Mourners carry out Rollason's plan for a happy thanksgiving

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The Independent Online
SPORTS AND broadcasting personalities yesterday paid their respects to television presenter Helen Rollason, who died from cancer last week.

They turned out for the thanksgiving service which Ms Rollason started planning two years ago, when she was first diagnosed with the disease. Her main concern was that the service should be a source of strength for her daughter Nikki, who is now 16.

The Reverend Stephen Henwood, the hospice chaplain who counselled Helen through her illness, led yesterday's service at St Mary's Church in Shenfield, Essex. He recalled Ms Rollason's wishes for the service. "She wrote on a piece of paper `not a totally morbid experience, but should bring strength to everyone, especially Nikki'," he said.

Ms Rollason, who was 43 when she died, was the first woman to present the BBC's flagship sports programme Grandstand. She also worked for BBC Breakfast News and, most recently, the new Six O'clock News. She raised the profile of sport for the disabled and last month the Queen presented her with the MBE.

Her fellow sports presenter Desmond Lynam read Ms Rollason's favourite biblical verse, Psalm 121: "I will lift up mine eye unto the mountain, from whence comes my help."

The BBC sports presenter Rob Bonnet cut short his holiday to deliver the tribute to his friend. "She disliked the tabloid cliche `brave Helen'," he said.

"So do I, but for different reasons. It doesn't do her justice. It must have taken exceptional strength of character to have lived that generous life of mischievous humour and genuine interest in those around her when she was so fully entitled to be morbid and self-centred.

"I always sensed we were just a moment away from what would have been a major BBC incident every time Helen presented the Saturday sports news just before Match of the Day," he said.

"`If you don't want to know the result,' she'd say with that smile, `then look away now.' You might have looked away, but I always suspected that the devil in her was itching to tell you the result once you'd looked back. Laughter was at the very centre of her life."

When she had had chemotherapy, Mr Bonnet said, Ms Rollason even sent her friends Christmas cards that depicted a bald Santa Claus.