August 2010

Sunday 1 August 2010

On Saturday nights in the UK, there is an entertainment show at 8pm on BBC1 called Tonight’s The Night. It is watched by 4.5 million viewers. On Sunday I went to see an episode being filmed which will be broadcast on Saturday, 7 August 2010. Never having seen the show, I was unaware that an unsuspecting member of the audience is the centre of an extremely elaborate plot to have their charity work highlighted to the nation. Next Saturday that person is me. Here’s how it happened….

It started with a call from Sharon at Dada (the PR and event management company organising The Wobbly Banquet). The BBC were interested in discussing a documentary with me on approaches to fundraising. She lies so effortlessly! I got very excited, this was an opportunity to really raise awareness. The BBC sent around a cameraman called Colin with a camera on the pretence of taking some footage for internal use by the documentary team. He was there for 90 minutes and feigned interest in what I was doing. In reality his mission was to capture me on tape saying I consented to being on television, a legal requirement in advance of going on a show like Tonight’s The Night.. I didn’t suspect a thing.

Sharon then phoned during the week to say that the BBC had offered us free tickets for the filming of a variety show with John Barrowman as a thank you for letting them come and invade our lives. Fabulous I thought. I called Vicky and she was quite excited by the prospect. She also lies effortlessly.

I phoned Sharon back and said we would be delighted to go. Sharon explained a bit more, telling us the BBC had put us on the guest list and would not have to wait in the queue. I didn’t suspect a thing. Vicky was keen to meet John Barrowman and I asked Sharon if it could be arranged. She said “Aye right” and we can try and sort it out for ourselves and I thought no more about it.

Two weeks before the show (World Cup Final day) I was in work and Vicky was out having coffee with her pals. She said she would be home at 5.30, and, as I didn’t have a key (as always), I got home for 5.45. She wasn’t there. I phoned, she ignored me, she turned up at 6.15 and said she lost track of time. Fibber McGee. She was with the BBC camera crew all afternoon doing filming.

On the Friday before the show, the Wobbly Swimming team had a photo shoot with Mark Foster, the Olympic swimmer. As they had never met, I introduced Sharon to Vicky as they had never met. They both acted all innocent saying polite hellos. In the previous few weeks they had been plotting by telephone and conducting surreptitious meetings in underground car parks (OK, I made that bit up). Whilst I was having my photograph taken, Vicky was passing Sharon signed paperwork and Sharon was passing Vicky show tickets. I didn’t suspect a thing.

We arrived at the BBC at three o’clock on Sunday afternoon. We were intercepted by one of the floor producers who asked if we had tickets, I said we were on the guest list and she said she would come back and collect us later. About 20 minutes later we were moved into a queue of people and left to stand for another 20 minutes. I didn’t suspect a thing.

When we were taken down to the studio doors, one of life’s incredible coincidences occurred, we bumped into our friends Mags and David. I never questioned once why they were there. Unbelievable. We were shown to our seats and I was plonked on the aisle. The girl immediately behind me was miked up as she was the relative of one of the people who was to appear on the show. I thought “Great! I might get my mug on TV when she is interviewed”.

The show started and John Barrowman was fantastic, a truly phenomenal entertainer. We saw some acts, they did some interviews around the audience and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

I could see the cameras were pointing in my direction and I assumed it was for the lady sitting behind me. John Barrowman walked into the aisle and said “everybody stand up”.

“Sit down if you have never done any charity work” a few people sat down.

The next question I misheard, “sit down if you have never run a half marathon” I, incorrectly, sat down. This caused havoc in the production team!

“Sit down if you have never cheated in a half marathon”. He came and stood beside me and finally the penny dropped. He hauled me up and quizzed me about the timing chip incident. I had no defence.

Vicky and I were taken backstage and miked up. It was a surreal moment. She was full of apologies for stitching me up but was very firm there was an opportunity to get the message out about young onset PD. I was assured I wouldn’t have to sing. We were led back into the studio and sat on a sofa. John came over and was very calming and relaxed. I had no idea what was about to unfold. With the cameras rolling he asked a few questions, I stumbled over my answers a bit but got the message out that it is a disease for young people too. He asked me why I did it and I said for my wee girls, I don’t want them to see me in a state in years to come.

John told me to look at the screens and they ran a video tape. The true extent of the conspiracy became apparent with all my pals on the screen in their Wobbly tops saying very pleasant and highly accurate things about me. I hadn’t suspected a thing.

John then went up to sing a song “The World’s Greatest” from the Muhammad Ali film and half way through the song my family and friends appear from backstage. Even more unbelievable. They had been there since 9.30 in the morning and rehearsed all day. It was truly gobsmacking.

When the song was finished, John asked me if I have anything to say and I was choked. I just thanked the truly amazing friends and family I have for their continual and unrelenting support.

He then said “is it true you had never heard of Tonight’s The Night?”

To which I replied “I had never even heard of John Barrowman”.

