FELICITY Warner is more used to sitting by the bedside of the dying – not putting on her best dress and clinking glasses with other extraordinary women.

But that is just what she has been doing – after she stopped thinking the invitation to the Women of the Year lunch was a hoax.

Author Felicity Warner from Chideock was stunned to be invited to the Women of the Year lunch where every attendee is handpicked for their personal contribution to society.

She said: “There’s a running joke in my family that I need ‘to get out a bit more’ and also many hints that I should dress properly for work.

“I’ve just been to the Women of the Year lunch, which was an enormous thrill, as well as being a chance to wear a proper frock for once.

“I was so amazed to receive the invitation that I thought it was a joke. I hid the letter from Baroness Kennedy in a drawer for several days before believing it to be true.

“The glitzy glamour of London is a far cry from my normal life. I work from home, an old and draughty farmhouse in Chideock, running the Soul Midwives Foundation.

“My work includes mentoring more than 100 ‘soul midwives’, running courses and working as a soul midwife when anyone asks me.

“This all means that I am often still in my nightie at lunchtimes with wellies on my feet and a jumper on top. I just get very carried away. I rarely take a day off – my work is a joy and a passion.”

Ms Warner set up Soul Midwives about eight years ago, developing it from a small project called ‘The Hospice of the Heart’.

The turning point was writing about the lives and deaths of six young women dying from breast cancer.

She said: “They told me what it really felt like to be dying and how lonely it all was. They spoke of how friends and loved ones would try to cheer them up constantly, avoiding any conversations with the ‘D’ word in it.

“They had to hide their true feelings. It was easy to talk to me about this, as there was no direct emotional link.

“Through each of them I learned what an extraordinary process dying was. They were all creative and also wanted to make their final deaths somehow personal and meaningful, even celebratory.”

She began sitting with the dying as a volunteer at Weldmar and then people would ask her to come and sit with people at home.

She started teaching others and her aim is to have Soul Midwives in every hospital, hospice and care home in the UK. She added: “I regularly lecture at hospices and speak at national conferences about bringing holistic ideas into the mainstream and being recognised as a ‘Woman of the Year’ for my efforts is an enormous step forward.

“It was a huge surprise and honour to be invited to the lunch.”