Published: 06:00, 01 August 2020
| Updated: 07:32, 01 August 2020
Sheppey's campaign to regain its crown as a top tourist attraction has unleashed memories of past and present celebrity visits to the Kent island.
But none had a bigger impact than the little known Maud Shaw who ended up hosting a visit of American 'royalty' to a tiny terraced house in the backstreets of Sheerness.
She was nanny for USA president John F Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline for seven-and-a-half years and had her own apartment in the White House to look after JFK Jnr and his sister Caroline.
In 1965, just 18 months after JFK's assassination in Dallas, her two charges caused a huge stir when they visited their nanny at her sister Hettie's home.
It became known as the 'Siege of James Street' as hordes of Fleet Street's finest snappers descended on the town to catch a glimpse of the two famous children. One black and white shot shows JFK Jnr racing to the beach hotly pursued by security staff and a posse of paparazzi.
According to our Memory Lane writer Bel Austen the youngsters slept in make-shift beds and enjoyed “Miss Shaw’s dumpy little house with only one flight of stairs.”
She added: "It is true to say they voiced concerns about the absence of a cook and butler. Naturally, they were closely guarded by two security men, one from Scotland Yard's Special Branch and the other from America's Secret Service. A huge car from the American Embassy took up most of the narrow street."
National newspaper photographers set up camp in the Royal Hotel in Sheerness Broadway and apparently bribed a local youngster with sweets to knock on the front door to ask if Caroline was coming out to play.
Caroline, seven, was used to media attention but loosened her hair so it covered her face entirely, commenting: “Now all they’ll get are pictures of my hair.”
The children had travelled to England on the private Air Force One jet with their mother, uncles Robert and Edward Kennedy and several other dignitaries before ending up with a Sheppey sleep-over.
Miss Shaw eventually retired and returned to Sheppey to settle in Admiral’s Walk, Halfway, where she wrote a book about her time looking after the Kennedy children. She died in 1988 aged 85.
Her personal diary of her days in the Whitehouse, which covered from 1957 to 1962 and stretched to 22 handwritten pages, was auctioned in Boston in April, 2018. Seventy-nine photos taken by her went under the hammer in California the same year and fetched$12,500 – $2,500 more than the asking price.
Before heading to The White House she had worked as a nanny in England, Iran and Egypt.
One of her worst jobs, she said later, was having to tell five-year-old Caroline that her father had been killed.
Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shot during a 1963 motorcade rally in Dallas. He was shot and killed by Jack Ruby before he could be tried.
The 'curse' of the Kennedy clan struck again when JFK Jnr was killed in a plane crash in 1999, five years after his mother. The crash at Martha's Vineyard also claimed the life of his wife Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. JFK Jnr had been piloting the light aircraft. His uncle Bobby was assassinated in 1968.
Other Sheppey celebrities
Other celebrities associated with Sheppey include Phantom of the Opera star Michael Crawford who was brought up on the island and first found fame as hapless Frank Spencer in the BBC comedy Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.
Many still remember when he shot a Christmas special on the island and ended up marooned at the top of the Kingsferry bridge before plunging into the sea at Sheerness as part of a driving lesson.
Rod Hull lived on Sheppey for many years as a lad before emigrating to Australia where he created his puppet Emu and later returned to wreak havoc in TV studios including molesting furious chat show host Michael Parkinson.
Sheppey has attracted a number of EastEnders stars over the years including Patsy Palmer who played Bianca and Shaun Williamson who, as the luckless Barry Evans, was cruelly chucked off a cliff. He still lives on Sheppey.
Lord Richard Beeching, who's report closed down so many railway lines, was born in Sheerness. Renowned scientist Sir William Penney went to Sheerness Technical School for Boys and helped created Britain's first atomic bomb.
Writer Charles Dickens took inspiration for some of his most famous characters while staying in Blue Town and Lord Nelson spent many happy days in Queenborough where he tarried with Lady Hamilton.
The Short Brothers helped give birth to Britain's plane industry at Leysdown and Eastchurch and painter JW Turner was a regular visitor.
The Sheerness Town Team had planned to hang banners of the 'Sons of Sheppey' in Sheerness High Street to boost pride in the island's heritage but fell foul of KCC red tape.
More by this authorJohn Nurden
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