Mystery link between Rolling Stone and St Albans nurse is revealed

PUBLISHED: 07:55 05 March 2011

Stella Cheetham. Search's for answers about a park bench.

Stella Cheetham. Search's for answers about a park bench.

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THE MYSTERY over the link between Sir Mick Jagger whose saucy wink has been immortalised on a park bench plaque commemorating a nurse has been solved.

But in a dramatic twist, it has transpired that the young nurse died tragically in a road accident while travelling back to work in St Albans from her home in Durham.

Friends of Rolling Stones fan Emma Bowring – who is immortalised on a bench at Highfield Park, St Albans, which bears the inscription “In memory of pupil nurse Emma Bowring ‘Mick Jagger winked at me’ with thanks for all you gave us” – recall a “beautiful” woman killed at a young age in a tragic bus accident.

As publicised in last week’s Herts Advertiser, St Albans woman Stella Cheetham spotted the inscription referring to Rolling Stones fan Emma on a bench at Highfield Park. Curious to know what it was about, Stella asked readers whether they knew how Emma had attracted the attention of the notoriously flirtatious Stones frontman.

Several people replied, with one recalling Emma training as a nurse for people with learning difficulties at Cell Barnes Hospital – Highfield Park was created on the site of former mental hospitals Hill End and Cell Barnes, both of which closed in the 1990s.

One woman, whose name has not been released, told Stella that Emma, “was an amazing young woman who was passionate about her work and a really caring person. I got to know Emma when I moved into the female nurses’ home.”

She added: “The Mick Jagger anecdote comes from sitting in my room one night, talking about concerts we’d seen. We’d both been to see the Rolling Stones at Wembley but Emma had to go one better and say he’d winked at her. We never let her forget it. There were thousands of girls there, but in truth he probably did, as she was very beautiful.

“Emma died in August 1985 on a coach returning to the hospital. I believe she was 20 years old. As you can imagine, we were all devastated.”

St Albans resident Heather Grainger, also a trainee nurse at Cell Barnes in the early 1980s, recalled Emma as, “an extremely pretty girl with beautiful long blonde hair.”

Heather, a qualified learning disabilities nurse, said Emma was, “a sweet person who got on well with clients.”

Recalling the famous Mick Jagger moment, Heather said: “Emma was convinced he winked personally at her.”

Unfortunately the popular young nurse died in a freak accident. The coach she was travelling in from Durham along the A1 swerved to miss a sheep wandering on the carriageway. The bus overturned, throwing passengers across the vehicle, and Emma was killed. Her 13-year-old sister suffered serious spinal injuries in the accident.

The only positive outcome of the accident was that a number of changes were later made to make bus travel safer.

Hansard records from Parliament at the time show that Gerry Steinberg, Labour MP for the City of Durham, spoke movingly of Emma’s death during a debate on new seat belt regulations. In 1988 he said that making seatbelts compulsory and reforming speed limits would “cut down on the future numbers of Bowring cases.”

Mr Steinberg said that in August 1985 Emma, a young constituent of his, boarded a National Express coach at Durham where she had been visiting friends and family, to return to her work, as she had been forced out of the area by a scarcity of jobs.

The double-decker bus, travelling at speeds in excess of 80mph, contained 48 passengers, 42 of whom were on the top deck.

He said Emma’s parents approached their MP because the company which owned the bus did not initially apologise to the family for the tragedy.

Stella has thanked those who have shared their memories of Emma. She said that the park bench inscription allowed those close to her “to capture Emma’s personality in a wonderfully thoughtful and very moving way.”


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