Styling: Anna Woodham. Make-up: Julia Wren at Carol Hayes Management using By Terry. Hair: Matthew Wade at Carol Hayes management. Chloe wears Suit, Kwaidan Editions. Blouse, Equipment, both theoutnet.com. Shoes, Kurt Geiger. Tamara wears Blazer and trousers, Diane Von Furstenberg. Shirt, Nanushka, both theoutnet.com. Shoes, Giambattista Valli, David M Benett/Getty Images for Mulberry. Additional reporting: Charlotte Vossen
From It-girls to women on a mission, Tamara Beckwith Veroni and Chloe Delevingne are determined to speak out about gynaecological cancers. They tell Kate Spicer why the cause means so much to them
Tamara Beckwith Veroni’s mother Paula ‘never looked ill. She kept her hair for a long time. When she lost it that was going to be a big problem – Mummy always had this perfect blonde helmet. That was how my father knew that the cancer had moved. She was sitting on the bed waiting to go for dinner all dressed and normal but for her hair, which was like Worzel Gummidge. Dad said, “What’s going on with your hair?” Mummy wasn’t a joker, not like me, and she just said, “What do you mean?”’ Tamara laughs with affection, even though what we are discussing is going somewhere terrible. ‘It’s only funny because it was her hair. He knew immediately that was very bad. The cancer had gone to her brain.’
They were in Puerto Rico at the time and period in a local hospital followed. ‘It was difficult.’ Tamara falls uncharacteristically silent. We are sitting in the studio where I’ve come to meet her and Chloe Delevingne, who is one of the other co-founders of their gynaecological cancer charity The Lady Garden Foundation (and the big sister of model/actresses Cara and Poppy).
‘Dad won’t talk about it…’ Tamara pauses, ‘He must have been so scared. They had been married since they were 20.’
Both these willowy English ‘gels’ come from a Never Explain, Never Complain culture, but Tamara says, ‘These stories are important, that’s why I discuss it. Movember [the prostate and testicular cancer awareness campaign] has been a gamechanger. I want to do the same for women.’ In the nine years since Tamara’s mother’s death from endometrial (womb) cancer, and the six since The Lady Garden Foundation was formed by women whose lives have been affected by one of the gynaecological cancers (ovarian, cervical, uterine, vaginal and vulval), £800,000 has been raised to fund research.
Survival rates for gynaecological cancers are low – almost 37 per cent compared to 84 per cent for breast cancer. One of the main reasons for this is a lack of awareness around symptoms, and a reticence for women to prioritise their sexual health. ‘They are known as the silent killers because people don’t talk about them,’ says Chloe. ‘In the Third World they are the biggest cancer killers of women because of stigma and a lack of screening.’
Tamara adds, ‘It’s important we have an awareness side to what we are doing – we’re not just ladies fundraising.’ She believes her mother’s death could have been preventable had she spoken up about her symptoms earlier. ‘She used to tell Daddy to drive slowly over speed bumps. It was only as we pieced together the jigsaw of what we knew about her symptoms that we realised it was because it caused her so much pain.’
We sit watching tears pour down Tamara’s face, unable to comfort her. Chloe says, ‘I want to give you a hug.’ Then defaults to her factory settings: humour, stiff upper lip, ‘“And how did you get corona?” “Chloe hugged me.”’
Tamara, 50, is often described as a ‘socialite and celebrity entrepreneur’. Back in the 90s she was one of the original It-girls. Her father, Sir Peter Beckwith, along with her Uncle John, are Rich List regulars with a combined net worth of around £323 million. Her friends include fashion legend Valentino Garavani, Mick Jagger and the few hundred or so other names that define high society. In a world of haves and have nots, Tamara is a definite have. Chloe’s father Charles is rather, er, poorer, with a net worth of about £100 million, though through both her parents there’s influence going back generations.
