Ballerina who championed arts and rights is honoured at Octavia Hill’s house in Wisbech
PUBLISHED: 15:09 26 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:56 27 June 2019
A pioneering ballerina who fought for human rights in the European court has taken her place in a growing memorial to heroes at Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House in Wisbech.
Elaine McDonald OBE, who shared her passion for the arts and human justice with the town's most famous daughter, was one of Britain's most distinctive classical dance performers and known as 'Scotland's first ballerina'.
The Yorkshire-born dancer joined the Western Theatre Ballet, based in Bristol, early in her career.
When the company moved to Glasgow - later becoming Scottish Ballet - she went with it, helping to bring ballet to all in tours around the country.
McDonald gave notable performances at the Edinburgh International Festival, as well as partnering Rudolf Nureyev in 'La Syphide' in Madrid.
One of the highlights of her life, as a devout Catholic, was performing 'the dying swan' for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.
After a stroke in 1999 which had left her severely disabled, she took Kensington and Chelsea council to the European court of human rights in 2011, with the backing of Age UK, claiming the body's decision to deprive her of night-time assistance breached her right to dignity.
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Although she did not win, the case established a precedent in the role dignity has to play in human rights.
Mr Peter Clayton, chairman of the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust, explained that the life of Elaine McDonald intersected in both place and mission with all of Octavia Hill's own concerns.
Mr Clayton said: "Elaine's own work originated in Bristol, where even today Bristol Civic Society, the oldest surviving Kyrle Society, is active."
The plaque at Heroes' Arcade in the garden of the Birthplace House at 7 South Brink, was unveiled on Thursday by Mr Jim Strang, president of the chartered institute of housing.
He said: "A strong-willed woman can make so much of a difference to ordinary people. We should celebrate that everywhere we encounter it."
The Heroes' Arcade at the Birthplace House is based on a memorial at Postman's Park, near St Paul's Cathedral in London, dedicated to ordinary people who have performed acts of extraordinary heroism.
A fund-raising campaign to help secure the future of the park was boosted by a £1000 donation from Octavia Hill.
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