Pilgrimage: The Road to Rome
We walked through some amazingly beautiful places and there was a lot of time, space and silence to think.Dana
Why did you decide to join the pilgrimage?
I have always wondered what it would be like to go on a walking pilgrimage as many of our ancestors did. It must have been incredibly tough back then but I thought a modern day version would be a way of challenging myself. How right I was!
Have you ever taken part in anything like this before?
Well, I have always enjoyed the open air and walks in the countryside, but I have never embarked on anything as long and arduous as this.
Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage?
I know you are expecting me to say I joined a gym, lifted weights and ran five miles every day and I would love to pretend that I did. Instead I bought some hiking gear for the first time in my life. Oh and a sleeping bag.
Have you ever walked this far before?
I had never walked anywhere near as far as this before and, judging by the state of our feet after a few days, I think that was the same for most of my fellow-pilgrims!
Did you find it hard? A challenge? Fun?
Parts of it were extremely hard and a real challenge, particularly the endless hills and the over-bearing nature of the heat. Apparently it was unseasonably hot for that time of year in Italy. Having said that, I had a huge amount of fun with all the other pilgrims as I am sure everyone will be able to see when they watch the programme.
Tell me about your experience on the series?
I wasn't prepared for how physically challenging the pilgrimage would be and for the exhaustion I would feel at the end of every day. I literally couldn’t keep my eyes open during most evenings. Mind you, I had some of the most restful sleeps ever on the trip and I wouldn't have missed the experience for anything.
What was your highlight?
We all forged incredibly close friendships on the walk and I felt a strong bond with everyone. We are all still in touch and we intend to stay in touch and I believe that the friendships are lasting.
What was the hardest part?
I got a chest infection on the second day which made the hills, the heat and my new hiking boots harder to bear.
Are you affiliated to any religion?
I am a practising Roman Catholic.
Has the experience changed or increased your faith?
My faith hasn't been changed by the experience but it was fun and really interesting to discuss religious topics with those who don’t have a religion as well as others who do have one that is different to mine.
Has the experience changed you in any way?
It’s difficult to explain how the experience has changed me because I still feel like me - although it has given me much more confidence about what I'm able to achieve.
How did you get on with the other pilgrims? Was it a bonding experience for you all?
At the opening of the first show we were paired in twos for our entrance. I was partnered with Stephen and I liked him from the moment we met. It was really a tremendously bonding experience for all of us and we've come away with true friendships.
Have you stayed in touch with the other pilgrims?
We have all stayed in touch via a WhatsApp group and we are going to stay in touch. Stephen and I were the first to meet up again after filming. He came to my hometown for a comedy festival and he was able to meet other members of my family. There's been other reunions that I wasn't able to make but there'll be others I'll definitely attend.
We are also incredibly supportive of each other’s current projects - Greg with MasterChef and Les has his RSC debut in Stratford in May. We're all following Stephen’s tour of Australia and New Zealand and Brendan’s UK dance tour. Lesley, Katy and Mehreen are involved in various TV and stage work and everyone is being very encouraging about the new album I am currently recording in Rome.
Describe your experience meeting the Pope. What was that like?
I was really surprised that we pilgrims had a private audience with the Pope and that he took so much time with us, not just speaking to us about the importance of pilgrimage but also inviting and answering questions.
Would you do it again?
It would be wonderful to do the pilgrimage under less pressure and at a more leisurely pace - with new shoes! We walked through some amazingly beautiful places and there was a lot of time, space and silence to think.
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