Tears and joy at Ria ball

DRESSED in a rainbow of gorgeous gowns, friends and family of schoolgirl Ria Helsdon put lipstick on brave faces to raise more than �5,000 in her memory.

Coming down from the buzz of arranging the Butterfly Ball for Ria, whose death in March, aged 14, shattered all who knew her, were her three best friends Beth Crowe, Savannah Bradley and Sapphire Withers.

The three girls, helped by Savannah’s events’ co-ordinator sister Emma Howard, had hoped to raise around �2,000 to send a sick child on the Florida holiday Ria was too ill to take.

But with around 180 people attending the ball at Great Yarmouth Racecourse on October 22 and hundreds more buying raffle tickets, they reached their target almost three times over.

Beth’s mum Angie Crowe said so many acts of kindness had contributed towards the charity sum. More than 100 raffle tickets were sold among Beth’s dad’s colleagues at Blundeston Prison alone. A similar amount was donated direct to the Make a Wish Foundation by people who knew Ria at her local medical practice.

She said: “The girls were so pleased and the next day they were buzzing. They raised much more than they thought and the amount of raffle tickets people bought was amazing. Everyone has been so generous. The prizes kept coming in, it was lovely.

“Make a Wish were going to send Ria to Florida but she became too ill to fly so the girls wanted to raise enough to either send another child or to grant smaller wishes to several.”

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Behind the scenes, the girls spent months doing the humdrum work of selling tickets and collecting prizes – culminating in the glittering occasion which mixed celebration and sadness. Pictures of Ria looking glossy and gorgeous reminded everyone of the tragedy that overshadowed the party, and a speech by Ria’s mum Heather made tears prick and chins wobble throughout the room.

The night ended with the release of Chinese lanterns from the grandstand balcony.

Ria, of Beatty Road, was only 10 when she was diagnosed with cancer. Her four-year battle saw her bounce back from the brink more than once, astounding everyone with her humour and fortitude. Poems found after her death revealed a perceptive intelligence that was able to shape her plight in words she did not speak for fear of upsetting those around her who cared so much.

The money raised will be handed to the Make a Wish Foundation which funded a trip to New York for Ria and her family which proved a real boost.