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There appeared to be something different about the ladies of Rylstone and District Women's Institute when they stepped back into the spotlight this week to launch their 10th anniversary charity calendar. To be fair, a decade has passed since the Yorkshire matrons first took off their clothes and posed naked for the camera behind strategically positioned garden vegetables and kitchen paraphernalia. But those who witnessed the so-called 'Original Calendar Girls' promoting their latest charitable effort at Harvey Nichols in Leeds on Monday couldn't fail to notice that the group had somewhat diminished in size.
Only six of the original 11 women who posed naked for the first calendar in have taken part in the latest version. And that is a fact. All this has been possible because of all of us, not just because of them. Behind the absence of Sandra and her friends lies a story of broken friendships and bitter recriminations, a saga which is a world away from the heart-warming tale of friendship and loyalty which was turned into the Calendar Girls film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. Sandra's words are echoed by her sister, year-old mother-of-three Leni Pickles, the erstwhile Miss April, who says: 'I suppose you could say we've been excommunicated.
Lynn Knowles, 62, who was Miss March, adds with savage understatement: 'You could call it a parting of the ways. And when I spoke to WI stalwart Moyra Livesey, who was 50 when she posed behind a vase of sunflowers as the original Miss May and who is now a year-old grandmother of six, she put it thus: 'Sometimes I don't even recognise the story of the Calendar Girls, and I was there from the very beginning.
Back then, of course, it all seemed so innocent - a harmless, humorous and daring way to raise money for Leukaemia Research in memory of John Baker, the late husband of another WI member and Calendar Girl, Angela Baker. Within weeks of launching their risque calendar, the 11 middle-aged ladies from the Rylstone and District WI were international celebrities.
But fame, of course, too often comes at a price. Placed under the spotlight, cracks in the friendship of the 11 women swiftly began to emerge, as various individuals vied for control of the group. The spirit of it changed. Indeed, she recalls, the first disagreement took place on the very day that the original Calendar Girls calendar was launched in April There were just too many of us.
The dynamics of it were nigh on impossible. Later, dissension in the ranks increased when it emerged that a few members of the group had entered talks with a film company without telling the others. A lot of us didn't know about it. Matters were complicated when comedian Victoria Wood also approached the WI, expressing an interest in making her own film version of their story.
Thus the original 11 split into two groups - six under Tricia Stewart and the other five under Moyra Livesey. Not surprisingly, the larger group got its way and ed the deal with Harbour Films. But according to the remaining 'Rylstone Five', as they became known, the film was the final straw, not the root of the group's problems. Both of them had relatives who suffered from leukaemia. That wasn't what I felt. Another was the establishment of Calendar Girl Holidays Ltd, a business venture by Tricia and her husband Ian, with donations made to Leukaemia Research.
The way they were: The women of Rylstone and District Women's Institute before feuds divided the group. As Moyra puts it: 'Sometimes it seemed that things weren't being done for entirely altruistic reasons. Sandra agrees: 'Suddenly, we had individuals writing books and not having to work in normal jobs any more. It's not morally right. There were all the perks, the free gifts, the hand- outs. It shouldn't ever have been about self-promotion self-aggrandisement or personal gain.
The original spirit of the calendar was that we made money for charity. The demands placed on the Calendar Girls after they became an overnight sensation also became hard to fulfil for some as they tried to juggle jobs and home lives. I had a husband and children, and a business to run.
Some of the girls were lucky in that they were either retired or they had a business they could run from a mobile phone. I paid to have extra staff when I was away. I was lucky that I could more or less have time off when I needed it. But others used up all their holiday. It took over our lives. Sandra adds: 'Our lives were turned upside down. I gave up nearly a year of my time for the calendar, but I needed to work and I couldn't do it any longer. It was like a full-time job. I don't miss it at all. She was finding it so hard to take time off work and if she ever said anything about it, she was classed as miserable.
It was things like that which caused problems. Suddenly, it wasn't as innocent as it seemed in the beginning. While the Rylstone Five withdrew, the other six Calendar Girls carried on. Despite the publicity surrounding their 10th anniversary calendar this week, there have been others. In , for example, they released a recipe calendar, which included a recipe for Yorkshire pudding along with 'original and new pictures' of the ladies.
In , there was a slimline calendar, also featuring their original sepia-tinted photographs. There are also Calendar Girl jams, chocolates, umbrellas, aprons and shopping bags, all sold to raise money for Leukaemia Research. Under the circumstances, it is understandably hard for the five women who are no longer part of the phenomenon to put it all behind them. We live with it every day. You go into town and you see the other girls. It's a difficult situation and it's never going to go away.
Lynn, who still belongs to the WI, says: 'I don't regret taking part. We raised a lot of money for leukaemia research. Leni, who lives in Cononley in North Yorshire and is a college lecturer in child development, adds: 'It was fabulous. Great fun. You realised you were doing something for a good cause. And despite everything that has happened, all five women, including year-old former Miss August, retired PE teacher Rita Turner, who prefers not to speak about the past, wish their former Calendar Girl colleagues the best of luck with their latest venture.
That was the aim of it,' says Leni. Moyra, who is still a member of the WI, adds: 'As far as I'm concerned, anything that raises money for charity is fine by me. I hope they raise more money. If it weren't for the calendar, the 11 ladies would probably still be good friends, enjoying the innocent pursuits that once bound them together, coffee mornings at each other's houses, walks in the countryside near their village homes. Despite the devastating fall-out of their fame, the village Women's Institute is still going strong, with 30 regular members and a packed diary of events.
Such subjects may not be as pulse-racing as nude photography, but there are many who feel that the ladies of Rylstone and District Women's Institute have seen enough excitement to last a lifetime. No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.
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Calendar Girls unzipped: The naked truth about those bitter feuds and jealousy