Lucy O'Donnell was 4 years old when her classmate at nursery painted a picture of her, surrounded it with stars and squiggles and took it home to show his parents."It's Lucy in the sky with diamonds," Julian Lennon told his father, inspiring one of the Beatles' most enigmatic songs and carving his friend a slice of musical immortality.
Real life could never match that and yesterday the Lupus Trust at St Thomas' Hospital, Central London, said the woman the world knew as "the girl with kaleidoscope eyes" had died on holiday in Norfolk after suffering for years from lupus, a vicious disease of the immune system that causes the body to attack its own cells. She was 46.Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was written in the midst of the Beatles' psychedelic period and featured on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album in 1967. Its dreamy, hallucinatory lyrics owed more to John Lennon's favourite writer, Lewis Carroll, than they did to his son's playmate.She met Julian in Weybridge, Surrey, where the family recall he would be dropped off at Heath House nursery school in a Rolls-Royce. She went to St Maur's school in Weybridge, college in Guildford and later moved to Surbiton.
The little blonde girl in Julian Lennon's watercolour sketch grew up with a love of children. Illness prevented her having her own, but she studied nursery nursing and worked with special needs children, running a specialist nanny agency until she began to suffer from the autoimmune diseases psoriasis and lupus in her thirties. She married her childhood sweetheart, Ross Vodden, in 1996, and Julian Lennon, whom she had seen only once since their nursery days, sent a note to the wedding.
The Voddens were two days into their first holiday in eight years when Lucy developed an infection and was taken to hospital in King's Lynn, where she died on 22nd September 2009 with her husband and family at her bedside, including her father, the writer and Doctor Michael O'Donnell. Her elder sister, Fran, said: "She had been so excited about the holiday that she drove herself half the way there, which was incredible, but she sadly contracted an infection and with no immune system there was absolutely no chance of her beating it at all.
"She is utterly irreplaceable in my life and my nine-year-old son is devastated. I have received hundreds of e-mails and every single one says they all remember her smiling and laughing." Angie Davidson, Campaign Director of the Lupus Trust, which had been supporting Mr. and Mrs. Vodden during her illness, said: "It's so sad that she has finally lost the battle she fought so bravely for so long. She was a real fighter and she didn't let it take her over. She was very outgoing, a very bubbly, fun person." Ms Davidson said Julian Lennon and his mother, Cynthia, were "shocked and saddened" by her death.
The former classmates had resumed their friendship in recent months after Lennon, who lives in France, heard she was ill. "I've been able to help out a bit," he said earlier this year. "I was so upset to hear what had happened."
"It was lovely of Julian," Mrs Vodden said at the time. "We were two very energetic school kids. He would say, 'Come on, Lucy', to get me to do things. He was the bravest boy in school."
Lucy always said that the song was the least important thing about her - but she never missed an opportunity to use it if she thought it could help raise awareness of the disease which ultimately took her life.