Power walking the New York Marathon stripped to her bra, Nina Barough was simply doing a fun good deed with a dozen pals, raising money for breast cancer.
She did not expect to be starting on a mission that would end up bringing in £120million for charity.
And today, Nina reveals how that eureka moment came as she slept.
She says: “I’d never done a marathon, and I didn’t know anyone with breast cancer.
“But I had a dream I power walked the New York Marathon in a bra. The whole concept came from that, with the intention it would be a one-off.”
What Nina did not know then was that she herself already had breast cancer – an aggressive tumour that had been growing for three years.
Her awareness raised, she found it while taking a shower, two months after her New York escapade had caught the public’s imagination and raised £25,000.
Nina recalls: “I sort of became one of the people I was raising money for.
“That wasn’t what I was expecting at all. It was a lot to take in.”
Nina’s first modest power walk in 1996 has expanded into Walk the Walk, the charity that stages London’s annual MoonWalk.
That was born when half the group failed to land a London Marathon place – so they held their walk the night before, to hand over the baton as the race started next morning.
It has grown from an initial 35 to 15,000 women, strolling 26 miles through the night in little more than their bras.
Another MoonWalk is also held in Edinburgh.
In recognition of her achievements, London’s Royal Marsden Hospital opened the Nina Barough Pathology Laboratory in 2004.
After her devastating diagnosis, Nina quit her styling and fashion business as she went through a year of treatment, including a mastectomy and radiotherapy.
She says: “It was a huge shock. I was only in my 40s.
“I thought, I shouldn’t have this thing. I was healthy, and now my body had let me down.
“I was incredibly squeamish about cancer. People didn’t talk about it. And suddenly I was in this world that I didn’t understand and had no control over.
“People meet me and say how confident I am, but I didn’t feel confident. I felt very vulnerable and out of sync.
“But I thought, the fitter I am, the quicker I’ll heal. There was no evidence at the time to suggest that’s right – but of course now there is.
“I had a goal to eat really well and be fit, so there would be nowhere in me where cancer could live. That’s what kept me going.”
Today, Nina is 63 and cancer free. But she says having the disease paved the way to the happiness she now has.
She smiles: “It was the end of a life – but the beginning of a new life.
“As soon as I had cancer I met my husband, I had my daughter, and Walk the Walk flourished.
“So it was a very difficult place, but it put me in a position where my life changed for the better.”
Through the charity she met husband Guy Aubertin, and they have an 11-year-old daughter.
Nina says: “I didn’t have a job when I got the all-clear. It’s quite scary. I felt lost in the world – so I just kept on walking, and that was a mixed blessing.
“In a way I’d found what I was going to do, but I didn’t recognise it yet.”
Her charity work has led to a friendship with Prince Charles, who she met in 2001 when she and 40 other women from Walk the Walk were invited to Highgrove.
They all arrived in their bras. Nina, wearing a conical creation, decided to hug the Prince – and three years later he became a patron of the charity.
Nina, who will walk her 20th New York Marathon next month, says: “His ethos is very much in line with ours.
“He has this profound belief that as human beings we can do so much for ourself, we can be in charge of our own destiny. He’s a wonderful man.”
Nina says her cancer taught her to make time for those things she values.
“Spending time with my daughter, that’s the most precious thing for me,” she says. But she admits her whole trajectory has been “bizarre”.
She says: “I’d never have found the tumour had I not done that fundraiser.
“That’s strange, as it’s such a bizarre thing to dream. If you have a good idea, hold on to it – you just never know…”
- Walk the Walk has had support from a host of celebrities, both wearing and creating stunning designs. On October 16 they will host Walking Works of Art, at London’s V&A Museum, to showcase bras by the likes of Vin and Omi, Barbour, Jeff Banks, Zandra Rhodes and Julien Macdonald.