Family of South Tyneside musician who once shared a stage with The Beatles raising money for Alzheimer's UK

The family of former South Tyneside musician Gillian Bickley are raising money for Alzheimer's UK as her condition worsens.

By Sarah Sinclair
Friday, 9th August 2019, 11:45 am
Gillian Bickley with the Ivy Benson Band.
Gillian Bickley with the Ivy Benson Band.

Gillian, from Boldon Colliery, who once shared a stage with The Beatles, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years ago.

The 76-year-old, who went by the stage name Gillian Dennis, was prolific for her skills on the saxophone and piano, and was a member of the Ivy Benson Band, which supported big names including The Beatles and The Shadows.

Last year, with the help of daughter, Fiona McCord, Gillian took part in the dementia ‘Memory Walk’ at Bents Park in South Shields, raising hundreds for Alzheimer's UK.

Fiona McCord (left) with her mum Gillian Bickley at last year's 'memory walk'

Now Fiona has spoken of how her heartbreak as her mum’s condition progresses.

“The people that knew her wouldn’t recognise her now, everything is just drifting away,” said Fiona, 47.

“She’s lost all her confidence. She was in the band, had her own business and was always full of fun. Now she finds it difficult to speak and she’s not able to hold a conversation. She gets really upset, it’s quite emotional.”

But she added: “He hasn’t lost her personality, she will still have us laughing.

Gillian Bickley (left) with daughter Fiona McCord before she got ill.

“She’s a proper little star in the community.”

Fiona is organising a family fun day for residents in her mum’s name, and hopes to raise £1,000 for the charity.

The event, at The Crown pub on Hedworth Lane, Boldon Colliery on Saturday, August 24 will include entertainment, stalls, bingo, and a craft corner and face painting for youngsters. Many local businesses have donated raffle prizes and local DJ, Mark ‘Smitre’ Smith has volunteered to provide a disco free of charge.

“Everyone has been so kind, they contacted me to donate prizes for the raffle, I haven’t even had to ask,” said Fiona, who plans to make the fundraisers a regular thing.

Gillian Bickley (bottom left) before she got ill with Fiona McCord (bottom right), Kayleigh Chadderton (top right), Julia Young (top left)

“Every year I want to try and do something, because it’s really hard and dementia is getting more and more common,” she said.

“It’s just sad that I can’t tell mum about the event,” she added. “She gets too confused, you can’t really give her things to look forward to, because she will ring up everyday checking if she’s missed it.”