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Why Zoe Salmon's exclusive charity guitar auction is music to family's ears

A Sheeran by Lowden guitar signed by Snow Patrol is being auctioned as part of the former Blue Peter star's Hope for Health project. One charity Zoe is supporting struck a chord with a Bangor mother whose son has an incurable, life-limiting condition. Claire McNeilly reports

Zoe Salmon
Zoe Salmon
The Sheeran by Lowden guitar up for auction
Enzo Ellis with his mum Hayley Ellis and dog Jake
Enzo Ellis with his mum Hayley Ellis
Brave young Enzo at home
Brave young Enzo at home
Brave young Enzo at home
Brave young Enzo at home
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

Former Blue Peter star Zoe Salmon is selling something that was tailor-made made for her. Not only is it a hugely sought-after Sheeran by Lowden guitar - it's also one that's been signed by Northern Ireland rockers Snow Patrol after their recent concerts at home.

It's part of the television presenter's new Hope for Health project, which sees her fundraising for two charities - Cancer Research UK and Alex's Wish, and she hopes to auction the state-of-the-art instrument online to the highest bidder.

She's trying to raise as much money as possible to help people like local mum Hayley Ellis, whose eight-year-old son Enzo has the little known life-limiting, incurable illness Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).

"I'm blown away by this amazing guitar," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"When I set out to collect some things to auction for charity I didn't expect something like this to come my way.

"Now that it has, though, I feel I ought to give it the platform it deserves and I'm sure this is going to be something that a superfan will absolutely love."

She added: 'Hearing Hayley's story makes you understand what it's like to have a child living with DMD and if there's anything I can do to raise money towards finding a cure for the illness then I'm happy to do it."

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The special edition guitar was sourced and donated by Zoe's husband's friend, who works at internationally-renowned Lowden Guitars.

She wrote a short letter outlining her plans; he got Snow Patrol to sign the coveted instrument.

That's somewhat fitting given the relationship between the band's frontman and one of the world's best-known musician.

"Gary Lightbody originally introduced Ed Sheeran to Downpatrick-based Lowden guitars," Zoe said.

"Both Ed and Snow Patrol plus a lot of music industry superheroes use Lowden guitars too.

"Now that Ed has collaborated with Lowden to create Sheeran by Lowden, getting your hands on one of these guitars is a bit like trying to get a Furby!"

Zoe, who said she remembers "doing the CanCan for Children in Need when I was 10 or 11", said her "initial thinking was to auction a selection of experiences" including a helicopter journey around the Mournes.

But then her friend Seainin Brennan, The Fall actress, suggested she venture beyond her own friendship circle, which led to the guitar donation.

Other money-spinning items for the online auction include a shirt signed by the Northern Ireland football team and a private chef who cooks for you in your own home.

And she's chosen social media as a selling platform for various reasons.

"When it comes to fundraising, over the years I've found that doing it online through social media is very successful," she said.

"If I couldn't do that I don't think I would ever have raised as much as I have done in the past.

"Also, doing it this way will keep it really focused - and I like the idea of keeping it open for days, or weeks, and letting the word spread organically."

She said Hope for Health, launched some months ago, is a project with a difference.

"I wanted my social media not just to be about pictures of my life; I wanted it to have a little bit more meaning so when I developed it I decided I wanted to tie it in with fundraising too," she said.

Although she's "always fundraising for different things", including Action Cancer and the Northern Ireland Hospice, where she started a tribute fund following her mum's death in 2016, she said she wanted to choose "different charities including one that wasn't perhaps that well-known".

The former beauty queen chose these two for a specific reason.

"A number of months ago I decided to enter the first ever Ms Great Britain, as part of the Miss Great Britain 75th anniversary, and they're working with Cancer Research UK and Alex's Wish so I thought that was perfect," she said.

"I've been involved with Cancer Research UK since my Miss Northern Ireland days aged 19 but I didn't know anything about Alex's Wish initially," she said.

"It's a charity set up by a mum at her kitchen table after her son Alex was born with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

"One in every 3,500 boys are born with Duchenne and Alex's Wish aims to raise money to fund research for a cure while supporting boys from all over the UK with Duchenne. They've just reached their first £1m target.

"I didn't know anyone who had been affected by Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and I wasn't familiar with what it was."

That soon changed, however, when Co Down mum Hayley Ennis reached out to Zoe on social media to say that her son Enzo (8) has the illness.

"It hits home when it's someone from your hometown. When she reached out to me before Christmas I was really touched because I'm a Bangor girl."

The online auction goes live now and Zoe is inviting bids on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

"I'm hoping some Belfast Telegraph readers will place a bid," she said.

