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Craig's just like a big brother to his 'special lady' Joanne; WHY HOUSE WINNER MADE SECRET VOW TO HELP PAY FOR VITAL OP.

UNTIL Friday, Joanne Harris took each day as it came, not knowing what the future would hold.

Turned down for a life-saving heart-lung transplant because she has Down syndrome, the 18-year-old never dreamed she could find the pounds 250,000 needed to have the operation in America.

But her life changed forever on Friday night when Craig Phillips stepped out of the Big Brother house, took her in his arms - and told her his pounds 70,000 winnings were hers.

The tear-jerking moment, watched by 10 million viewers, was the emotional high-point of the series which has gripped the nation throughout the summer. And it could be the all-important spur to reaching Joanne's target.

Craig was overjoyed when he spotted the hole-in-the-heart girl among the thousands of people waiting to greet him. Joanne sobbed as he told her: "I'm giving all this to you." Then he turned to the crowds and yelled: "We have been saving for years and all the money will go towards it."

It was a secret that Craig had carried throughout his 65 days in the house.

Big Brother bosses made him promise he wouldn't reveal exactly what he planned to do if he won, for fear of affecting the voting and ruining their experiment.

But the Liverpudlian builder's generosity has now boosted the appeal to pounds 100,000.

He has added another pounds 3,000 after an internet travel firm said he could take cash instead of an Everest trip he won.

Craig, 28, is now using his new-found fame to ask the public to help save Joanne. He told The Mirror he would not give up his fight to raise the pounds 250,000.

"I will try everything in my power but I can't do it on my own. I do need the support of the public.

"There is still a lot of money we have got to obtain through various ways, various sponsors.

WE'RE close, but not close enough. Hopefully, in another six months or so, we will be able to take Joanne to America to get the treatment she needs, which unfortunately she is denied in England."

Friends say Craig and Joanne are as close as any brother and sister. Before he gave up his freedom and entered the house, he made a secret vow, telling her: "I'm doing this all for you."

In a moving video, made by Craig and his pals when he applied to be a contestant, he revealed his real motives for wanting to be on the show.

In it, he sits cuddling Joanne and says: "I have known Jo since she was born and she's a very special little lady to me.

"She was born with a serious heart defect but, despite all the odds, she has courageously coped with all life has thrown at her.

"Like everybody, we all have our ambitions and live for our dreams."

Joanne's own dream is to be given the chance to live life as a normal teenager. She can read and write as well as any 18-year-old and loves riding horses and her bike.

She is passionate about music and dancing for which she has won awards and does a mean Tina Turner impression.

But her family say that while Joanne is a fighter, she won't go on defying the doctors for ever. The NHS refuses to operate because they believe her condition makes a transplant too dangerous. She now needs an oxygen tube to breathe at night and has difficulty with any physical exertion.

Mum Marion, 55, who travelled to the US for advice about her daughter's condition, says that although a Down syndrome patient having identical surgery died, she is still determined to let Joanne have the treatment.

Marion says: "I am so relieved that viewers didn't vote Craig out - Jo needs that pounds 70,000 so much.

"It's a disgrace that she is being denied a transplant in this country just because she suffers from Down syndrome.

"It's her human right. What if one of my other three children had a heart problem? They would be considered - but not Jo.

"So we needed Craig's prize money to get closer to our target and send Jo to America. Without the Big Brother money, I dread to think what would have happened."

Marion revealed that the only reason Craig entered the competition was to try to win the money for Joanne.

"Even before he went off for the audition, he told me he wanted all the money to help her.

CHANNEL 4 told us it would be better to stay quiet about our appeal while Craig was in the house, so viewers wouldn't be biased."

Craig was just ten when he met baby Joanne through her cousin and his childhood friend, Lee McCarthy.

As the years went by, she grew to adore the lovable, funny scouser and he told friends of his admiration for Joanne's determination and strength of character. All the while Craig was shut away in the Big Brother house in East London, Joanne sat gripped by the television, watching his every move and telling everyone: "That's my boyfriend!"

Recalling the moment he saw Joanne outside the house, Craig says: "It was wonderful to see her and be in a position to give her the money.

"I didn't expect to see her although I did ask Big Brother a day or two ago that if she was well enough to come, I would like to see her.

"In my hopes and my dreams she was going to be there and she was, so it was brilliant."

Marion says: "We are completely overwhelmed by Craig's generosity - he is such a lovely person and we want everyone to know how kind he is."

Craig's mother, retired landlady Brenda Holme, says: "He has known that little girl all her life and has done everything he can to raise money for this transplant. She was doing so well up until a few years ago. She went to an ordinary school and was the first Down syndrome girl to go to Brownies.

"But now she needs oxygen just to be able to breathe. She is such a lovely girl and everybody wants her to get better - most of all Craig."

Joanne's aunt Viv McCarthy, who is co-ordinating the appeal, says: "Other than her disability, she lives an entirely normal life. She is a normal teenager, obsessed with men, especially Craig, whom she idolises.

"Nothing has been too much trouble for Craig when it comes to helping Jo. He's the warmest-spirited person you could imagine."

Craig's former housemates are delighted at his decision to give his winnings to Joanne.

Nicola, who has launched a singing career since leaving the Big Brother house and is currently promoting her new single, The Game, says: "I just think it's brilliant and I wish Joanne all the luck in the world.

"I am so glad that Craig won. I originally wanted Darren to win because I got on with him the best, but it is so right that Craig has won and that the money is going to such a good cause."

ECHOING Nicola, Caroline says: "Nick showed us the worst side of human nature, Craig has shown the best side. He has a huge heart and this could not have been a better conclusion to the show."

Sada, the first to be evicted from the house, adds: "It's a fairytale ending to a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Claire, who arrived at the house to replace Nasty Nick, says: "Craig had already told me what he was going to do with the money but I wasn't allowed to say because it would have affected the voting.

"When I came out, I was telling everyone how I wanted him to win, because I knew what it would mean. I am absolutely over the moon and it would be lovely if between us, we could get the rest of the money together."

Andrew says: "Craig was so nice, he seemed too good to be true. I almost wondered whether he was just doing it for the cameras to impress people.

"So when I realised what he was doing with the money on Friday, I thought it was phenomenal. His generosity is astounding.

"I'm really pleased that Craig won. It's a perfect ending."

Donations can be made at any High Street bank into A Heart For Jo Appeal, Royal Bank Of Scotland. Sort Code: 16-33-17, account number 10009836.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Davies, Barbara
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 18, 2000
Words:1406
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