Another great joy this year has been a growing friendship with a wonderful young artist Michelle McCullough with whom I corresponded because she draws horses so beautifully. At last year’s Racehorse Owner’s Association lunch, Michelle introduced herself saying she’d read Jump! and had painted a portrait of how she imagined my heroine horse, Mrs Wilkinson. The only changes I suggested, when she sent me a wonderful sketch, were that as Mrs Wilkinson was blind in one eye, her other eye should be bigger and more lustrous with black lashes on the lower lid.

As a result I so loved the picture, when it was on show at Michelle’s very successful exhibition at the Osborne Gallery in November, I had to buy it. It now hangs in the drawing room admired by everyone.

Michelle McCullough’s interpretation of Mrs Wilkinson from Jump!

Michelle has recently married Peter Wilson, who won an Olympic Gold for shooting so they truly are a golden couple. Sir Mark Prescott, the great trainer, is also a huge fan of Michelle, whose first book entitled Racing includes sketches of many of his horses. It was extraordinary, he claimed, he could recognise each one from the smallest drawing.

Joys apart, the year has not been without its great sadness. My darling Leo is confined to bed now, except for a couple of hours in a chair, and bears horrible Parkinson’s with amazing fortitude and humour. In fifty one years of marriage I don’t think I’ve admired him quite so much as I do at the moment.

One of the great comforts has been our live-in carers provided by Corinium Care. Two from Zimbabwe, Lindy and Ashleen, were with us for such long stints and became such friends that I have introduced a glamorous Zimbabwean carer in Leading Sire, who tries to keep Rupert Campbell-Black’s dotty bottom-pinching father under control.

In Zimbabwe there is no National Health. You can’t see a doctor without paying up to £60, and if you are ill and poor you’re often just left to die in the street. This is why we must appreciate our own marvellous National Health, which is why I was so delighted to be asked by the Daily Mail to nominate my health hero or heroine.

Jilly, Leo & Lizzie Hodges

Everyone at our Frithwood Surgery is terrific, but I chose Lizzie Hodges, who is an enchanting district nurse, who always rushes round if we need her, providing sweetness and comfort. We were all thrilled when the Daily Mail in their health pages ran this beautiful piece with a lovely picture of Lizzie and me and Leo:

The real devastation of the year, which I think is the reason why I haven’t been able to write as fast as I should, is that our beloved Feral, the wild cat who lived in the wood and who took two years to tame and was the most wonderful, affectionate and charismatic companion you could ever meet, died on December 9th. At the beginning of December he stopped eating. On a second visit the vet put him on a drip to hydrate him. He never came round, and he died on the vet’s table.

Jilly’s cat, Feral

We were all devastated because he was so much part of our lives. One comfort was that Kate Reardon, a dear friend and editor of the Tatler had made him Pet of the Month which appeared after his death as a lovely puss-humous tribute. I was also very grateful that the Daily Mail, having seen the Tatler photograph, asked me to write about Feral so I was able to tell people how wonderful he’d been and how devastated we’d been by his death, ending with the words: Rest in Peace, Beloved Wanderer.

Feral in the Tatler (left) and the Daily Mail (right)

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