It is with great sadness and emotion that I write this. The subject of it would probably tell me off for it, but I simply need to express it. When I was 13, I played one of my first ever public performances supporting legendary banjo player Ken Perlman. Also on the bill were singing group Fish From Oblivion featuring Camilla Kurti who sadly passed away this morning from cancer. From the off, Camilla took great interest in my music and gave me so much encouragement and this continued as we met more or less annually at Ken’s gigs in Stafford. Later in my teens my mum and I attended several singing workshops which Fish staged featuring top singers from around the world, something incredibly exciting for me as a young folk music fan. She continued to look out for me and ask about what I was getting up to as I was gigging more by this stage.
At 18, I headed off to university and I was pretty terrified to be honest and struggled with such a big change. Within two days of being there, Camilla had sent me an email asking how I was getting on and when the honest response came she kept encouraging me, telling me I’d be mad to waste the opportunity to study folk music at university and that I just needed to stick at it. This combination of love, support and encouragement with a nice helping of ‘kick up the arse when needed’ was typical and what made her such a special friend to so many people.
We kept in touch periodically but it was when I moved back to Stafford in 2012 that our very close friendship formed more. Bumping into each other in the street, Camilla suggested we go for a cuppa and so began a lovely routine of meeting up every month or so to catch up on everything going on, a routine that I still can’t quite process is gone but I will always have fond memories of. Camilla essentially became my second mum and a big sister rolled into one. During some quite dark times for me – a major crisis over my career direction, a break up and a spell of depression – Camilla was always there listening patiently, pointing out all the different sides of things and as indicated above telling me to get a bloody grip on occasion. I remember once she called and when I answered she could tell something was wrong – I had lost my passport ahead of a big gig abroad. Straight round she came to help look for it! But more importantly than that we had so many good laughs and plenty of occasionally quite fiery debates which sometimes resulted in me, quite rightly, being rebuked for saying certain unthinking things and I feel a more conscientious and learned person as a result, always one of the best qualities someone can have I think is to make you feel this way.
I’m not sure I’ve ever known a more selfless person and this was shown throughout Camilla’s mercifully fairly short illness. Camilla’s diagnosis was devastating news to all her legions of friends, and to Camilla herself, yet so often during her illness her priority was other people. After a good deal of persuading her, she agreed to allow me to run errands whenever I could so we went on quite a lot of shopping trips to supermarkets, garden centres and the hospital and during all this she was still always asking me how I was doing. As she quickly grew more and more ill in recent weeks, she continued to check on me as I have had a hard time lately for reasons I won’t go into here. She sent a good luck text ahead of my Stafford gig a few weeks ago and said she was really sorry not to be there but was not feeling well enough but she was still aiming to have one of our cafe catch ups. Sadly that was not to be as she grew weaker but just over a week ago I popped round to say goodbye. It was one of the greatest privileges I have ever had to say goodbye to her and to say things that I wanted to say. We still had a good laugh (partly because within five seconds I had managed to kick her crutches over by accident) and she asked me how my tour had gone and how I was doing. And typically of her, when I said I was heading to Oxford that day (where she is from), she asked if one of the ladies looking after her would send a text for her to her friend telling her to come to the gig! Most of all, I thanked her for everything she had done for me and she did likewise to me and said that it was important that different generations had these kind of friendships. How right she was, as ever. Of course I left the house in floods of tears and I feel deeply sad but I feel immensely grateful to have known such a remarkable person so well and better still to have had the chance to say the things that matter to her. Thank you for everything Camilla, I’ll remember you and smile.