Great Britain

Friends have shaped who we are today – the bonds have changed our lives

OVER the last 12 months, our friends have never been so important to us.

Here, six women tell Fabulous about the bond that changed their lives.

‘Phoebe helped me to process the horror of the Manchester Arena bombing’

BETH Froggatt, 21, from Manchester, is an early years practitioner. 

“As the countdown began at the Manchester Arena on May 22, 2017, I started to cry. Concerts were my happy place, and I was about to see my idol Ariana Grande. Life was good – I was studying for a childcare apprenticeship and enjoyed going out with my friends. I had no idea of the horror to come. 

“When the lights came up I started to leave, but my friend Lucy, then 18, said there was no need to rush. Then we heard a huge explosion that seemed to be right beneath us. Everything was silent, before the arena filled with screams.

My gut told me it was a bomb and we shakily tried to make our way out of the building through the throngs of terrified, disorientated concert goers.

The relief when I ran out and felt fresh air was incredible. But then the panic grew. Sirens wailed, blue lights lit up the night sky and I passed a mum clutching her shaking young daughter. 

“In the chaos, we couldn’t see how many people had been hurt, and were terrified there would be another explosion, so we quickly made our way to a nearby tram stop. By the time 

“I got home, it had started to be reported on the news. My mum Bridie was in shock and didn’t want to believe it was true. 

“For days, I sat numbly, watching as the numbers of dead and injured rose. Twenty-two people were killed – the youngest was only eight – and more than 800 were injured. I struggled to sleep and battled horrendous night terrors. 

I am finally on the road to recovery and Phoebe’s support has been crucial.

Beth Froggatt

“I was exhausted – mentally and physically – and was battling survivor’s guilt. In late 2018, I was diagnosed with PTSD, and started a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helped. I also began attending a support group for survivors of the attack, and heard about Climbing Out, a residential programme that helps young people who’ve faced trauma. 

“The following June, I took part in its five-day outdoor programme, and as we climbed, abseiled, canoed and shared our stories, I felt my confidence slowly start to grow.

“That December, on another Climbing Out trip, I met Phoebe, a cancer survivor. We instantly connected – I could tell her anything and never felt judged, and she was the warmest person I’d ever met. It was hard to say goodbye after three days together, and I missed her immediately.

"We didn’t have the chance to see each other again before lockdown as we live more than two hours apart, but we message, talk on the phone and FaceTime constantly. 

“When the trial of the bomber’s brother began in February last year, I really struggled. It was constantly on the news and all over social media, and Phoebe knew how big a toll that would have been on me. She constantly checked to see if I was OK, giving me support.

"Although she doesn’t understand exactly what I went through, she puts herself in my shoes. I’ve sent her a guardian angel pin badge and a candle, and she’s surprised me with a book and a wine glass I wanted. She even sent me flowers and a card for Valentine’s. These reminders that we care about each other mean a lot. 

“Almost four years since the attack, I am finally on the road to recovery and Phoebe’s support has been crucial. I can honestly say our friendship has changed my life.”

‘I understood Beth’s hopelessness’ 

PHOEBE Hedley, 22, from Newcastle, works in student recruitment for Newcastle University. 

“My heart broke to hear Beth open up as we hiked together that first time we met. When she talked about her feelings of fear, hopelessness and guilt that her trauma wasn’t as bad as others, I understood. I’ve been there.

“I have an incurable genetic condition called Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), where cells in my body don’t shed properly and can cause cancer. I’ve always had stomach issues, but when I was 13 I started vomiting up to six times a day.

"When I got a diagnosis in June 2012, my life changed. My large intestine was removed because of lumps inside my colon. Then, two years later when I was 15, a tumour was discovered in my abdomen. This was inoperable and had to be treated with chemotherapy for a year. 

“Alongside the pain, I had to face the fact my cancer could come back anywhere, at any time, for the rest of my life. I was so angry at the world. That was how I felt when I joined Climbing Out in 2017. The programme was an incredible experience that led me to amazing people like Beth.

"The minute we met it was like I’d known her for years and we were able to be vulnerable with each other. I can sense when she needs to talk and when to be quiet, and vice versa. When a good friend passed away last summer, Beth rang every day, listening to me cry.

"But we also laugh so much it hurts sometimes. Our post-Covid plans are in place: shopping, dinner and pampering. I can’t wait to give her a hug.” 

‘Steph got me through my pandemic pregnancy’

CARMEN Burbulea, 35, lives in Essex with husband Dorin, 37, a police officer, and children Oliver, three, and Milo, 10 months.

“Heading towards the birthing room, I screamed in agony. Then I saw the person I needed the most – not my husband, but my best friend Steph. I grabbed her hand and didn’t let go. 

“I first met Steph in July 2018 when my husband Dorin and her fiancé Steve, 27, trained to become police officers together and introduced us at their graduation. We really got on, but it wasn’t until October 2019, when Steph and Steve came over for lunch, that we started to grow closer.

“Then six weeks pregnant with my second child, I was feeling dreadful, but Steph was so kind. She said if I ever needed help, she’d be there. Soon after, I felt so awful with sickness and fatigue that I was struggling to take care of my little boy Oliver, then two.

"One call and Steph dashed over. Even before Covid, Dorin’s job made attending my many medical appointments hard, so Steph stepped in. I’d never had a friend like this before.

“We became so close that in January 2020 I asked her to be my birthing partner. Even though at that point I could have had both of them in the room as it was pre-Covid, it was Steph that I wanted. Dorin understood, especially as he had felt nervous about being in the room when Oliver was born. 

