Regular readers of this column may recall a very sad Saturday in early July when I wrote about the loss of my wonderful friend Gareth ‘Gurty’ Dickson, who died suddenly at the tender age of 28.
Although it may seem strange to write a follow-up story after someone has died, so much that has been positive has happened since that terrible day I wanted to share it with you — whether you knew Gurty or not — because it says a lot about the strength of friendship and the power of love.
Just before he was so tragically taken from us, Gareth seemed to be on the threshold of fame and fortune. Although a hair stylist by trade, his vibrant personality and irresistible aura had caught the attention of TV producers after he appeared in the BBC reality show Going The Distance, where he quite literally stole the show.
In this, he was challenged by health experts to turn over a new leaf, to take on a new healthy regime, to lose weight and become fit enough to participate and complete the Belfast Marathon. As his friends and family — and the rest of Northern Ireland — watched in awe, Gurty took on this huge challenge with zeal and lots of belly-laughs along the way. Within weeks, before our very eyes and whilst under the scrutiny of national TV cameras, Gurty changed his daily routine around completely, worked his butt off at the gym, adopted a new healthy diet and lost over two and a half stone of excess weight.
And, at the end of it all, he completed the marathon — despite numerous set-backs and injuries — and made us all so proud in the process.
As a result of his newly found fame, Gareth had been asked by bosses at the Beeb to participate in a special one-off Celebrity Come Dancing for the Children In Need charity this November and training was just about to start when disaster so cruelly struck.
It was at this stage, still reeling from the grief of their loss, that Gurty’s friends stepped in and took up the baton on his behalf.
First of all, two of his closest friends — Chris Love, who’s a PR consultant, and Michael Daly, a cardiologist — signed up to run the New York Marathon in his memory. This as you can imagine was no mean feat. In fact, they had to train long and hard all summer to get the required level of fitness while simultaneously campaigning to raise sponsorship funds for Gareth’s favourite charity.
Then, at last, earlier this month they finally did it with great aplomb, raising bucketloads of cash in the process.
Furthermore, Children In Need was last weekend and although Gareth was not there, his spirit most certainly was.
Back in July, Tracey Hall — the well-known model whom Gareth had chosen to be his dancing partner — had decided that despite the devastating turn of events, the show must go on. She needed another partner — and quick — if she was to honour her friend’s memory in this unique and special way.
She didn’t have to look too far.
Gareth’s friend (and his Toni & Guy salon colleague) Maurice Hughes very bravely stepped up to the challenge. Now, as a former catwalk model he certainly had the looks and the gravitas to cut a dash on the dance floor, but until then, Maurice had absolutely no experience whatsoever of formal dancing. But here was a rare opportunity to pay public tribute to a dear friend he’d loved and lost and he wasn’t going to miss it for the world.
After months of non-stop training, they got there in the end. As anyone who saw the televised show on Saturday night will surely testify, the pair danced their hearts out, wowed the live audience as well as the viewing public and duly won the competition, making a small fortune for the charity in the process.
“This is for you, Gurty!” Tracey announced proudly as she and Maurice lifted the trophy.
It was a wonderful moment to watch; sad and emotional, yet triumphant and joyous at the same time.
And what a great testament to the value, determination and devotion of true friendship.