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Race Across the World: Sue Last's adventure of a lifetime in bid to win £20,000

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Race Across the World contestants (7596700)
Race Across the World contestants (7596700)

A challenge to reach Singapore was the adventure of a lifetime for Bishop’s Stortford woman Sue Last as she took part in BBC Two’s new Race Across the World programme.

Contestants had to give up their credit cards and mobile phones and make the journey to the Far East by land and rail, armed with nothing but a paper map and £1,329 – the cash equivalent of a 12-hour, one-way airfare to the island city state off southern Malaysia.

Sue, a 57-year-old former exams officer at Herts and Essex High School, best known locally as one of the Three Menopausal Maids comedy trio, took part in the show with childhood friend Clare King, a 58-year-old marketing and holiday lettings agent.

The pair grew up in Leeds and shared a wanderlust, enjoying an interrailing adventure across Europe when they left school. Sue also travelled to Uganda as part of her role at the Herts and Essex and took part in the Crumball Rally, an annual Continental driving challenge in a car worth less than £200.

Sue was staying with her friend in Spain when Clare spotted an advert for the six-part show on Facebook. They decided to enter, taking on four other pairs in a bid to win the £20,000 first prize.

They were up against married couple Jinda and Bindu, best friends Natalie and Shameema, father and son Alex and Darron, and business partners Felix and Josh.

The only technology allowed was a GPS for safety reasons, which tracked the contestants to the finish line. On the way they had to pass through five checkpoints, beginning with the ancient city of Delphi in Greece.

Former drama student Sue only shared her participation with husband Oliver and their two daughters: Milly, 21, who is at Warwick University, and Dixie, 20, who is in her second year at Nottingham Trent. Her fellow Menopausal Maids were also in on the secret.

While she was geared up for a physical and mental challenge, Sue was not prepared for the emotional impact of the programme.

Her decision to take part followed the death of mum Muriel in July last year at the age of 85. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s and was frustrated by the impact of dementia.

“It’s such an awful disease for everybody, but particularly for my mum as she was not happy. It was painful,” said Sue.

She was looking for a challenge as an antidote to her grief: “It’s a cliche that life is too short, but we have to grab every opportunity with both hands. I know she would have been really proud of me.”

Sue lost her father, Harry, three years ago, and Singapore had a special place in his heart.

She said: “We didn’t know where we were going until the day before. Once relieved of our mobile phones, we were told our final destination was Singapore, which is where my dad was based when he was in the RAF, so suddenly the trip took on new meaning… I wasn’t prepared for this emotional sideline.

“You never know when grief is going to grab you and I think that grief decided to grab me the day I found out I was going to Singapore.”

It felt like she was bringing her mum and dad’s memories together.

The trip has also changed her outlook on life.

One event sticks in her mind. While on a bus at a border, she spotted a gang of men rushing towards the vehicle. She feared they were going to steal luggage from the baggage hold, and without their rucksacks it would be curtains for her and Clare.

She thought the worst when some of the men barged onto the bus, but as she attempted to leave and save her belongings, they politely stood aside.

She said: “They were touting for business to carry bags across the border. For me, that was an eye-opener and it was a message for the future... to see the whole picture, not just the immediate picture.”

Her journey through Venice also emphasised the need to truly see and appreciate the world around her. A trip on a gondola, at 80 euros, was far beyond their meagre means, but she was amazed to see tourists staring at their mobile screens and texting rather than appreciating their view from their waterborne vantage point.

She said: “I thought that was just so sad.”

Her adventures did, however, show the benefits of technology too. In the first stages of their journey through Europe, travelling on public transport without a ticket purchased online was almost impossible without the help of kindly strangers.

She said: “I didn’t think we wouldn’t be physically able to buy the tickets.”

Her experiences did confirm her belief in the basic goodness of human nature: “The majority of people are kind and do want to help. They were so lovely, the people that we met, they were falling over themselves to help us.”

Her only regret was having to race away rather than linger and talk. Her journey ended in episode two on Sunday, March 10 when she and Clare were the last to reach the checkpoint in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

But since finishing filming last October, she has continued to travel with a solo trip to Goa in India.

A new friend she met at a yoga retreat joined her for a further week enjoying the solitude of a beach hut.

Sue, a Bishop’s Stortford resident of 22 years, has already pencilled in a return to the sub-continent and also hopes to travel to Costa Rica.

A trip to Edinburgh is also in her diary for this year – the Three Menopausal Maids are returning to the Fringe festival with their latest show.

See www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0002tvs/episodes/player to catch up with Sue’s adventures on television.

Race Across the World contestants (7596698)
Race Across the World contestants (7596698)

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