Being 6ft 6in tall and weighing in at 17 stone, thinking big comes naturally to rugby legend Doddie Weir, and the former Scottish international can now claim to have inspired what must surely rank among the biggest fundraising events ever staged in the Borders.
A charity dinner and auction held last Friday in aid of the motor neurone disease research charity set up by Doddie, of Blainslie, following his diagnosis with that condition just over a year ago raised more than £250,000.
It took three friends of the former Scottish international – David Baird, Stewart Bennet and Douglas Stephen – five months to organise their Tartan Giraffe Ball, so called because of the 47-year-old’s fondness for eye-catching tartan suits and late rugby commentator Bill McLaren’s likening of him to the earth’s tallest land mammal, but that effort was well worth it once its proceeds were totted up.
Among the turnout of almost 600 at the Border Union Agricultural Society’s Springwood Park in Kelso were Scotland’s head rugby coach, Gregor Townsend, and Grand Slam winners Jim Aitken, John Jeffrey and Gary Armstrong.
Doddie’s wife Kathy and sons Ben, Hamish and Angus, siblings and parents were also there to show their support for the former Melrose lock.
The event was compered by former Southern Reporter journalist Jill Douglas and fellow TV presenter Dougie Vipond and featured music from Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross and former rugby star John Beattie.
Messages of support for Doddie from golfer Rory McIlroy and motor-racing legend Jackie Stewart were also relayed via TV screens.
Having secured more than 170 lots, the event’s organisers launched an online auction two weeks ago, and it had topped £95,000 before the ball even got under way.
It went on to bring in £146,000 by the end of the night, and a live charity auction added another £82,000.
Ticket sales and other donations yielded a further £20,000-plus, taking the total amount expected to be raised for the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation to £250,000.
Among the most popular auction items, fetching £17,000, was a trip in a private jet for a holiday in Majorca with Doddie donated by waste recycling firm boss Danny Sawrij.
A 50-litre cask of whisky from the Eden Mill distillery at St Andrews in Fife signed by tennis players Andy and Jamie Murray; golfers Stephen Gallacher, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood; and rugby stars Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell, as well as Doddie himself, sold for £15,000.
Other auction items were donated by fellow sports stars Dario Franchitti, Freddie Flintoff, Robbie Savage and Pat Nevin and Conor Murray.
Doddie, capped 61 times for Scotland, said: “It has been an incredible event, and I take my hat off to Stewart, David and Dougie for the work they have put in to make this a reality and the nearly 600 people who bought tickets and came along and bid amazing amounts in the auction.
“There was a truly humbling level of support for me and my family after my MND diagnosis, but we have now shifted the focus from me to the campaign to fund research that actually does something about MND and hopefully will one day find a cure.
“It really shocked me to discover how little was known about MND and how little has been done in the past 20 or 30 years to find answers.
“I go to the doctor, they do a test and say ‘yes, you’ve still got MND, see you in three months’, and I get the same drug they were giving out 22 years ago. That’s it.
“I have asked if I should be exercising more, drinking soya milk because someone said that helps the symptoms, or doing this or that, and the answer is always the same – ‘we don’t know because there hasn’t been research or clinical trials’.
“To me, that’s not right in this day and age of technological and medical advances, but the brutal truth is that it comes down to money, so that’s what this is all about.
“All of this money raised by these fine people is going towards a serious push to find some answers that can help people all over Scotland and the world, now and in the future, and hopefully, as I say, find a cure at some point that means we are no longer given a death sentence with the diagnosis of MND.”
For further details, go to www.myname5doddie.co.uk
David Baird, one of the ball’s organisers, added: “It is exactly as Doddie says – the support he has attracted has provided a great platform for shouting about MND, but we know a number of people and families that have been through this, and with Doddie’s support, we felt we had an opportunity to do something to help.
“We have been blown away by the level of support we have received, from people donating completely free of charge over 170 auction lots to the people who bought into the event, bid for lots and the many people around the world who have not been able to come but bid in the silent auction.
“They have all played their part and we just hope now that this can help Doddie and MND charities take a significant step forward in the battle against this horrible disease.”