From right: Chloe with sisters Cara and Poppy
Chloe, 36, differs from The Lady Garden’s other co-founders in that she hasn’t lost a family member to gynaecological cancer. ‘I was 21 and studying biomedical science and tumour biology. My dissertation was on cervical cancer and its link with the HPV virus. Investigating the symptoms, I noticed I was suffering from three of them. At 21, I was too young to have a smear, so I called a private doctor and they found that I had CIN3, which is the stage before cancer.’ She watched the procedure being performed as they removed a chunk of her cervix. It saved her fertility and possibly her life. ‘I knew that if I had children I was going to have to be stitched up or take progesterone in order to carry to full term.’ In the event she had daily vaginal progesterone suppositories – ‘Delightful for a pregnant woman,’ she says with polite sarcasm.
The Lady Garden Foundation came about through a series of personal tragedies and a chance meeting between co-founder Mika Simmons and Susana Banerjee, consultant oncologist at The Royal Marsden Hospital in London. When Chloe heard about the foundation, she says: ‘I told them my story. I’d never spoken about it. I didn’t want to talk about my symptoms, like pain or bleeding after sex, increased discharge, back pain or unusual bleeding. In my family I am the most prudish, so when I eventually told my sisters they were shocked. They’re much more open. Now, of course, I can say “vagina” without going red. When people ask me what I do, I say, “I started The Lady Garden Foundation because I want to talk about vaginas,” which is awkward but it starts a conversation and that’s what we are trying to do.’ To this end, last year Chloe had a smear test live on Victoria Derbyshire’s show, which must have been excruciating. ‘But worth it. I know it’s helped raise awareness. At the moment smear-test rates are at a ten-year low.’
Tamara is a fundraising veteran, as all socialites worth their salt tend to be. She works an average two days a week on the project – unpaid. ‘It drives my husband mad. He always says, “Get a real job!” But I have always done this – it’s the right thing to do.’
The foundation has achieved a great deal yet still receives flak. One critic said, ‘They’re just posh white London girls talking to other posh white London girls. Where’s the diversity?’
I put this criticism to Chloe, who says, ‘With the reach of social media, the foundation can now go far and wide. The footage of me having my smear test has been viewed a million times – and is used by a charity to show teenage survivors of sexual abuse how quick and painless it is.’
I tell her she is often described as a ‘philanthropist, socialite and model’. She cringes. ‘Can’t I just be co-founder of The Lady Garden and advocate for female sexual health? Next year when I go back to college [to train as a midwife or a GP – she has yet to decide] I can add student to that, too. Then I can be more useful on the ground. All the foundation wants to do is help people.’
Be a Lady… Chloe wears a Lady Garden Foundation jumper
How to spot the symptoms
The main gynaecological cancers – and the signs to look out for
Mainly affects sexually active women between 30 and 45. The symptoms include…
★ Vaginal bleeding, which can occur during or after sex, in between periods, or new bleeding after you have been through the menopause.
Ovarian cancer is difficult to recognise. The symptoms include…
★ Feeling constantly bloated.
★ A swollen tummy and discomfort
in your tummy or pelvic area.
★ Feeling full quickly when eating or loss of appetite.
★ Needing to urinate more often or more urgently than usual.
Uterine (womb) cancer is more common in women who have been through the menopause. The main symptoms are…
★ Vaginal bleeding.
★ Pain in the lower abdomen and during sex.
Vaginal cancer is one of the rarest gynaecological cancers. The symptoms to look out for are…
★ Post-menopause vaginal bleeding.
★ Bleeding after sex; pain during sex.
★ Bleeding between periods.
★ Bloodstained vaginal discharge.
★ A lump or itch in your vagina.
★ Pain when urinating, or needing to urinate a lot.
Vulval cancer is rare in women under 50. The symptoms include…
★ A persistent itch in the vulva.
★ Pain, soreness or tenderness in the vulva.
A cashmere jumper, priced £249 and designed by Malin Darlin exclusively for the foundation, is now on sale at ladygardenfoundation.com/shop or malindarlin.com. All profits raised go to The Lady Garden Foundation