led to a member of the public giving Katherine an additional two VIP tickets to Silverstone, when Katherine and her mother had a tour of the pit-lanes and garages, a ride around the track on an open top truck, and watched the warm up races, as well as a chance meeting with Lewis Hamilton when the F1 champion snapped a selfie with her.
Katherine’s dream was not set to end there though. A representative from fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger, of which Lewis Hamilton is an official ambassador, saw the Twitter campaign and got in touch with her with an invitation to an exclusive launch event to be held at their Regent Street store. The event was for the launch of Lewis Hamilton’s official clothing collection – Tommy x Lewis – which will be available to purchase this autumn.
Just before leaving for the launch event, Katherine received a phone call from Lewis Hamilton’s team inviting her to meet Lewis himself at his hotel suite before the event.
"I could not believe it when we got another phone call inviting us to meet Lewis in his hotel suite. It was apparently all Lewis’s idea! My mum, my friend Beth and I were welcomed at the hotel foyer by a member of Lewis’s staff and we were invited to wait in the bar as he was still busy meeting journalists.
"Once he was available, we were taken up to his suite and invited into a big lounge. Lewis then came in, wearing his special Tommy Hilfiger outfit ready for the launch event, and just sat with us and chatted. It was so surreal!
"Lewis was just so nice and down to earth, and he talked to me for over 20 minutes. We spoke about Formula 1 of course, as I have been a fan of his for years and have followed his whole career. We talked a lot about Sunday’s race, as it had been such a spectacle to watch, and it really just felt like talking to a friend.
"He was just so modest and kind. We then took some photos in his hotel, and you can see the huge smile on my face! I just could not stop smiling like the Cheshire cat all weekend. I told Lewis about St Clare, and how they had helped arrange my trip to the Grand Prix, and he was happy for me to share my story with the hospice and of course the photos which we took together.
"I just feel like I am on Cloud 9 and cannot really believe that it all happened!"
"Once we had finished talking it was time to leave for the Tommy Hilfiger launch. We were escorted by one of Lewis’s bodyguards to the event and then given front row seats! We then stayed for the party afterwards, where there were canapés and the champagne was flowing. It was just crazy for me to be at an event like that, with fashion icons and celebrities.
"I had to pinch myself to believe it was true! They were certainly a few days that I will never forget, and I am so grateful to everyone who made it happen. The staff at St Clare’s, the people who kindly shared the campaign on social media, the PR team at Tommy Hilfiger who invited me, and of course Lewis Hamilton and his amazing team of people! It really was a dream come true for me."