For some the award-winning tsunami film The Impossible will be escapist drama, but for one family watching in a West Country cinema last night it was all too real.
The film stars Ewan McGregor as Henry, a father searching for his family, including young son Lucas, when the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami strikes a Thai holiday resort.
On that day Henry and Celia Simon were at home in South Somerset, hoping against hope that their two sons, Luke and Piers, and three young friends, all of whom were holidaying in Thailand, had all survived the catastrophe.
Four of the five were safe, but Piers, 33, died, carried away by the torrent as he tried to hoist friend Sophie Smith to safety.
After those terrible events, his close-knit family, of Chilthorne Domer, near Yeovil, launched the Piers Simon Appeal in his memory. It has become a remarkable force for good, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds, first to help communities hit by disaster worldwide, and now, through its School In A Bag project, helping poor and disaster-affected children with basic school equipment.
But the coincidence of a father called Henry and a son called Lucas – Luke’s full name – featuring in a film on the tsunami has not been unsettling. Luke, 38, said last night: “We decided we wanted to see the film. It has been praised for its realism and mum and dad have tried to imagine for so long what it was like.
"For some people it might be so realistic that it drags up trauma but we were so focused at the time that I don’t think that will happen for me. I am intrigued to see how realistic they make it and if talking about it means that we can make something positive out of it that is good.
"All the money we raise now for the Piers Simon Appeal goes to School In A Bag and this year our aim is to communicate with the corporate sector. We have rebranded and it is gaining momentum.
The project has delivered 36,048 rucksacks filled with basic equipment, to nine countries, with 1,100 en route now to Soweto and 1,000 delivered in Nepal.
With stationery, biros, exercise books, a drinks bottle and lunch box with “spork”, a combined spoon and fork, they help many children around the world who cannot attend school. When they launched School in a Bag in 2009 the family visited a school in Swaziland and were deeply moved by the impact each small bag could make.
“Last year we awarded money to organisations to source the bags and put our logo and add the contents. That helps the local economy and it is greener as we are not shipping,” said Mr Simon.
To find out more and donate visit http://schoolinabag.org/Home.html. Fundraising events this year include an Avon Gorge climb, Three Peaks Challenge and cycle ride to Brussels.