There is not much that is magical about a dimly lit street behind the Royal London Hospital at 5.45 on a chilly Friday morning in September but it was there that I first met a rather bemused looking Raihannah, a six year old girl suffering from leukaemia, her sister, Tasnai and their mother, Hassina; my passengers for the trip to Disneyland Paris. Once they were safely on board my borrowed taxi, we headed to the Winter Gardens, Canary Wharf, for the Big Breakfast where the magic began.
It is only when you first get to the Big Breakfast do you finally get an understanding of what an undertaking the Magical Taxi Tour to Disneyland Paris is. One hundred taxis plus ambulances, AA recovery vehicles, numerous other support vehicles and our very own police escort filled the road outside the Winter Gardens. Inside, an army of helpers make sure that the hundreds of sick children, their friends and families that are making the trip to Disneyland are looked after as they have never been looked after before. Bands provide the musical entertainment while Disney cartoons play on the big screen. After welcoming the Lord Mayor and the obligatory speeches it was time for the Lord Mayor to cut the ribbon and send the 120 vehicle convoy on its way to Dover and beyond.
The drive to Disney is long and arduous for all concerned but the staff of the service station in France, where the convoy regularly stops, always provide an excellent tea party for the children which breaks up the monotony of the journey. This year we were told that we had broken the record for taking the longest time to get to Disney, something that I and my family could really have done without!
On Saturday it was off to the Park. The excitement of the children is wonderful to see. All their tiredness from the journey is forgotten as they rush from one ride to another grabbing hugs and autographs from any Disney character they bump into on the way. I eventually managed to drag Raihannah and the others away from the Park after about eight hours of frenetic activity. However, there was no time to rest for we had to rush to the Gala Dinner which gave the children a chance to dance the night away with the Disney characters. Sunday saw the long journey home. Thankfully the weekend traffic was much kinder to us and I managed to get my family home exhausted but pretty much on schedule.
Raihannah and her family were a delight to be with. In some ways they are some of the lucky ones in that Raihannah is now in remission and the prognosis is good. However, during the weekend I was reminded how special these trips are for the families that go on them. Last year I took a lovely little girl, Kasira, on the trip. She had a brain tumour which had been substantially reduced through extensive and debilitating radiotherapy. However, if the tumour returned, it could not be treated again. Sadly, the tumour did return and Kasira died some four months after the trip. The weekend provides very special moments and memories for families that have to cope with some very difficult and testing times. Seeing these difficulties forgotten, even for just a few short days, is magical for all involved. I know the weekend was very special for Raihannah and her family, as it was for Kasira and her family; a time to forget their troubles and just have fun together.
I would like to record my thanks to the Charity Committee for giving Raihannah, Tasnia and Hassina a weekend they will never forget.