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Forthright and loyal, tributes to Shirley Phillips, the face of the Chalcots towers evacuation

Great-grandmother who confronted council leader Georgia Gould in front of TV cameras has died aged 73

14 September, 2017 — By William McLennan

Shirley Phillips

DEFIANT amid the shock of a community crisis, Shirley Phillips became the unwitting face of the Chalcots estate’s evacuated residents when she was captured by TV cameras passionately challenging council leader Georgia Gould. And those who knew her best said this week they would always remember the 73-year-old grandmother’s forthright approach and loyalty to friends and family, Tottenham Hotspur and her beloved Staffordshire bull terrier Tilly.

Ms Phillips, a tenant of the Taplow tower from the day it opened, died last week at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead aged 73, having been diagnosed with cancer. Relatives had grown accustomed to her speaking out when she felt the authorities had failed. Her defiant stand outside Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre during the Chalcots operation – a mass evacuation triggered by fire safety concerns – came as no surprise.

She was filmed by news cameras sitting out the first night on a chair, waiting for accommodation for herself and Tilly. She later made peace with Councillor Gould, who paid her own tribute to Shirley at Monday’s full council meeting.

Shirley Phillips confronts Georgia Gould

As a child, Shirley had lived in Inkerman Road, Kentish Town, with her mother Nina Campbell. Before her first birthday her father Philip was killed in action in Germany while serving as a driver for the Allied forces. After attending Rhyl Street primary school, she went on to Acland Burghley secondary.

Aged 16, she met John Phillips, the love of her life. They married in 1960, but in the early years the family were short of cash and space, converting a bottom drawer into a cot for their first child, Wendy, to sleep in at their flat in Kenbrook House, Leighton Road.

With the arrival of Gillian 13 months later and then Darren three years after that, the family had well and truly outgrown their home and headed west to newly-built Taplow tower in Swiss Cottage, becoming the first family to move in. It remained her home until her death almost 50 years later. Juggling the commitments of being a mother, and later grandmother, Shirley held a variety of jobs, including barmaid at Queen’s Crescent Community Centre Club and dinner lady at the private Hall School, in Swiss Cottage, where her husband worked as a caretaker. In retirement, she volunteered at the British Heart Foundation charity shop in Finchley Road and Marie Curie in Belsize Park.

Whatever the role, and it invariably involved interacting with people, Shirley enthused the workplace with her sociable nature and easy conversation. John’s death shortly after their 38th wedding anniversary in November 1998 was a blow from which she never fully recovered. But she surrounded herself with family and was not short of young relatives to dote on, having become a grandmother for the first time aged 38.

She lived to see the births of five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, and was rarely seen without one of them at her side.

Making peace with council leader Georgia Gould

She also continued a tradition she had enjoyed with John of taking several overseas holidays a year. Often with last-minute bookings to sun-soaked islands, she travelled across Europe, the Bahamas and America with her family. By day she would lounge beside the pool with a crossword and indulge her gregarious spirit by night. Back home she was for many years a regular at the Sir Robert Peel in Queen’s Crescent, more recently favouring Ye Olde Swiss Cottage. A lifelong Tottenham supporter, she could often be heard holding forth on the merit of Spurs players over and above those of their north London rivals, Arsenal.

She was houseproud, regularly redecorating her home, but also fond of her community and spent many an hour assisting elderly residents. For years she gave a voice to her neighbours as a member of Taplow tenants’ and residents’ association. She joined protests against the massive redevelopment of Swiss Cottage in the early 2000s, sitting on the picket line in Winchester Road on a daily basis. Her neighbourly and selfless nature was not diminished by ill health.

Shirley Phillips with her husband John

Just weeks before her death, when she was suffering with lung disease and arthritis, she left the Britannia Hotel, where she had been housed by Camden Council, to run an errand for a bed-bound neighbour. “That embodies exactly what she was like. She would often put her own needs aside, to meet the needs of other people,” her grandson Christopher McDonnell said.

She is survived by sister Olive, children Wendy (and partner Mark), Gillian (and husband Jim), Darren (and partner Julie), and Stuart, grandchildren Christopher, Lee (and partner Saunia), Kelly (and partner Vitor), Charlene and Lauren (and partner Anthony) and great-grandchildren Faith, Harry, Alfie, Camron and Agsie. Her funeral will be held at Islington and St Pancras Cemetery at 12.30pm on Monday.

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