Tavish Scott: Charity dance contest kept me on my toes

Tavish Scott. Picture: Neil Hanna
Tavish Scott. Picture: Neil Hanna
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IF THE charity Clan did not exist it would have to be invented. Based in Aberdeen, it provides care for people and families afflicted by cancer. It is enormously important to people in Shetland, Orkney and the north who depend on Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for primary care.

The reason is simple: if your Shetland uncle or aunt is diagnosed with cancer, then the supportive care that Clan provides in Aberdeen is invaluable. They have accommodation so that families who would face the enormous expense of an Aberdeen hotel can instead use Clan Cancer Support in Westburn Road.

But this caring, loving and deeply important service costs money. Some years back, Clan needed modern facilities and accommodation. They did what charities do and raised millions of pounds. It was a genuine grass-roots campaign. Shetland raised tens of thousands of pounds for Clan, as many local families have been touched by cancer.

Four years ago, the local fundraising committee came up with Strictly Clan Dancing. Eight local “celebrities” were given professional dancing partners. The definition of celebrity included the high-school head teacher, the proprietor of a petrol station, a BBC boss and Shetland’s MSP.

The event was modelled on the TV show. We practised, practised and panicked. The evening arrived. On a dreich Shetland night, 1,500 people turned up and the organisers set up an overflow room with a big screen. The venue was as seen on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. A Shetland house band mastered the musical elements.

The judging was severe. Years have passed but I have yet to forgive a particularly unfair set of marks for what I thought was a stunning tango. My support team each held up letters to form my name. This judge caused them to re-order the letters – I will leave it to readers to decipher a message that illustrates disapproval. Voting was by donating £1 coins into collection buckets.

The result? As the £1 coin ruled, it became a money chase. The father of the petrol retailer and the grandfather of a young Shetland footballer became embroiled in an attempt to buy the event. Fifa’s Sepp Blatter would have been proud. The grandfather won.

In the post-event analysis, the best team did win. As we all consumed medicinal liquids to counter the effects of dehydration, the fun of the evening grew. So too did the funds for Clan. When the last coin had been counted, Shetland raised more than £20,000 in one evening.

So when Bruce Forsyth says “Nice to see you”, a group of Shetland dancers who faced an enormous expectant crowd look at the faces of the rather better-known celebrities and empathise with the sheer feeling of terror they will have. We were not on television, although there is a DVD. “Keep smiling” might be a better catchphrase than “Keep dancing”.

• Tavish Scott is Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland