A Portstewart mum who waited 20 years and shed four and a half stone has finally fulfilled her skydiving dream. But although life’s had its highs and lows, Barbara Hall is looking forward to a happy New Year.
When Barbara Hall was seven she was sure you could sit on a cloud. But having jumped from a plane at 10,000 feet she now concedes you can’t! The Portstewart mum of two tested her childhood theory to mark her 50th recently – and raised thousands for charity in the process. But she had to wait 20 years and shed four and a half stone to do so.
“I remember when I was seven asking mum if you could sit on the clouds,” laughs Barbara.
“She said no. But I wasn’t convinced!” That skydive though was a long time coming for Barbara first signed up to jump over 20 years ago but life’s ups and downs meant she had to put her ambition on hold.
“When I think of what’s happened it sounds like a soap plot! You wonder looking back how you coped, but you do,” says Barbara who was widowed before her first child, Ciaran (19), was even born.
When I think of what’s happened it sounds like a soap plot! You wonder looking back how you coped, but you do.
This story though arguably starts in the late Nineties when she and first husband Sean were working in London.
“I was a solicitor in the City where Sean worked too and we loved the buzz,” recalls Barbara. Always one for a challenge, she signed up for a charity skydive - only to be turned down because of her weight.
“But I was busy with other things and soon we discovered Ciaran was on his way. I promised myself though that some day I would do it,” continues Barbara, by then preparing for the baby and waiting on their new home to be built.
Finally moving day dawned but doting dad Sean wouldn’t let her lift a finger.
“He told me just to leave for work that day from our old home and come home to the new one,” recalls Barbara.
Sean though took ill that morning and actually collapsed outside the doctor’s surgery. And although Barbara rushed to the hospital as soon as she heard, it was too late. Sean had taken a massive heart attack and was dead. He was just 34. “I can talk about that day now but at the time it was like a nightmare. I remember going back to our new home that night and sitting in a sea of boxes. I couldn’t even find the kettle,” she says. Family rallied right away but nothing changed the fact Barbara was far from home, in a brand new house, planning her husband’s funeral - and the birth of their baby.
“Sean’s death made me realise how important it was that I should always be there for Ciaran after he arrived. I decided I needed to take better care of myself and lose some weight. I joined Weight Watchers in London and in total lost around four and a half stone,” she says.
When Ciaran was three in 2002, Barbara decided to move back to New Buildings, Co Derry/Londonderry where she’d have family close by – as well as a local Weight Watchers group which she joined.
“When I reached my goal weight there, the organisation asked if I wanted to become a leader which was a great opportunity,” says Barbara who was 15 years in post.
The Noughties though was also the era of the Friends Reunited phenomenon – and that’s when life took off in yet another direction for Barbara.
“When moving I’d discovered old photos of my school band in New Buildings Primary,” she recalls.
One of those was of fellow bandsman Brian Hall.
“I messaged him on Friends Reunited, saying I was sure he wouldn’t remember me but I had this picture of the pair of us. He replied right away and suggested we meet up for coffee and a laugh at the picture! That was in 2003.”
Romance blossomed and the couple married the next year, settling in Portstewart, and making their family complete in 2005 with the arrival of baby Martha.
But despite the twists and turns of her story, Barbara hadn’t forgotten that skydiving promise to herself and life finally came full circle last year when she spotted an ad on Facebook for a fundraising jump being organised by Christian Aid.
I was turning 50 and I thought well if God spares me, I’m going to do this!
“I was turning 50 and I thought well if God spares me, I’m going to do this!” says Barbara who was amazed by the level of support she had as she raised money for the charity’s Breaking the Barriers project which helps women in developing countries through sustainable energy projects.
“That really spurred me on and on the day of the jump I was first there before the airfield was even opened!” says Barbara who was due to jump in tandem with an instructor from two miles above the Garvagh airfield.
“Myself and one other jumper went up in that first flight that morning. You sit on the floor because there are no seats. There isn’t even a door, just a sort of flap! A photographer was also jumping with us to record it all.
“I had planned to sit on the edge a moment before going over, but in fact because you’re strapped in front of your instructor, he’s the one sitting on the edge and you’re already dangling in mid air before you even jump.
“Suddenly though it’s, ‘head back, legs back and GO!’ You have a sense you are tumbling out of control but in fact I realise now I wasn’t. But I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it is.
“It lasts about seven minutes but I lost all sense of time. It was such an adrenalin rush!” Best of all though Barbara raised a mammoth £1,675 - but because it’s match-funded by the EU that’s worth over £8,000. All the Christian Aid fundraising jumps together generated a staggering £75,000.
“It was an incredible experience on so many levels, coming as it did so long after I first tried to jump,” she says.
“Even though it seems like no time since I thought I could sit on a cloud, a lot has happened since. One thing’s certain though, mum was right - you really can’t sit on a cloud!”
Out & About
Getting ready for a night of fun and celebrations at the Europa Hotel on April 13
Out & About
The creative team at the Antrim salon hosted an exclusive fashion event at The Europa Hotel in Belfast showcasing a range of contemporary looks and creative concepts.