Debbie’s moving birthday tribute to brave Poppy-Mai

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Mum-of-six Debbie Place Leonard celebrated a landmark birthday with a moving tribute to a toddler whose story has touched hearts across the world.

Debbie turned 50 on Friday and, along with the help of family and friends, organised a balloon release in Clitheroe in tribute ton Poppy-Mai Barnard, the inspirational tot who died earlier this month at the age of just seventeen months after a brave battle against cancer.

Debbie Place Leonard at her 50th birthday party during which she released 300 balloons for tragic tot Poppy-Mai Barnard (s)

Debbie Place Leonard at her 50th birthday party during which she released 300 balloons for tragic tot Poppy-Mai Barnard (s)

Debbie and her husband Tony held a party at the Kings Arms pub in Clitheroe hosted by landlord Paul Hackers and the highlight was the release of 300 balloons in Poppy-Mai’s favourite colours, pink and yellow.

The release was timed to coincide with the little girl’s funeral in Blackburn which was attended by over 1,000 people who also released brightly coloured heart shaped balloons on honour of Poppy-Mai.

Debbie said: “It was a lovely moment for us to be able to do our own tribute and there was a lot of people who came along and also many who gathered outside the pub or parked up in their cars to watch the release.

“I really wanted to give people in Clitheroe the chance to pay their own tribute to Poppy-Mai because I know so many who have followed her story and seen how brave she was.”

Debbie, who lives in Clitheroe, was one of the thousands of people across the globe who followed the remarkable story of Poppy-Mai on social media. The tot gained worldwide fame when her name was narrowly beaten by Boaty McBoatface to win a competition to name a new polar research ship launched by the Natural Environment Research Council.

She also won the nation’s hearts when she “married” her dad Andy in an emotional ceremony that gave him the chance to walk his precious daughter down the aisle when she ws given just days to live.

Diagnosed with a brain tumour Poppy-Mai’s heartbreaking story captured hearts everywhere and she arrived home from hospital to a heroine’s welcome with crowds of wellwishers lining the street to see her.

Debbie wanted her birthday celebrations to centre around the youngsters so there was a host of children’s entertainment and a disco. A collection bucket is also in place at the pub and on the night £120 was raised for the Poppy’s field project which has the aim to create a campsite retreat for sick children and their families. The target is £100,000 and the total currently stands at £29,000.

Debbie, who has six grandchildren and works as an independent distributor for make-up company NuSkin, said: “The collection bucket will remain at the pub and there are plans for more fund raising soon including a race night at the Kings Arms.”