Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

First person: Leo Callow - 'I want Gary Barlow to sing at my next big charity ball'

The 56-year-old Belfast-based event planner and nightclub owner will be donning his running shoes for his last marathon in London later this year when he aims to raise £1,000 a mile for a children's charity

Running man: Leo shows off his medal collection from the charity races he has taken part in

For the past 30 years I've been a keen runner and have completed a total of 25 marathons all over the world.

My last was six years ago, when I was 50 years old. I thought I had retired, but have decided to do just one more after meeting an old friend who, aged 70, is competing in this year's London Marathon, on April 13.

He was keeping me going about how I was much younger than him, yet I wasn't running, so I felt guilty and decided to keep him company on the way round.

To mark my 26th and final marathon, I'm aiming to raise £26,000, or £1,000 per mile, in aid of the Lord's Taverners Youth Charity, an organisation I've been involved with and supported for more than 25 years.

Throughout the UK it uses sport – particularly rugby and cricket – to change disadvantaged and disabled young people's lives.

We have developed all sorts of things such as table cricket, where we convert a table tennis table into a cricket pitch and it can be played by wheelchair users.

I'm very involved and over the last few years in Northern Ireland alone, the charity has delivered 12 special needs mini buses across the province, the aim being to help young people in schools and respite centres access sporting activities all over the country.

Another way I fundraise is by organising the Waterloo Ball, which is held every two years and is one of the biggest social and charity events in Ireland.

The Duke of Wellington was born in Dublin and the ball is named after his most famous battle victory and inspired by an historic event held on June 15, 1815, when the Duchess of Richmond hosted a ball in Brussels for Wellington, his officers and distinguished guests.

The glittering event took place a few days before the Battle of Waterloo and when Napoleon heard that Wellington and his officers would be partying that night, he started to advance towards the city, via the strategic point of Quatre Bras.

Little did he know that during the ball, word came through to Wellington warning of the approach, and the Duke and his officers discreetly left the party and headed into battle – many still in their evening wear.

The Battle of Waterloo took place two days later, on Sunday, June 18, 1815, and the first Waterloo Ball was held 20 years ago, in Dublin, on the 180th anniversary of the battle. I'm originally from Dublin, but moved north 10 years ago and brought the ball with me.

The next one is going to be during the 200th anniversary year, on Saturday, May 23, 2015.

Although my day job is event planning and also running two restaurant/nightclubs in Belfast (Love & Death Inc and Aether & Echo), organising something on such a massive scale is a real challenge.

We have to cater for 1,000 black-tie guests and run four restaurants simultaneously in a built-from-scratch marquee about the size of the Waterfront Hall, usually somewhere in the Shaw's Bridge area.

Thankfully we have a great partnership with Belfast Metropolitan College's event management course.

In the year leading up to a ball, we work with the course and provide 'live' work experience for the students who all get involved with the planning, budgeting, branding, sponsorship and all the different aspects involved. They also work at the event and can then use it on their CVs.

It's a wonderful evening and has always attracted lots of famous names.

Chris Tarrant comes every year, and at the last one cartoonist Bill Tidy, former England cricket captain Mike Gatting and actress Joanna Lumley, were among the famous attendees. For 2015, my dream is to get Gary Barlow to sing.

I love organising things, so after studying an MBA in Business at Queen's University, event management was a natural fit.

I also work as a wedding planner and have done quite a few celebrity weddings, but of course I can't name names.

Although my work keeps me incredibly busy, I find fitting in marathon training relatively easy. The best way to do it is to put it into your diary.

I do an hour a day and then a couple of hours at the weekend, with one day off each week.

Since January, 6, I've clocked up 168 miles.This is definitely my last marathon. But I'll continue running. I love it.

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