Meeting one of the women who inspired Chichester’s Calendar Girls the Musical

Angela Baker
Angela Baker

Vicky meets...Angela Baker, original WI calendar girl

When you created the calendar you aimed to raise £5,000 in memory of your late husband John. How much have you raised since then?

We were worried who, apart from our family and friends, would buy the calendars, but we have raised more than £6 million for Bloodwise. There is a bucket collection of every performance of the [stage] show and so the total keeps growing.

Do you remember how you felt before being photographed for the nude calendar?

John died on 22 July 1998. By the September I was having my photograph taken, so really I was in a daze. The girls just got me through. But it was exciting because we were actually doing something. John said we’d never do it and he would have been so proud. Taking my clothes off wasn’t brave. Having sat with John for five months going through what he went through taking my clothes off was nothing.

The calendar inspired a film, a stage play and now a musical. How did the musical come about?

The Producer, David Pugh, came for tea and told me about it. He pulled a CD out and suddenly I was sitting in my front room listening to Gary Barlow singing songs about us. The music is so good at getting the emotions of our story across. We’ve known Tim for ages [Firth also wrote the screenplay and the stage play] and he’s like a son. I was a bit scared meeting Gary, but he’s lovely and so understanding. He knows why we did what we did.

It has been 20 years since the famous WI nude calendar. Will you ever do another?

We are talking about a re-issue. Perhaps with the original photos the six of us who are still fundraising and six of the actresses from the musical. In the original I was Miss February, playing Jerusalem on the piano!

What are the stand-out moments over the past 20 years for you?

Too many to mention, but definitely the film premiere in Leicester Square. Members of the WI were there and we all sang Jerusalem as we walked the red carpet. I’ll never forget that. And of course travelling to places like America, Australia and Tokyo.

People often share their own stories of loss with you. What has that meant for you?

It has meant that we have never forgotten John and it’s a good feeling to know that you have done something in somebody’s memory to help others. Yes, we’ve had a great time and fundraising has bought me great friendships all over the world, but it’s the money we’ve raised and the hope we have given to others that is most important.

Have you never been tempted to have a crack at the Bake Off?

I’m terrible at baking. That’s why I took my clothes off!

Calendar Girls the Musical at Chichester Festival Theatre until November 23. www.cft.org.uk

Read our review of the musical here.