From the Queen to Marcus Rashford's mum Melanie Maynard, 2020's caring, campaigning and brave heroines

THERE is no denying that 2020 really has been the gift that keeps on giving in terms of bad news.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, Tier 4 Covid restrictions have landed on millions of us.

But before we consign the past months to the scrapheap of history, I want to remind us all that there have been glimmers of hope glinting at us from underneath the rubble of what was normality.

Specifically, as well as the many trials that the coronavirus pandemic spawned, this year has also brought to the fore real heroines and role models.

When it comes to remembering this year, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

As well as wishing you all the highest of hopes for a peaceful, Covid-free 2021, I want to pay ­tribute to the 14 women I found most inspiring this year.


WHO knows if Prince Harry and Meghan Markle considered that one of the consequences of their departure to Los Angeles would be pressure on Prince William and Kate to occupy all of their vacated space in the spotlight as senior royals.

And it’s impossible to know how Wills and Kate felt about that fact either, but they have stepped up to the plate with such uncomplaining enthusiasm.

Kate, 38, is patron of 19 charities and institutions, including hospitals, galleries and museums.

She is also committed to the royals’ Heads Together charity and has made it her business to support ­regular people through- out this ­pandemic, from playing bingo with care home residents in Cardiff to checking in on a new mum at Kingston Hospital in South West London and sharing lockdown stories with primary school pupils in South London.

Even though most of her engagements have taken place online using Zoom, she has undertaken them all with chara- cteristic generosity and kindness.


IT takes a brave lady to take on Hollywood royalty, but that is what Amber did this year.

Johnny Depp’s fan base is so extensive and so loyal that Amber, 34, faced accusations that she has been lying ever since her allegations about his abuse made it into the news.

She persevered and held her own with calm dignity during an explosive libel case in which Depp denied claims in a 2018 Sun article, which labelled him a “wife beater”.

Despite the grim details of their life together being shared in the courtroom, Amber stood firm in her bid to reveal the truth. And in November, after a four-week trial, a judge ruled the allegations against Depp were “substantially true” and he was violent towards Amber.

She has become a vocal campaigner on the issue of domestic and sexual abuse and hopefully her bravery and persistence will inspire and encourage other survivors of abuse to talk about it and to seek justice.


BEHIND every hero is often a strong mother, and that is certainly the case with England footballer Marcus Rashford.

Mum Melanie has been an integral part of Marcus’s incredible efforts to end child food poverty in Britain this year, with him forcing a Government U-turn on free school meal vouchers. As a single mother, Melanie worked multiple jobs when Marcus was growing up to make sure her children were provided for, and made him into the powerful and impressive young man he is today.

No wonder the food bank charity FareShare, where she has been volunteering, has named a new depot after her.


WHAT I like about the Prime ­Minister’s 32-year-old fiancée, who gave birth to their son Wilfred this year, is how much of her own person she is. She is a passionate environmentalist and a senior adviser at charity Oceana.

But she also appears to be a positive influence on the PM, if not the power behind him.

Many people speculated that she was behind the shock departure of top aide Dominic Cummings.

Some might say he should have gone much earlier, of course, and that the Government lost the trust of the public after he was allowed to stay in post after his flagrant ­flouting of lockdown rules.

This next year will be make or break for Boris Johnson. It will be interesting to see how Carrie continues to define her role and how much influence she really wields.


AMONG our female leaders, New Zealand’s prime minister has shown herself to be truly inspiring. Since becoming PM, Jacinda, 40, has handled natural disasters, terrorist attacks and the Covid crisis with real aplomb.

I don’t think anyone expected her to lose the election last October and indeed she won by a landslide.

Quite simply, the world needs more leaders like her.


BECAUSE of the pandemic we haven’t seen a lot of Her Majesty. But when we have, her actions and words have boosted the nation.

In a rallying message in April, the 94-year-old gave a televised speech — only the fifth special broadcast of her long reign — and told the nation we “will succeed” in our fight against Covid. She urged us to stay strong with the words, “we will meet again”.

The Queen led the nation in a stripped-back Remembrance Sunday ceremony, and left isolation at Windsor Castle to pay tribute to the country’s war dead. Then, in her Christmas Speech, she touched our hearts again, reminding us all that “we need life to go on”. She truly is an amazing woman.


WHEN the Polish government moved to ban all abortions, of course it sparked mass protests. One of the women at the front was Marta, 41, a leader of the grassroots women’s movement Ogolnopolski Strajk Kobiet (All-Polish Women’s Strike). The protests apparently prompted the government to postpone the court’s decision.

Marta is a role model for a new, demographic of Polish women who want to make their voices heard.


SHE may have lost out on Sports Personality Of The Year to Lewis Hamilton, but Hollie, 24, is remarkable for many reasons.

Only 11 per cent of professional jockey licences in Britain are held by women, but Hollie is showing herself to be more than a contender with a winning streak in 2020 that was truly remarkable. In August she became the first woman in British racing to ride five winners in one day, at Windsor, and had a record-breaking 150 victories this year.

She is just what the world of sport needs to remind us women are just as good as men.


LAST year, aged 34, Sanna became the youngest prime minister in Finland’s history.

Her coalition government is headed by five women. Sanna is a proud feminist, unashamed to share photos of herself breastfeeding her baby daughter (did you know that women can be leaders as well as mothers?).

But all that aside, Finland has one of the lowest Covid infection rates in Europe. So hats off.


THERE were so many reasons to hail NHS nurses and doctors as absolute heroes this year. But two really caught my eye.

One was Felicia Kwaku and the other Ashleigh, 30, who turned her crafting hobby into something that became a national movement called For The Love Of Scrubs, making PPE gear for hospital colleagues.

Her Facebook group inspired more than 70,000 volunteers to do the same. They ended up making 1.2million items of PPE and one million face coverings for frontline workers.

Even though she more than deserved her OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, her response was so humble.

“I’m just a nurse,” she said. Just a nurse indeed.


ANOTHER amazing NHS hero came in the form of Felicia.

When it became clear black, Asian and minority ethnic groups were disproportionately affected by Covid, Felicia, 52, who is associate director of nursing at King’s College NHS Foundation Trust, London, did something about it.

Her web seminars reached thousands of her fellow nurses and she also highlighted the unsuitability of much of the one-size-fits-all PPE for many NHS staff. She was also recognised for services to nursing over the past three decades in the Queen’s Birthday Honours — and quite right too.


SCIENTIST Ozlem is one of this year’s most important women. The 53-year-old is co-founder of BioNTech, a German company launched with her husband, Dr Ugur Sahin, which is responsible for the Pfizer vaccine that promises to slowly unlock our locked down lives over the course of 2021.


SARAH, 58, is the professor leading the Oxford University coronavirus ­vaccine team.

She worked on a universal flu vaccine and was developing one for Mers, a different type of coronavirus, when the pandemic began. which means she was ­perfectly placed to help develop the Covid-19 vaccine at such a breakneck pace.

We need more scientists like Sarah and Ozlem.


SENATOR Harris, 56, made history by being elected America’s first female and first woman of colour vice-president.

Having been the first African-American to represent California in the Senate, there is a possibility she’ll one day become the first female president. I particularly like how seriously she takes her job as a role model.

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities,” she said in her victory speech.

And another thing I like? She is quick to bat away any comparisons with Barack Obama. “Don’t define me based on something a man did,” she said in 2019. “I have my own legacy.”

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