Unsung heroes shine as millionaire sees another side

Secret Millionaire Simrin Choudhrie, 29
Secret Millionaire Simrin Choudhrie, 29

THREE Sheffield charities can plan for the future with confidence after being handed a total of £245,000 by the Secret Millionaire.

TV viewers this week saw Indian heiress Simrin Choudhrie give bumper cheques to the St Wilfrid’s Centre for homeless and other vulnerable people, Rainbow’s End, a charity shop and meeting place for local people, asylum seekers and refugees in Burngreave, and Lost Chord, which brightens the life of dementia sufferers with music.

The Channel 4 programme followed a familiar course of a wealthy individual having their eyes opened by volunteering to work alongside unsung heroes in a part of Britain they would normally steer well clear of – and Simrin was welcomed to Burngreave by a taxi driver who told her: “It’s like Beirut in the 80s, love.”

The 29-year-old, descended from Indian royalty and married to former Asian Entrepreneur of the Year Bhanu, was temporarily leaving behind life in London that extended to Picassos and Warhols in her art collection and her own butler. Friends toasted her departure with champagne.

So the shock of living in Burngreave could not be understated. Seven months pregnant, her pretence was that she was making a TV programme called Mum’s The Word. Despite taking the cultural, social and economic plunge, she had a security team in the background just in case.

Not that they were seen in action as the businesswoman – she has her own interior design company – was won over by the three charities, and gradually felt at ease in a community that was described as being one of the poorest in the country, with high numbers of immigrants and one in three houses on benefits.

If the locals looked scary, she found that if you smile at them, they smile back, she reported.

The visit resulted in three hefty donations. Simrin’s experiences cast a spotlight on the unstinting efforts of three local people who were shown to epitomise that well-worn phrase of making a difference.

St Wilfrid’s Centre was initially given £5,000 for a party for its clients, then a £100,000 cheque was handed to director Kevin Bradley so a shop can be opened that sells goods made by them.

Simrin, who had helped out in the kitchen and workshops, apologised for the deception. “It’s been the sweetest lie I have been told by the sweetest girl,” responded Kevin, the indefatigable driving force behind the charity he joined 20 years ago.

At Rainbow’s End in Burngreave, Simrin came across manager Yvonne Hayes, who explained that everybody who came into the shop was expected to treat each other with respect, no matter their cultural differences.

“I support Sheffield Wednesday, others support Sheffield United. You just have to disagree,” she explained definitively.

Simrin gave £3,000 so visitors could have a day in York, and then the whammy of £100,000 so Yvonne – “ an almost angelic lady” – could have the office and workshop she had dreamed of.

A trip to Loxley Court Care home in Grimesthorpe offered the other revelation, as professional opera singer Deborah Norman was shown entertaining the residents, who have dementia.

The event was organised by Lost Chord, which provides interactive musical experiences for people struggling with dementia in care homes and day centres across the region and nationally. Simrin saw the difference that the music can make.

Charity chief executive Helena Muller said this week: “You could have knocked me down with a feather when she gave me a cheque for £37,000 – it was unbelievable!” The money will allow an extra 28 homes to be included in Lost Chord’s programme over the next year.

Predictably, perhaps, the millionaire returned to her life of luxury and privilege overwhelmed by the power and generosity of the human spirit.

Simrin’s experiences in Sheffield undoubted made a strong impression. Since then, she has given birth to a son called Kabir and given him a middle name of Wilfrid in recognition of the work being done on Queens Road.

And what tests she encountered with her friends in the north. It was the first time she had cooked a meal for herself and she went with the St Wilfrid’s team to her first football match, at Bramall Lane. Nothing was too big a challenge for the Secret Millionaire.