Our special guest at the Coffs Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday, 6 September is the extraordinary Gillian Hicks.
The morning of July 7, 2005 started quite normally for Gillian, nothing out of the ordinary other than the fact she was running a little late. She breakfasted quickly, grabbed her briefcase and rushed to the tube, choosing a slightly different route to make up time. Her mind on the day ahead, she just made the carriage jump before the doors closed.
At 8.50am 19-year-old Germaine Lindsay, along with three other terrorists, detonated his home-made bomb on the London Underground and Gill’s life was changed forever.
“We were there for about an hour before the rescuers could get to us,” she says. “To sit in this surreal surrounding was incredible. I was hovering in and out of consciousness, and I absolutely believe that I was given a choice of whether I wanted to live or die.”
Gill did die in fact, was dead on arrival at the hospital before the resuscitation team brought her back. When the then 37-year-old did eventually regain consciousness, she realised her legs were gone but her life as a survivor was just beginning.
As a child, Gill and her family moved around a lot and she was forced to get used to new places and new people time and again. It is that resilience, she says, that saw her through the darkest days and continues to give her strength today.
“I can be optimistic about my life because I have a life. I’m still the Gill I was before. That’s something to celebrate but I would much rather have my legs back. Because, as positive as I can be, there’s nothing great about being without legs.”
Still, Gill has managed to find purpose in her new life. She founded the not-for-profit Making a Difference in 2007, a charity which concentrates its efforts on helping to end violent extremism.
“We can’t ever control random acts of violence but you can control how you react and respond,” she says. “Violent extremism is a parasitic cancer that seeks out a host and what we’re looking at right now is that host is Islam.”
She is a passionate, life affirming speaker travelling the world to talk about sustainable models of peace and what it takes to survive and flourish when given a second chance at life. Her first book, One Unknown, named after the chilling label given to her when she arrived at the hospital after the bombing as an unidentified body, has met with critical acclaim and she was also recognised with an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list for her services to charity.
Gill moved back to Australia in 2012 she has been recognised as the South Australian, Australian of the Year 2015 and is Chair of the Innovation component for the Committee for Adelaide. In 2013 she embarked on her greatest adventure to date as mum to beautiful Amelia whose arrival, she says, is testament to the brilliance of the human body.