Written by By Emily Pearson, CNN
What would you do if you were losing a child, and were left with the knowledge that the person on the cover of a history textbook would not be there to see her grow up?
England’s first ever record breaking Oxford University student, Jessica Lynne Beale, found herself in a sticky situation when, in 1997, her father suddenly died.
But she refused to be sad. Instead, she decided to auction off her crown and allow the school to accept whoever it wished, in order to help the school as a whole.
“I wanted to try and have a positive impact in my father’s memory,” Beale told CNN. “I wanted to do something the school needed or wanted in order to put him to rest.”
The building where the funeral held was a small quiet, religious school in Oldham, Greater Manchester. The person who bought the crown would be the head of the school or the headteacher of the day. The winning bidder would become the new head.
Jessica Lynne Beale poses for a photograph after the funeral service of her father, Arthur, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 58. Credit: Greater Manchester Police
But the family were originally hesitant to part with their child’s crown.
“We were a ‘village’ — my parents were together all the time,” recalled Beale. “I felt awkward when I went to pawning shops with my father. I was put into a position where I was in a position to try and solve this huge dilemma, which was mine and my siblings’. I was living in isolation.”
She explained that the idea came about because of her experience with the shop’s owner.
“I was there one afternoon, looking at my father’s old college stationery. On my father’s uniform was a locket with his name and I was touched,” said Beale. “He was the front line of so many things in our life. After all, what was my father but an archaeologist? He would dig my way through a lot of the mountains and I remember him saying: ‘Let’s dig through human history, let’s find out where we come from. Yours is a sort of a Mount Everest for our people, let’s explore it.’”
Ultimately, though, the family decided to give it away.
At the time, Beale didn’t think it was possible to auction off her crown — but she never gave up hope, working on an idea with her brother.
“He loved his portrait so much he told me ‘when the winning bidder has the monarchal crown, that’s when I’ll agree to buy it for it,’ ” recalled Beale.
“Two months after Arthur’s funeral, I placed the winning bid on my father’s regalia, raised the black cane, kissed my father’s photo on the mantelpiece and handed over the crown.”
Jessica Lynne Beale holds her new crown. Credit: Greater Manchester Police
Initially, the Queen was supposed to be there at the wedding of daughter Lady Sarah Chatto and Anthony Chatto in 1994. But she missed it, and her daughter’s children were left to walk her down the aisle.
“The Queen wanted to attend my father’s funeral but had to miss it. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke warmly about the progress that had been made between my parents but his voice broke as he ended the service saying ‘we had more work to do’,” Beale said.
“I don’t remember it happening that way — that’s the honest truth.”
Beale also wrote a touching letter explaining her offer to the then headteacher, to which he immediately replied.
“It was absolutely fantastic,” she said. “He called the headmaster of the school who had told me he wanted the crown donated — the headteacher said it would be shown to the parents of students in the house. He had not wanted any of the parents to have any problem with our intentions — I think that was his way of saying I think this is an excellent idea.”
And Beale says that at a time of grief and shock, the families of both she and the new headteacher found healing and strength from the journey.
“It was really amazing seeing this headteacher come in and greet the whole family, shake our hands and hug each of us — it was the first time in ages they had seen him,” she said.