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LOSING a friend was hard enough.

in 1995, Having to talk in front of hundreds of strangers, including many celebrities, about the circumstances leading up to that death was unthinkable.

"My heart was pounding. I was scared. I hadn't written anything down because I wanted to speak from the heart. I had no idea what I was going to say," said Jenni Wainwright, who lost her friend Nicky Walmsley after she died inhaling lighter fuel.

But from the time she took her first faltering steps to the microphone to when she dedicated her personal story of struggle and despair to Nicky, she had won the hearts of the audience - among them the Prince of Wales. Famous people wept openly as Jenni recounted her sad story at The Prince's Trust Action Celebration Event.

Among them was Ben Elton, who paid tribute to the 18-year-old from Rishton.

And when the former St Wilfred's CE High School pupil lined up to meet the Prince at St James's Palace in London, it was obvious Charles was moved by the story. He told her: "Your success story is worth every penny we have invested in the trust. It is so fantastic to see."

Jenni said the Prince joked and said: "You'll ruin your reputation posing for a photograph with me. My reputation can't be damaged more than it is."

But it was his final words that hit home for Jenni. "I'll buy shares in you," said the Prince of Wales, expressing his belief in Jenni's success in the future. It was the moment that convinced Jenni she had finally dragged herself back from the brink of despair. "If the Prince of Wales believes in my future, then I must be doing something right," she said. The Prince's words were reassuring and have given the teenager the added resolve to make herself a success.

When her life took a turn for the worse at the tender age of 17, it was a shock to everyone, including herself. She was brought up in a loving home, one of four children, attended a first-rate school where she gained 10 G. C. S. E. 's and was studying for a nursery nurse qualification at Blackburn College.

Like most teenagers, she became rebellious and wanted her own space. She made the decision to stay at the YWCA hostel in Blackburn, punctuated by a stay with friends.

But she said: "I went from being in a big family to being by myself. I would shut my door at night and I would be lonely and would cry and get upset."

Her days were packed with college and work until she lost her part-time job as an usherette.

"I couldn't tell my family or go home because I felt a failure and was embarrassed. It was the lowest point of my life. My sister was a dentist and I felt like the bum of the family. I could see no way out. I thought this would be my life forever. I gave up, really. Some people might have said it was an easy life but I felt hopeless."

Support at the hostel was top class but it was the arrival of a new girl who provided that special friendship for Jenni. "When I first saw Nicky I was scared," said Jenni. "I looked at her arms. They were cut from self mutilation and she had used household bleach to dye her hair. It was falling out."

"But she had a very soft voice, sparkling blue eyes and was clever with her hands. She made some amazing arts and crafts. From the moment we met, we got on well. We became very close and supported each other."

Jenni recalled one of the many times she had to go to hospital with Nicky after she cut herself.

"She had cut a massive gash on her arm. I was struggling just to keep the wound together until we got to hospital. Nicky had a lot of problems. She reacted to them by cutting herself."

Nicky, whose mother lives in Sunnyhurst Lane, Darwen, had indulged in solvent abuse as a way of erasing the past. It eventually killed her. A verdict of death by misadventure was recorded at the inquest Jenni said: "Her death was so tragic. Nicky had decided to clean herself up. The hostel staff did everything they could and she was waiting for some help from other agencies but it came too late. At least she is at peace now."

Jenni got her life back on track thanks to a course she attended as part of the Prince's Trust. But she admitted she initially signed up for the course because it was a "free holiday." But she found that she was learning skills vital to securing a job, such as mock interviews and creating CVs on computer.

The six months of follow-up with support from the Prince's Trust staff gave Jenni the motivation she needed to start to build a future for herself. "I met hundreds of kids in the same situation as me. Some were worse off, some better. I never took drugs or drink but the law classed us all the same - jobless, homeless young people.

"The course helped me realise I had a problem and I had to change my circumstances. I could do something with my life," said Jenni.

She eventually got a grant for clothes from the trust and used her interview skills to secure a job as a secretary at Farley's solicitors, in Accrington. She has also moved into a new home in Rishton.

Jenni, who broke down in tears in front of Prince Charles at the end of her speech, said: "I just thought about Nicky. The Prince's Trust didn't reach her in time. Her death was accidental but she was heading that way. I thought about the millions of kids out there who are giving up and want to die. I felt lucky that I was alive. That I had become one of the success stories."

References

Lancashire Evening Telegraph, Tuesday 19 May 1998.