Eleanor Hall first visited Derian House in 1997. She continued to visit on and off over a period of four years alongside her mum Harriet, dad Adrian, and younger brother Daniel.
When Eleanor was three, she was diagnosed with rare disorder primary intestinal lymphangiectasia (PIL). The illness affected everything and Eleanor was often very sick and in and out of hospital.
But that didn’t stop Eleanor’s love of stories. Not only did she love reading, but she loved to write her own magical stories. She was especially inspired by the stories of JK Rowling – so much so that during the course of her illness Eleanor decided to write her own magical book.
But Eleanor never managed to finish her book. She passed away in September 2001 aged just 11.
However, the pages she left behind were published by her family and the book remains a testament to her and the magical world she created.
Eleanor’s family was presented with a posthumous Child of Achievement Award by author J K Rowling at a ceremony in London. Taking advantage of the rare occasion, the family managed to thrust a copy of Eleanor’s unfinished manuscript into the hands of the writer.
J K Rowling was so touched by Eleanor’s book that she sent a heartfelt handwritten note to her parents, Harriet and Adrian, and donated a cheque to Derian House Children’s Hospice.
That donation was put towards the planting of cherry blossom trees along the hospice drive, which remain to this day – leaving behind a dusting of pink petals each spring.
Eleanor’s mum Harriet said: “When Derian House was first mentioned to us, we associated it with end-of-life care. And with Eleanor, we couldn’t ever imagine her passing away. It felt like we were giving up. She was in hospital in Manchester at the time.
“I can remember the first time I visited Derian House. I was very apprehensive because I thought this is going to be very sad.” Said Harriet. “But it wasn’t! It was just lovely – it was so peaceful. As soon as you walked through the door, there was such a calm, nice feeling to it.
“Eleanor had very complex needs that required special equipment and training that not many nurses had. Eleanor fed intravenously, and she also had another drip through a line into her heart. At Derian House I always felt assured that she was safe, even when I had to be away from her for a short time.”
Harriet and Adrian had five children between them, but Eleanor and her brother Daniel were the youngest, and with just 13 months between them, the pair spent most of their time together.
“Eleanor and her brother Daniel enjoyed going to Derian House.” Said Harriet. “They loved the sensory room, the art room, and the music room too. They had lots of days out. Their favourite thing to do was – well – Daniel liked to put his underpants on the hoist in the bedroom and they both thought that it was very funny.” Laughed Harriet.
“They did lots of fun things with Derian House.” Said Harriet.
“At one point we were approached by another charity that offered wishes to poorly children and Eleanor decided she wanted to meet the Teletubbies, but they told her that wasn’t possible. So we asked her what else she would like to do.
“Eleanor had recently seen Elton John playing Candle in the Wind on his piano at Princess Diana’s funeral, so she decided she wanted to play his piano. That’s all she wanted to do – play his piano. I don’t think she was bothered about Elton John.
“Anyway, he was on tour and we met him in his dressing room at Wembley stadium, but you could tell she wasn’t interested. We didn’t dare tell him that she just wanted to play his piano. I think she was more interested in all of his suits than him. I just feared that at any point she’d say ‘I wanted to see the Teletubbies really.’
“If Eleanor loved you, she loved you with a passion, if she didn’t like she wouldn’t pretend.” Laughed Harriet. “She was absolutely older than her years.
“Eleanor didn’t really spend much time at school because she was so ill, but she didn’t really like the idea of it. She didn’t like the idea of people being in charge of things and couldn’t quite get her head around it.
“And I don’t think she had a huge respect for the headmistress.” Continued Harriet. “For one of her school tasks she had to write a story – and she wrote a story about a headmistress who stole all the school funds. This is the sort of thing Eleanor would do.
“Eleanor was very independent and very brave from a young age. She had a nasogastric tube (NG tube) and from the age of three she would put in her own tubes because she liked to be in control, she liked to do it herself.
“When she was around four years old I remember she had had her blood taken and they gave her a sticker that said ‘I’ve been brave today.’ I remember she just took the sticker off, put it on the table, and said ‘that’s patronising, I don’t have a choice’.
“She never showed any fear. Her headstone says ‘so brave, so beautiful, so loved’. We had to acknowledge it.
“Eleanor was very articulate and began to speak very early.” Said Harriet. “Her first proper word – and she was only around nine or 10 months old – it was potato. She had a wonderful way with words and a very wicked sense of humour.
“Eleanor started to write when she was ten. She was very interested in magical things. She would come down at around nine in the morning and just write all day. She’d say ‘I want to be a writer when I grow up’.
“It was her godmother who had Eleanor’s book published. The pages she wrote are quite funny in parts, I suppose when you read it you can see what was happening to her. There are some quite beautiful things in there. It’s almost like she knew something.
“Eleanor was prolific in her writing and we still have it all. When it came to her funeral, our girls collected lots of things she had drawn and written and put them out on a table at the front for everyone to see.” Said Harriet. “But it was funny because they hadn’t fully looked through everything because one of the things Eleanor had written said:
‘Down the lane where I live dwell lots of slightly middle aged nosy women,
Who seem to be increasing in numbers and show no signs of becoming extinct.’
“And the person it was about was at the funeral,” Laughed Harriet. “And I think she knew it was about her.”
Eleanor’s parents Harriet and Adrian came to visit Derian House Children’s hospice in April 2023, just as the cherry blossom trees had flourished.
“We saw the cherry blossom trees on the hospice drive – it was just the right time of year and they were just lovely. Eleanor would have loved them, she loved nature and that was very prevalent in her stories. They’re just lovely.
“We have very fond memories of the hospice. We spent a lot of time there as a family and it meant a lot to us.” Said Harriet. “Our children still raise money for Derian House today. It is and was an incredibly positive place – and I’m sure it will help many more families in the years to come.”
A snippet from Eleanor’s book:
Close your eyes, take a breath, and imagine it is a warm, breezy (but not cold or windy), sunny day. You are alone, lying in a meadow of sweet, green, lush, dry grass. You have nothing on you except a big silk featherweight sheet wrapped all around you except your face. Next imagine you have just eaten your favourite food, you feel pleasantly full, (but not at all sick), your body feels like it has no weight of its own and is part of the warm fresh air all around you. A gentle soft blowing sound is all around you, it changes from high to low (but it has a continuous flow). The sound is always very quiet, it is the melody of harmony, peace, and most of all, balance. The sky is clear, the sun golden, the grass green. Around you there is nothing but white blankness until you put your mark of happiness there.