He laughed, thankfully.

The cameras stopped rolling and we all filed off the stage, it felt extremely surreal.

Sharon and Jenny from Dada were waiting backstage and said my face was a picture. I met up with the family and friends in a room backstage and roundly cursed them all! We then went to the pub and got drunk. It was just an amazing experience.

There were so many clues over the weeks leading up to it which I just didn’t spot. People didn’t return my calls for fear of putting their foot in it. On the day, Vicky wanted to take a taxi to the BBC rather than the train or drive (she doesn’t like spending money unnecessarily so this was out of character). She lived under the stress of the whole situation for about three or four weeks, not sleeping, making furtive phone calls and deleting all her e-mails. She would be fantastic at having an affair, I didn’t suspect a thing. I shall be keeping an eye on her in future.

Thanks to everyone who set me up, it was a truly humbling experience that I will cherish always. Thanks to Dada for their genius and for embracing what we do. Thanks to the BBC for giving everyone a day to remember.

And thanks to John Barrowman for the time he took to the light the stars in little Ella’s eyes.

The show will be screened on BBC1 at 8pm on Saturday 7 August 2010.

Wednesday 10 August 2010

Back to Earth

Week one of the holidays is over. We came to Javea on the Costa Blanca last weekend and it has been fabulous. Beautiful beach, terrific apartment and a restaurant nearby (Scallops) which does a 3 course meal with a bottle of wine and a voucher for breakfast the next day for €8.95. Must be a money laundering exercise. They sell a case of 12 bottles of wine for €12. Never seen Vicky so happy.

So Tonight’s The Night has been and gone (now on YouTube). The build up to the show interfered with the holiday more than I would have liked. To cut a long story short a number of organisations contacted me asking me to link to them or even ask for a link from the Tonight’s The Night webpage direct to them. One website I said “no” to, due to the rather frightening content (as far as a newly diagnosed person) is concerned. I then had to be rather blunt with them. This hung over me for a day or two, but eventually I spoke to the people at the website and they agreed. Hopefully I am going to get involved with redesigning their content.

Initially I was disappointed with the clip on Tonight’s the Night as they cut the bit about it not being a disease of the elderly but I suppose that was pretty apparent by the sheer fact I was sitting there. The rendition of “Worlds Greatest” is truly cheesy.

The website took a significant number of hits after the show. This was followed up by a lot of emails, tweets and facebook messages from people showing support or people on this journey too. It is exhilarating and humbling.

Any thoughts I had of it going to my head were swiftly dealt with by Vicky. We were sitting on the sofa a couple of hours after the show, and she noted my contented smile and said;

“Oi! Worlds Greatest, go and get me another glass of wine”

Wednesday August 24th 2010

The first week back at work wasn’t as traumatic as I expected, everything was largely under control and, indeed, you could say I wasn’t missed at all. Which is fine by me!

To date I have been recognised by four separate people or groups of people following our appearance on Tonight’s The Night. It is great for the ego. The first people to recognise us were when we were still on holiday. A lady came up and said “did I see you on telly last night?” It turns out they recognised the children!

Last Saturday there was some whispering and pointing when we finished our run at the Lock 27 pub on the Clyde Canal and this Saturday a gentleman on the train, who claimed he didn’t watch the programme, said it might have been on and he might have spotted me.

The final “spot” was by the two ladies who run the local garage. It turns out they have told all the customers I was on and they offered me a free car wash. I politely declined as we had a shower in the house. They didn’t find it funny.

All things wobbly are going well. We have reached the £50,000 mark this year with our biggest fundraising events still to come. This weekend it is WobbleAid in Donegal (hopefully with enough beer this year) and then the walk, the Banquet and the Chicago Marathon in rapid succession.

My speech to the World Parkinson Congress is finished. I spent last Wednesday with the speechwriter Max Atkinson in Bristol. We worked on my delivery and how I lay the speech out on the page. It is amazing how simple things like displaying the text in a single column, like a newspaper, makes something more readible. You then have space to make notes down the side reminding you to look suitably miserable at the appropriate points.

The next task is to write my speech for the banquet. This is an altogether more tricky affair as we have advertised the banquet as having “no dull speeches”. Worse still, it probably has to be funny. This will be more challenging.

I think I’m going to have to up my meds again, running is becoming more painful in my foot from Dystonia. It is a trifle disconcerting. We have signed up for the Polar half marathon in Tromso in January and are looking at the Barcelona and Paris marathons at the start of the year. In Glasgow, we refer to cold weather as being “Baltic”. I was talking with Geo Kelly today and he was wondering do people in Tromso describe good weather as being Baltic?

Finally laugh of the week belongs to Mrs Hamill and her mastery of Engrish (see earlier Blog or brog). When Tony informed her that the Hong Kong business man, Kenny Huang, had withdrawn from the running to be the new owner of Liverpool she said…

“That’s a shame, we won’t hear the Kop sing “You’ll never wok arone!””

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