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The Rev Wendy is in the pink

PUBLISHED: 10:34 01 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:56 22 October 2010

The Rev Wendy Saunders and her pink Nissan Micra at Sporle.

The Rev Wendy Saunders and her pink Nissan Micra at Sporle.

It's easy to spot her when she's out and about. It's the bright pink hair that does it. She's even easier to notice when she's driving around Swaffham in her new Nissan Micra convertible - because that's pink, too.

It's easy to spot her when she's out and about. It's the bright pink hair that does it.

She's even easier to notice when she's driving around Swaffham in her new Nissan Micra convertible - because that's pink, too.

But she's no ageing punk rocker going through some kind of mid-life crisis - for the Rev Wendy Saunders is a Church of England priest.

And she's no scatterbrain like BBC TV's vicar of Dibley, either. As a vicar in a tough parish in south-east London with the care of about 9,000 souls, she has to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground.

Her pink hair has become something of a trademark in her parish of St Saviour's Church at Eltham, a community that includes areas recognised as among the poorest and most deprived in the country.

Wendy is also becoming well-known for her colourful hairstyle and clothes in the Swaffham and Sporle areas, where she has a home which she frequently visits to seek a break from the unremitting pressures of her job.

The pink hairstyle began as "a bit of fun" almost three years ago when she took a sabbatical from work.

She decided to keep the colour because of the positive reactions she received and it seemed that it was a great way of breaking down barriers.

And it later became a poignant gesture in memory of a three-year old girl in her church's mother-and-toddler group who died of a brain tumour.

Wendy said: "Just over a week after I went pink I found myself in King's College Hospital at the child's bedside after she had been diagnosed with the tumour.

"I'd never met her dad, Richard, before and he's very much against God and the church. After I'd been at the bedside a while, he suddenly looked at me - pink hair and all - and said 'You're not much like a vicar, are you'?"

Wendy added: "Sadly Jennifer lost her battle and died in April 2004. Her favourite colour was pink and so my hair was freshly coloured for her funeral and I've kept it like that ever since."

Now the vicar who is permanently in the pink is a trustee of a charity set up by Jennifer's dad and mum, Lynn, to help children suffering from brain tumours and their families.

Clowns in the Sky takes its name from an incident involving Jennifer as she travelled home by car from Great Ormond Street Hospital after she had met a doctor wearing a clown's costume to bring a smile to the faces of his young patients.

In the car, Jennifer said, "Look mummy, clowns in the sky" and although Lynn tried to persuade her that what she was seeing was clouds, the little girl insisted on continuing to call them clowns.

One of the projects the charity is carrying out, with the help of a grant from Children in Need, is providing mobile toy trolleys for youngsters too sick to get to the hospital playroom or for use when the room is shut.

Clowns in the Sky is also dedicated to research into and treatment of childhood brain tumours - the second most common childhood cancer - and to the welfare of suffering children and their families.

Wendy, 56, who was ordained priest in 1996, has won several awards for her broadcasts on the independent local radio station Millennium - including an interview with Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen, stabbed and killed in Eltham at the age of 18 in a race attack.

She has now stopped broadcasting because she found that her two-hour programme every Sunday morning, followed by her round of church services, was becoming too much.

Talking about her work as a London parish priest in a deprived area, Wendy said: "It's challenging, demanding but very fulfilling."

There has been tragedy in her life, too - her husband, Norman, who shared her faith, died of cancer in 1997.

"It was very difficult to start with and I had been widowed only 18 months when I was appointed to my parish. To be thrown into your own incumbency so soon after being widowed was a tough one. And obviously it all had to be worked through in the parish - maybe the pink hair is all part of that journey in some way, about redefining myself."

More information on the work of the Clowns in the Sky charity is available on its website, www.clownsinthesky.org


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