"It's just a simple case of people sending me a private/direct message via any of my social media accounts with the amount of their bid."

She added: 'Hearing Hayley's story makes you understand what it's like to have a child living with DMD and if there's anything I can do to raise money that could go towards finding a cure for the illness then I'm happy to do it."

Follow Zoe on Twitter @Zoe_Salmon and on Instagram and Facebook @zoesalmonofficial If anyone wishes to make a donation towards Alex's Wish and Cancer Research UK, visit https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ZoeSalmon1

You don't need to tell Hayley Ennis how precious life is.

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Enzo Ellis with his mum Hayley Ellis and dog Jake

The single mum from Bangor knows better than most because her eight-year-old son Enzo has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).

It's a life-limiting illness most people have never heard of - and neither had Hayley until she received a sudden and heartbreaking diagnosis.

Cruelly, it came after she'd taken her only child, then just four years old, to have his mobility checked when she noticed that he wasn't running properly.

But, hopefully, TV presenter Zoe Salmon can help shine a spotlight on the illness, which affects one in 3,500 boys, and raise money for research into the incurable condition.

"Being told Enzo had DMD was the worst news ever," 31-year-old Hayley said.

"He was diagnosed a couple of weeks before his fifth birthday and I couldn't really take in the enormity of it all. It really was a tough pill to swallow.

"During the first year I struggled so hard to come to terms with it... but since then we've just been trying to live for the moment.

"We go all over the place, wee holidays, day trips and we do things. It really teaches you to live for the moment and to make every day count."

She added: "I've got 30,000 pictures on my phone. I take photos of everything no matter how small it is. I'm just making memories."

DMD is a muscle wasting disease and Hayley said it means that between the ages of 10 and 12 Enzo may lose the ability to walk completely and become wheelchair-dependant.

In later teenage years his breathing and heart could be affected and life expectancy for boys with DMD is in their 20s.

"It starts in your legs and then moves on to your arms and then it affects your internal organs, which are also muscles and that's when it's possible you could lose your life," she explained.

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Brave young Enzo at home

A week after Enzo's diagnosis Hayley revealed that she lost her job in sales and was forced to seek alternative employment.

But after six months in a "really lovely" temporary position she found herself compelled to assume the role of full-time carer to Enzo, whom she refers to as her "only child and best friend".

They are currently in temporary Housing Executive accommodation while waiting to move in to a fully adapted bungalow.

"Money is tight but there's only the two of us so I can budget quite well," she said.

"It's definitely the best route because having time with Enzo is the most important thing, knowing that I'm not going to have forever with him... and I can pick him up from school and go for a drive and see where we end up. It's lovely.

"And every weekend we try and plan to do something. It's great."

Although Enzo is currently the face of Muscular Dystrophy UK's upcoming fundraising campaign 'Go Bright for the Fight', his mum, who has shielded him as much as possible, said he doesn't know he's terminally ill.

"He goes to the doctor quite a lot for different appointments and all along I've told him that we're going to see the leg doctor to count the bruises on his legs," she said.

"But, to be honest, since he's been on steroids he doesn't fall that much so there are hardly any bruises on his legs so I don't know how much longer that's going to last..."

She added: "The good thing is that he doesn't really ask too many questions."

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Brave young Enzo at home

Right now Enzo, who's in P4 at Ballyholme Primary School, struggles with running and walking up stairs but apart from that his mum said he's just like any other happy, healthy little boy.

"He's doing great," she said.

"He's on a type of steroid daily and has responded really well to that medication. He's out walking Jake the dog when he gets a chance. He complains a wee bit but he's fine."

Describing Enzo as a "confident, extremely smart child who's got an answer for everything", his mum added: "He's not scared to give anything a go; I wish I was more like him."

Hayley said she reached out to Zoe Salmon after learning of the TV presenter's support on Instagram for Alex's Wish, a charity which centres on children with Duchenne.

"I know she's originally from Bangor and I wanted to let her know that my son, who is also from Bangor, has Dunchenne and I wanted her to share Enzo's campaign if possible," she said.

"He has been chosen to be the ambassador this year for Muscular Dystrophy UK and it's just about encouraging people in the workplace etc to wear orange for just one day to raise money for the illness."

She added: "The official day is February 7, 2020, but it can be any day at all, really."

Former Miss Northern Ireland Zoe is currently fundraising for Duchenne as part of her Hope for Health project.

"It's a very hard illness to get to grips with but it's not all doom and gloom," Hayley said.

"There is hope. It's about living every day to the max."

But Hayley, who also knows that it won't always be plain sailing, added: "In a few years life for Enzo is going to be a struggle."

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