Rachel Ashton – Old Girl (1988-1995)

Rachel Ashton – Old Girl (1988-1995)

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I can remember now the feeling of trepidation, age 11, walking into MTGS on my first morning at ‘The Big School’, wondering who I would meet and if I’d make friends. I needn’t have worried, the first person I met was Rachel, who greeted me with a smile, introduced herself and it felt like we’d known each other forever. Over the following seven years, we stuck together and through our mutual love of singing, drama and avoiding PE became firm friends, a friendship that would endure long beyond school.

She was one of the big characters of our year, known and loved by all for her quick wit, comic timing and bubbly personality, who threw herself wholeheartedly into any challenge (except PE, where we always came last in cross country). It became clear very early on that she was an immensely talented actor and singer, with a knack for impressions and a facility for dialogue, and had really beautiful handwriting. Her impersonation of Mrs Stubbs is legendary.

She always had projects on the go, whether writing a new Red Dwarf script, memorising Alec Guinness quotes or arranging TV theme tunes (like Blackadder) for organ, as she was the organist at Ince Blundell Hall, another one of her talents. She was an enthusiastic member of the choirs (though grew a little tired of singing Beatles songs), and in latter years performed a number of solos, where she could show just how brilliant a singer she was. The last time she and I ever sang onstage together was at Prize Giving, where we performed Rossini’s Cat Duet, something we both found hilarious and relished every second.

Whatever her choices, they were always completely individual and she would never be influenced by others. One example of that was her insistence that she wanted to learn Russian, a language she embraced and loved, and she was highly entertained on arriving in Russia on a school trip (staying with a family she was convinced were Mafia) for people to keep asking why she was speaking with a Scottish accent (well done, Mr Aitken…).

After A-level, she studied Linguistics and Italian at Lancaster University, and worked for a time for the Charities Commission. It was her love of singing and music that won the day, though, and she gained a place to study at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, after which she sang professionally and also trained as a music educator, so she could pass on her love of performing to the next generation. Not content with that, she also appeared as a straight actor in a number of productions and continued to write plays, her love of drama undiminished from when she was younger.

That she was so full of life and hitting her creative peak made the shock of her cancer diagnosis even worse. With characteristic stoicism, and a relentlessly positive attitude, she faced chemotherapy and radiotherapy with real courage, even teaching herself to play the mandolin to alleviate her boredom whilst recuperating. On being told that she was in remission, she gained a place to do a Masters Degree at Birmingham Conservatoire and she began the course with relish, loving every second and grabbing life with both hands. It was a hard blow, then, to discover the cancer had returned but once again she faced months of treatment with positivity and determination, and her sense of humour remained fully intact to the end.

She wasn’t able to complete her Masters, but was granted her degree posthumously, something that would have made her immensely proud. She was an incredibly talented individual, taken from the world far too soon, before she had fully had an opportunity to demonstrate just how gifted she was, in any number of fields, although she will be remembered for her singing above all. But more than that, she was a much loved daughter, sister, auntie and friend, someone who was kind, thoughtful, funny, loyal, witty, brave, and unique. I, along with everyone who knew her, will miss her enormously and I am honoured to have called her my friend.

Jennifer Johnston
Old Girl (1988-95)