We met ten years ago at Drama School where Claudia sported a full set of the longest acrylics known to man-before nail bars were ever a common sight even in Central London. She always smiled, and I have never to this day heard her say a bad word about anyone. She could also do a version of Hammertime that would put MC Hammer himself to shame-not bad going for an Essex bird…
Whilst some people dipped their toe in the water of life, Claudia would take a running jump off the highest point she could find and dive-bombed into it. She studied full-time, had a job, sang in a band, did a two-hour commute to school everyday, and still found time to go out with us most nights, life was a total adventure with her around. Even when we left Drama School and found ourselves on the inevitable rounds of thankless auditions and living on next to nothing, Claudia managed to buy her second property and make it all look incredibly easy. It was a no-brainer who most of us wanted to be when we grew up (it also didn’t hurt she was the spitting double of Daryl Hannah, you know, if Daryl was from Essex…)
We somehow blinked and found we were in our mid-twenties. Still working as jobbing actresses a lot of us would spend our summers doing various plays and musicals in Edinburgh (a reasonable excuse to drink in another city for a few weeks if ever there was one). Claudia would also be there-except she’d have written, directed and cast the production she was part of. Obviously. The last night out I had with her I had a Mohawk and a green painted face but she looked ridiculously good as always and we said we’d see each other back in London very soon. But it seemed fate had other plans for both of us. A few months later I got sick and spent the rest of my twenties housebound then in a wheelchair being cared for by my parents full-time back in Newcastle. And Claudia met a lovely boy.
Claudia’s boy was very lovely indeed. I used to look at photos of them on Facebook, (a lifeline when I was housebound but not something that I can bring myself to use now without feeling like I’m back there again) and marvel at how happy she seemed, even by her usual standards of joy. Then one day her lovely boyfriend went sailing for the day. And never got to come back. Your boyfriend isn’t supposed to die when you are in your twenties. Accidents like that are supposed to happen in films. They are headlines belonging to people you’ve never met. Your life isn’t supposed to shift irrevocably in a matter of hours. But Claudia’s did. It did and it wasn’t fair. Suffering like that is not something most people can comprehend, never mind see their way out of and through to the other side.
She mourned and she suffered and she got through the hours and days and weeks. But then she did something extraordinary. She made a new plan. She moved from London to NYC and attended Drama School there. She uprooted her entire life, left all her friends, (and trust me she has a lot of those) and went alone to start her Life After. It will come as no surprise to hear that they all fell in love with her on that side of the pond too. She created an amazing network of friends, had a wonderful social life and worked very hard. She also fell in love with an equally incredible man and yesterday they got married in a beautiful ceremony in New York State.
So many things about Claudia have always impressed me, her energy, her humour, her individuality. But what truly astounds me is her willingness to love and to trust. Whist most of us can relate to have our hearts broken and finding it hard to trust again, very few of us have experienced the level of shock and loss that Claudia has, and at such a young age. But she never wallowed in it, never felt sorry for herself, she put all of her energy into believing that she could create a life after this horrible thing that happened to her. And she did, she fell in love and loves her husband fearlessly, he in turn worships the ground she walks on, you can tell just by looking at him that he feels like the luckiest man on the world. That’s what happens when you take a risk and decide to give your heart to someone else fully, they recognise and care for it like the precious gift that it is.
Whenever I feel like I’m too scared to trust my heart to another, or leave myself open for whatever hurt or rejection could come my way, I think of Claudia, and I remember how with a willingness to let love into your life regardless of where it may take you, we can create something truly extraordinary. And then I know i’m going to do just fine.