“Off to dance with the stars in the sky”

Tuesday February 23rd 2021


Written by Phil Bowen

Last week our very good friend, Karen Henderson (née Hilton), the star of Sunshine on Dalkeith, sadly passed away at the age of 48.

Karen was a former pupil of King’s Park Primary School and Dalkeith High School and studied at Napier University. She worked as a Senior Analyst for HSBC Global Fund Services in Edinburgh.

Karen was first diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in May 2016, aged 44. At the same time, she found out that she had a mutated BRCA1 gene. She would joke that this was the same as Angelina Jolie but that there were no other similarities. However, as it turns out they were both stars.

She had such a vibrant personality. Always good fun, always with a smile, always warm and always generous of spirit.

Karen loved to shop and was always so well dressed; clothes were there to be co-ordinated with our Karen. Retail therapy was her favourite therapy; jewellery, clothes, boots, makeup, coffee, chatting, laughter, fun, jewellery, clothes, boots, she was in her element. She even took to the catwalk at the annual Restoration Yard Fashion Show.

Being on time was too late in Karen’s eyes; she was always early. At school events she was always to be found at the front of the queue, at least thirty minutes before the doors opened. She wanted a front row seat to see her son Tristan, the apple of her eye, the joy of her life.


Karen with Tristan.

Throughout her illness Karen was a beacon of light to everyone. As was her personality she was positive and steadfast in her determination to make the most of her situation and in that time she made sure she helped others.

She lived her life to the full. Her cheeriness, her determination, her warmth, were an example to us all. Her cancer did not define her. She would say

“I have cancer, cancer does not have me.”

Karen’s oncologist, Olga, fought tirelessly over the last few years, researching chemotherapy treatments to ensure Karen had the best chance of life. Olga, Jay her surgeon and all the fantastic nursing staff at Spire Murrayfield were always in Karen’s heart.

Karen wanted to help others in her situation and so with her friend Carol, whom she had met at the Maggie’s Centre, she organised several fundraising events. Two events at the Sun Inn raised over £20,000 for Maggie’s.

But Karen was not stopping there. She had met Lisa Fleming, a fellow cancer sufferer who had founded the charity, Make 2nds Count. The patient and family focused charity is dedicated to giving hope to women and men living with secondary breast cancer – a cancer that has spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body.

Growing in their ambition Karen and Carol decided to organise a charity ball to raise money for Make 2nds Count with the help of their band of fantastic girlfriends and husbands, including “The Fab Four” and “The Tiger Queens”. The ball was held at Melville Castle in November 2019 for 150 women.

The infamous “Sunshine on Dalkeith” video was created for the night, based on the Proclaimers hit “I’m on my way.” It was filmed in various locations in Dalkeith and featured many of their friends, Midlothian’s KIC Dance group and a guest appearance by Dolly Parton. Karen’s Mum and Dad made a memorable ‘Still Game’ star turn at the end of the video; you could see where Karen got her sense of humour from.

The video went viral and the resulting donations, as well as the charity ball, meant the event raised over £18,000.

Karen, said at the time

“I just can’t believe the reaction the video has received. We had great fun making it but the generosity of everyone subsequently is something else.”


Karen and Alistair on their wedding day with Tristan.

Karen’s dreams came true last year as she married her partner of 10 years, Alistair. He was an absolute rock throughout Karen’s illness; always supportive, always by her side, always there for her.

Throughout her life Karen has been so fortunate to have had so many wonderful friends and neighbours. No more so than Christine whom she met at university and they have been solid friends ever since becoming the couple’s bridesmaid last July.

Karen was the self-declared ‘spreadsheet Queen’ and this ensured that the five years of her illness were filled to the brim with lists of activities for Karen, Alistair and Tristan. Whilst most people would do one activity in a day they would do three.

Karen was an amazing person who will be dearly missed. Organised to the end, she wrote a letter to Alistair that he was to read after she had passed away. She finished it by telling him she was

“Off to dance with the stars in the sky.”

Karen Henderson (née Hilton), beloved wife of Alistair, much loved mother to Tristan, loving daughter of Jim and Cathy, dear sister and aunt.

She was an advocate for people to check for the early signs of cancer. She would be the first to say that we should all be checking for lumps, bumps or anything unusual. If you want to know how to check your breasts, female or male, then visit www.breastcancer.org. For your testicles visit www.macmillan.org.uk.

Cancer is such an awful disease that takes people away in their wonderful prime. If you would like to donate then visit www.make2ndscount.co.uk/donate. You can select ‘in memory of’ and provide the name ‘Karen Henderson’.



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