David Nicholls' celebrated novel One Day (now a film starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, released today) is the story of two friends and occasional lovers. The author revisits them both 'one day' for 20 years after they spend the night together as students, traces their journeys and examines the cataclysmic moments in each of their lives. A lot can happen in one year; a lot can happen in just one day. We asked a group of personalities to recount a life-defining moment, a point when everything changed irreversibly . . .
MIRIAM O'CALLAGHAN ON THE DEATH OF HER SISTER
"At that moment, everything changed. Nothing would ever be the same again. I knew that then and I was right. In that anonymous, sterile room, something happened that would forever alter the course of my life and everyone close to me. Even though we all knew it was going to happen, that didn't make the impact any less devastating. Nothing in life can prepare you for that kind of loss.
"It was just all so unreal. It still is. How could Ireland's gentlest, kindest, funniest, most beautiful young woman be targeted by life's deadliest disease? Didn't the Gods know that she had two tiny little daughters -- still babes in arms? A devoted husband, parents who worshipped her, friends who adored her and siblings, like myself, who loved this beautiful sister with every beat of our broken hearts?
"Anne was never ill -- surely the cancer diagnosis was a mistake? Healthy young women don't get ill, or so I naively thought. I remember being stunned one day in the hospital corridor when a kind but very direct doctor let me know in sensitive but certain terms that our darling Anne was not going to make it. I simply couldn't believe it. Why Anne? Why a young mother with two tiny girls? Why do this to one of life's true angels?
"Maybe that was it. Our girl was too special for this world.
"At that moment, in that sterile anonymous hospital room that I had grown to loathe, all these thoughts crowded my head. She was gone. Gone forever. I was just so angry. I wasn't sad anymore -- I'd shed all the tears I had in me in the previous weeks. Now I was full of rage, railing against the brutal cruelty of it all. The sheer unfairness of it all. Why take someone so lovely? Someone who had only ever brought joy into the world? Someone good and kind and caring and decent and beautiful -- as beautiful inside as on the outside. Someone who had two beautiful little girls who so needed her.
"Shortly after she died, we were in a lift in the hospital on our way to the room where the bereaved family is taken in the immediate aftermath of the death. Death -- such a horrible word. I will never ever forget the broken-hearted looks on my mother and father's faces, not knowing what they were guilty of. Why their precious girl, the jewel in our family's crown, had been so cruelly stolen from them and from us all.
"I will never come to terms with the death of my beloved sister, Anne. At that moment, in that hospital room, when she left this world, my life changed forever. I changed forever. I hope one day to meet up with her in heaven."
RAY SHAH ON BEING PICKED FOR BIG BROTHER
"I remember clearly the moment my world changed big time. I was living in London and was waiting for a call from the producers of Big Brother to tell me if I had made it as a contestant or not.
"I hadn't slept properly for months through excitement and anxiety. I was getting on the bus to go to the gym when a private number came up on my mobile. I knew instantly it was them.
"The producer said, 'Hi Ray, this is Big Brother, how are you?' My heart was beating about a million times a minute. He made small talk and I felt like saying to him, 'please do me a favour and put me out of my misery'.
"He finally got to the point and said, 'we would like to invite you as a contestant on the show'.
"I don't know if you ever have had that feeling of not knowing whether to laugh or cry but, after four long months, I received the words I wanted to hear.
"I rang my mum straight away who was a nervous wreck. I knew things were going to change from there on in and they did. A few days later I was taken into hiding and the journey began. I've never looked back -- it was one of the greatest experiences of my life."
MARIA TECCE ON LEARNING TO DIVE
"One defining moment I remember was when I learned to dive as a kid. Mr Pike, my swimming teacher, was a 60-year-old bald, ex-army man with as many shrapnel scars as wrinkles whose idea of compassionate encouragement was yelling, "Is that a yellow stripe down your back? If you're not in that pool by the count of three I'll skin ya alive!'
"The fateful moment arrived when everyone was to dive, one by one, head first into the water. My turn came and I walked out to the edge of the board. I looked at the water. I looked at Mr Pike. His lip curled up into a snarl as I stood frozen with terror on the end of the diving board and he began to stomp towards me, arm outstretched ready to push me in from behind. I knew it was do or die. I took a deep breath and dived head first into the unknown . . .
"After that, I felt like I could do anything. As a performer, terror and excitement often go hand in hand. There's nothing for it but to take a deep breath, close your eyes and step off the diving board."
Maria's show Strapless is part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival; www.mariatecce.com.
BRIAN ORMOND ON HIS WEDDING DAY
"My life-changing moment came during my wedding day when I looked down to pick up my knife and fork and saw a ring on my finger. I don't wear jewellery so it was really weird. I just thought 'wow -- this is it'.
"Since that day people ask, 'does anything change?' I don't think anything changes as such but you just know it's Mr and Mrs now. You feel like you've grown up and now you're starting your life and your family life. It's not just me and my life -- I've Pippa to look after too.
"I came very, very close to tears when I saw her for the first time. I knew she'd be gorgeous but I didn't think she'd be that gorgeous."
ALISON CANAVAN ON THE BIRTH OF HER SON, JAMES
"I've had a series of great changes in my life. Representing Ireland in the Supermodel of the World competition when I was 16 was amazing. A lady from Paris spotted me and changed my career forever.
"I also lost my dad at 21. After that day things were never the same again, but giving birth to my son James (inset), a year ago, was a time when both my world and how I viewed it really changed.
"I always pondered life: why we're here and what makes us happy. I searched high and low for answers. I looked at different cultures during my travels, the benefits of exercise and diet. Was location the key? Does living beside the sea make you happy with the sun shining and sangria flowing. Will meeting the right person be the answer?
"I always looked externally but what I was missing was right there all along. Until you're happy and content within yourself, nothing or no one can do that for you.
"James made me realise what's important. During my pregnancy there were times where I felt scared and very alone. Life has not turned out how I planned, I thought to myself.
"But now I realise that life happens when you least expect it. Although I still worry at times, I now understand I'm only human. James is the best thing that has ever happened to me. He's taught me to be truly selfless. I have newfound respect for my mum because now I understand just how much she loves me.
"I'm beginning to see that life is not about how much you accumulate but who you become on your journey. I used to have ants in my pants and could never sit still, out day and night looking for myself. Now when I put James to bed I sit on the couch and think of a job well done and look forward to that beautiful smile in the morning.
"What he has given me money just can't buy."