A children’s TV favourite says he is determined to keep the issue of dementia in the spotlight ahead of a charity walk in South Tyneside this weekend.
Richard McCourt, who found fame as Dick from CBBC’s Dick and Dom, will cut the ribbon to get the North East’s flagship Memory Walk underway in South Shields this Saturday.
Thousands will descend on Bents Park for the event to walk in memory of – or to pay tribute to – a loved one affected by the brain disease and raise cash for the Alzheimer’s Society.
The star’s mum, Helen, had Pick’s Disease, a rare form of dementia, and died in 2010 aged just 64.
Richard, 42, who will appear in panto at Sunderland Empire over the festive season, said: “There is still a stigma attached to dementia and the only way we can break through this is by keeping the condition in the spotlight and teaching people more about it.
“My hope is that dementia research and care can become as highly regarded as it is with other diseases such as cancer.”
Richard’s mum worked for the NHS as a medical secretary for more than 25 years before being diagnosed with dementia.
He added: “She was a very loving, caring and compassionate mum – and always the life of the party.
“She was also a great cook and we began to notice all was not well with her when she started to make mistakes in the kitchen, which was very unlike her.
“Friends at work had noticed she was making mistakes too.
“We made sure we did a lot of research to understand the disease and Alzheimer’s Society was a big help – directing us to various support networks, including a day centre and a Singing for the Brain group.
“It was mainly because of my mum’s dementia that I became an ambassador for Alzheimer’s Society, but my granddad also had early onset dementia and, sadly, mum’s brother and sister were also diagnosed and have recently passed away.”
There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with more than 2,000 of them in South Tyneside.
Sheffield-born Richard, who now lives in Edinburgh with long term partner and actress Katrina Bryan, said he is “delighted” to be starting this year’s walk.
Richard, who will play Smee in Peter Pan at Sunderland Empire from December 14 to January 6, said: “I’ve always loved the North East – people here are really friendly and down to earth.”
Last year’s Memory Walk in South Shields raised £296,082, with organisers hoping to beat that amount this time.
Rebecca Scott, senior mass participation events officer for the charity, said: “We’re thrilled to have Richard officially launching this year’s walk.
“Dementia devastates lives, but every pound raised through memory Walk will help us provide vital information and support, improve care, fund research and create lasting change for people affected by the condition.”
The main walk on Saturday covers 7km and sets off at 11am, as does a shorter 1.5km walk that is suitable for wheelchair users and people with pushchairs.
A longer route – over 22km – has also been introduced this year, and sets off at 9am.
For more details go to memorywalk.org.uk