One call and Steph dashed over. Even before Covid, Dorin’s job made attending my many medical appointments hard, so Steph stepped in. I’d never had a friend like this before

Carmen Burbulea

“When the pandemic hit last March, we were even more sure of our decision. Oliver’s nursery closed, so Steph formed a bubble with us to help with childcare. Even though she had a new job in the fire service, she was working from home, so was able to drive me to my appointments and help watch Oliver. 

“Because I had anterior placenta, which makes it hard to feel the baby move, I had lots of extra hospital appointments during the pregnancy. By the end of April, when I was 36 weeks, 

“I was in multiple times a week for monitoring. 

“That’s when Steph offered to temporarily move into our home until the baby was born. She and Steve had discussed it and wanted to support us. 

“Two weeks later, the doctors decided to induce the baby at 38 weeks. By the next morning, I was in so much pain, but as I was finally wheeled down the corridor to the birthing room, seeing Steph made everything feel better.

“She was incredible in the delivery room, holding my hand and staying calm, reassuring me all the way through. Just 25 minutes later Milo was born, weighing 8lb 1oz. Steph even cut the umbilical cord! Dorin and I asked Steph to be his godmother – and both boys love her almost as much as we do. I will treasure her friendship forever.” 

‘Before I met Carmen I’d always struggled to make friends’

STEPH Guest, 27, a fire service inspector, lives in Essex with her fiancé Steve, 27, a police officer.

“I’ve always struggled to make friends. My anxiety means I worry about what people think of me, but from the first time we met, Carmen was so kind and welcoming, I couldn’t help but relax.

“As our friendship grew, I opened up about being signed off as a police officer because of my mental health. She never judged me and so I didn’t put up the barriers I usually did. 

“Offering to help with Carmen’s pregnancy felt completely natural. I loved spending time with Oliver and Carmen, who is an amazing cook and would always lovingly prepare us delicious meals. Plus she helped me plan my wedding – which was due to happen in April 2020 before the pandemic put it on hold – by listening to all my ideas about food and party favours.

“She also helped me to go for my new job by helping give me the confidence to believe in myself. She’s always been supportive of my struggle with anxiety and she kept reassuring me that I was good enough.

“When Covid hit, I knew how hard work would be for Dorin so I was there for anything Carmen or Oliver needed. My fiancé Steve and I don’t have children of our own yet and he was behind me all the way. 

“To be by Carmen’s side when Milo was born was a privilege and I can’t wait to watch him grow up. The current lockdown has made it harder for us to see each other, but we message and chat frequently, and we can’t wait to spend more time together. 

“In Carmen I know I’ve made a true friend for life – and I’m looking forward to making amazing memories together.”

‘Clare fought for me during my divorce’

GEMMA Mays, 39, from Wiltshire, works in early years education and lives with her two daughters Jade 20, and Summer, 12.

“When I realised we’d won my divorce settlement case, there was only one thing to do – give my best friend a high five. 

“When Clare first pounced on me at a playgroup in March 2010, announcing we’d be friends, I was startled. But once we got talking, we couldn’t stop laughing. She never got on with my ex-husband Alex*, who I’d met as a single mum in January 2002 when my daughter Jade, was two.

"We married in August 2007 and had our daughter Summer in March 2008. After discovering his affairs in February 2013 my world fell apart, but Clare was a huge support.

"Alex refused a divorce for years, until January 2018 when he met someone else. By then I was so ready for it to be over, I’d have signed anything – even if I got nothing. But Clare said I deserved better. She knew I had little money for a solicitor, so said that she’d do it for me. I never doubted her. 

Without Clare, I’d have never found the strength to make all that happen

Gemma Mays

“Over the next 22 months I was terrified. I’m dyslexic plus have dyscalculia, a maths learning disability, so the paperwork was intimidating. But Clare researched the process for a financial settlement, helped me fill in forms and found out what questions we needed to ask. When we had to write to the judge requesting that Clare support me in court, she even did that too. 

“It was scary to walk into court in September 2018, but with Clare I felt empowered. She wrote down questions I should ask, and was allowed to speak on my behalf. When the judge later told Alex to accept our settlement demand – a final, four-figure lump sum – it was an incredible feeling.

“I’d finally stood up for myself, and it gave me the confidence to want more. I now have a job I love and won’t let anything stand in my way again. Without Clare, I’d have never found the strength to make all that happen.”

‘I wasn’t going to let her be walked over’

CLARE MacNaughton, 49, is a writer and lives in Wiltshire with her daughter Bella, 12, and son Ben, 17.

“The first time Gemma and I met up without the kids, she came to my house and drank me under the table! Over the years there were burlesque nights and holidays, and our friendship kept getting stronger.

"I was furious about Alex’s infidelities. But I didn’t rant and rave – I gave Gemma a safe space to talk. When she said she wasn’t going to ask for money in the divorce, my response was: No way! She couldn’t afford a solicitor? No problem, I’d do it.

“I work for myself so can be flexible with my hours and slotted in research and paperwork whenever I had a window. I made appointments with Gemma for us to go through the forms together and tried to keep everything as organised as I could.

"Walking into the courtroom, I felt a flood of anxiety. But I just kept going, sat down, and started writing Gemma notes on what to say and ask. When the judge told Alex to accept the figure we wanted him to pay, it was amazing! 

“Since then I’ve seen Gemma grow so much. She’s finally living her life – I’m just happy to have helped her get there.”

Mrs. Hinch opens up about her friendship with Stacy Solomon on Loose Women

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