the first woman to have a rose named after her since Princess Diana,
Susan Daniel was an uncannily good choice.
A true English rose, with boundless energy and enthusiasm for life,
the pint-sized soprano is the picture of elegance.
She appears at the door of her Georgian terraced house dressed in
a full-length red leotard and black sling-back kitten heels, dark
brown hair flowing down her back.
The house, where she lives alone, is itself a work of art. The columns
either side of the grand piano, the harp in the corner of the room
and the gently burning log fire create a calm and refined atmosphere.
A row of pink ballet shoes, their ribbons dangling down the side of
the chair, adds a child-like feel to this sophistication.
"You'll have a glass won't you?" she enquires in her extremely well-spoken
voice, before settling down on the carpet to practise yoga - a daily
ritual to maintain her 23 inch waist. The rose is a turning point
in the soprano's life, having battled with ovarian and then uterine
cancer which threatened to end her glittering 30-year career prematurely.
A favourite at La Scala in Milan, Susan has performed her French and
Italian repertoire in all of Europe's finest opera houses, concerts
and at charity events.
Mid sentence, and without warning, she bursts into song - at a full
135 decibels apparently. The overwhelming strength of her voice is
enough to make the calmest person leap off their seat. In the stunned
silence that follows this outburst, she declares that opera singing
is like having an orgasm - one holds back and then really goes for
it. These musical interludes continue throughout the evening, each
as unexpected as the last, but always as powerful and spine-tingling.
This is also the woman who received a hand-written Christmas card
from the Pope last year, won a Woman of Achievement award and sang
at both the opening and farewell ceremonies for Concorde. But Susan's
Rose is by far her proudest moment.
Living in both London and a "hat box" in Milan, she was asked to judge
a series of international rose competitions in Italy, where she fell
in love with Compassion, a pink climber bred by the award-winning
And it was while judging at The Hague, the most prestigious of the
annual competitions, that Robert Harkness popped the question.
"He asked me if I would like to make room for a rose in my life. I
looked at him across the plastic table in the Hague airport café and
was absolutely amazed at what I was hearing. I was thunderstruck.
I knew he was a distinctive name in rose breeding, and I'd always
adored roses, so it was as if a dream was coming true."
At this point the back-breaking yoga, which up until now has consisted
of body contortions one wouldn't dream possible, suddenly stops.
Sitting on the floor, biting a berry-red lip, Susan is deep in thought.
"I just kept thinking, 'why is this happening to me?'. I've always
been struck by their great presence and beauty and it's such a great
And as the first singer since her idol Maria Callas in 1969 to be
awarded such a privilege, it's not difficult to see why.
As with Diana, Harkness bought Susan 300 samples to choose from, and
the Susan Daniel Rose was launched last May at the Chelsea Flower
Show, along with a celebratory CD, La Vie en Rose.
Its success has been tremendous. The Queen snapped up 75, a bed is
planned for Regent's Park and Susan - whose middle name just happens
to be Rosalind - is itching to secure another for Islington Green.
"I'd love for her [the rose] to sit under the statue of Hugh Myddleton,
it would be simply wonderful."
With the Pope another proud owner and the mayors of Milan and Rome
set to receive the rose, it emerges that London's own Ken Livingstone
is the only person not to reply to her letters.
"He can't be bothered," she laughs. "Which is very ironic considering
the other people who've jumped at the chance. But I'm going to a do
for my good friend Chris Smith soon, and Ken will be there, so I shall
be charming and pull his leg and tell him so!"
This is a classic example of her youthful humour, which radiates from
every pore of her tiny frame.
And this Christmas card from the Pope? "I decided to give him some
roses, firstly because I wanted her to be in London and Rome and also
because he's not in great form and needs a bit of surrounding by nice
things too. When he wrote back to me I was so touched. He told me
to use my gift to bring beauty into the lives of those who suffer."
His words are even more poignant in light of Susan's own pain and
suffering, which has left her deeply traumatised. All the royalties
from Susan's rose and the CD go to CancerBACUP, her support charity
for cancer patients. Diagnosed with an ovarian carcinoma at 23, surgeons
opened up her swollen 56 inch waist to find 12 litres of fluid inside
and a tumour so aggressive that children became an impossibility.
Instructed to keep quiet to preserve her career, she sang to a full
house night after night, and again 13 years later when it returned.
"There was no-one there to help me through that dark tunnel, back
to recovery, it was truly horrendous."
Years of psychoanalysis followed before she spoke of her pain and
the launch of CancerBACUP. "It was Vicky's idea, she wanted to set
it up," she says in a quiet voice. "We met at Bart's when we had the
same surgeon. I remember sitting with Vicky in a cold little room
and she had no hair and was laughing a lot. I felt so sick. She said
she wanted me to start BACUP, a support group for cancer patients
and their families. I told her I couldn't; it wasn't the right time
for my career. Vicky died and I, feeling very bleak, survived. Ten
years on, I thought the devastation I felt could only be of use if
I were able to lead all those people who also had to walk through
the tunnel of fear to a happier life."
While this talking started tentatively, Susan is now writing a book.
"It's about survival of the spirit, what you need to maintain faith
in yourself and the belief that you can keep going when all around
you is falling apart. Writing about the cancer was truly awful, I
lost 4 kilos in ten days and felt sick going through it all again,
opening up black holes in my memory.
"But if I tell my story then people who are having a horrible time
in life can see me and say 'If she got through that then I can too'.
"I had whooping cough when I was a child, so I've had my life given
back to me three times on a plate, which is a curious destiny and
I wonder what it's for.
"The only way to use this painful experience is by getting on with
my singing as the Pope told me to, letting people see me and hear
"And I want my rose to work hard too, changing the lives of many people,
as she has already transformed mine."