Celebrities share private family photos and memories of loved ones affected by dementia

Six high-profile celebrities including Vicky McClure, Rhod Gilbert and Sir Tony Robinson are supporting Alzheimer’s Society’s Memory Walks in September and October to raise vital funds for dementia research and support. They are urging the public to unite against dementia by signing up and walking in celebration of a family member, friend, or colleague affected by the condition. 

Dementia is now the UK’s biggest killer with someone developing it every three minutes – yet dementia research still trails far behind other health conditions, after decades of underfunding which Memory Walk aims to address.

Money raised will improve care, fund research and create lasting change for people affected by dementia. This year, as Alzheimer’s Society celebrates its 40th anniversary, the charity is calling on its supporters to share their family pictures and memories of the family members, friends and colleagues affected by the condition.

Among the list of celebrities involved is stand-up comedian Rhod Gilbert, 50, of The Apprentice: You’re Fired and Never Mind the Buzzcocks fame, who opened up about his experiences of dementia for the first time in a touching tribute to his mother, who died in 2016.

Celebrities share private family photos and memories of loved ones affected by dementia
Rhod Gilbert with mum

Sharing a black and white photo of his mother in an elegant floral scoop-neck dress, with a disgruntled looking baby son in her arms, the comedian said, “Here’s me and my mum back in 1969; she’s the taller one. It seems my on-stage grumpy persona started quite early.

“My mum developed Alzheimer’s in her early 80s. She would often get confused. Conversations were limited to a few precious seconds. She no longer remembered some of the most important events in her life or ours and did not always know where she was or who we were. Dementia does that.

“Watching dad care for mum for years without complaint was truly amazing; we were lucky – between us, the family was able to manage. Just. We need to help Alzheimer’s Society raise money to fund dementia research, and you can do that by signing up to Memory Walk.”

In the hour-and-a-half it takes to complete your average Memory Walk, 30 people will develop dementia in the UK – which underlines why it is vital to sign up to Memory Walk now and unite against dementia.

Acclaimed actor and Alzheimer’s Society ambassador Vicky McClure, 36, best known for her role in Line of Duty and her recent work to raise dementia awareness with hit BBC programme Our Dementia Choir, supplied a personal photo of her grandmother, Iris, alongside a young ponytailed Vicky.

Celebrities share private family photos and memories of loved ones affected by dementia
Vicky McClure and Gran

McClure said of the photo: “This photo brings back really lovely memories of her – such a strong, stylish, hardworking woman with a cracking sense of humour.

“For me personally the fight against dementia is more important than ever. Losing my Nana to it and having made many great friends through ‘Our Dementia Choir’ we must keep raising all the awareness and funds we can. Memory Walk is a great place to do this! I urge you all to sign up, donate and walk for a world without dementia.”

Blackadder legend Sir Tony Robinson, 72, who lost parents, Leslie and Phyllis, to dementia in 1989 and 2005, respectively, shared an image of his father clutching the hand of toddler Tony, alongside his mother, at the beach.

Celebrities share private family photos and memories of loved ones affected by dementia
Tony Robinson and parents

Sir Tony said, “Childhood summers meant so much. Memories of spending all that time with Mum and Dad in Swanage, Woolacombe, St David’s and a host of other holiday haunts still makes me feel a bit teary.

‘When dementia took my Mum and Dad from me, I made a pledge that I didn’t want my grandchildren to fear going the same way. That’s why I’m calling on everyone to unite together against dementia and join Memory Walk this year, to raise vital funds for dementia research, which has long been underfunded.”

Arlene Phillips CBE, celebrated for her prior role as head judge of Strictly Come Dancing, shared a photo of her family enjoying a walk on a snowy winter’s day, adding, “My father loved to walk in all kinds of weather. ‘Heads up, shoulders back’, he would say and ‘swing your arms and you won’t feel the cold’. Gradually his dementia took away his ability to even remember how to walk, but his words live on in my memory.

“Seeing the person you love slowly disappear in front of you is hard, and I’m so grateful to everyone who’s throwing their heads up and their shoulders back at a Memory Walk this year. Hopefully, one day soon, no other family will have to experience the same loss we did.”

Roy Stride, 40, lead singer of Scouting for Girls, talked about how he came to realise his mum, Katy, had a rare form of dementia known as Pick’s disease. “This is me and my incredible mum – and of course my sister Ilona just had to get in on the picture too. When I think of mum, I always try to think of her like this: smiling.

Celebrities share private family photos and memories of loved ones affected by dementia
Roy Stride and mum

“Mum was so full of life and had such a bright personality, so when the symptoms of dementia first started to show, we actually thought she was just being her usual eccentric self. Even when the disease progressed, there were still moments when mum’s personality shone through, and I’ll treasure those forever.”

Coronation Street star Sally Lindsay, 46, joined the Memory Walk campaign by sharing an adorable childhood picture of herself and her brother, Chris, with her Grandad, Robert, and her Grandmother Ellen, who had dementia before her death in 1990.

Celebrities share private family photos and memories of loved ones affected by dementia
Sally Lindsay and gran

Sally said, “Out of all our family photo albums, I really treasure this snapshot in time above all else. I’m on holiday with my Gran, Grandad and my brother Chris in Italy and it represents a very special memory for me because my Gran was at her most magnificent.

“It still brings a tear to my eye when I think about my Gran, Ellen, because she was only 64 years old when she was diagnosed with dementia. Then there was a sudden decline before she died at the age of 70 in 1990, which was just devastating.

“Gran was like a second mum to me and while her journey with dementia has inspired me to help Alzheimer’s Society find a cure for dementia, I‘ll always cherish the joyful memories she created for me and my brother in our childhood because they are priceless.”

Every penny raised through Memory Walk will help Alzheimer’s Society find a cure, improve care and provide support to people affected by dementia – register now at www.memorywalk.org.uk.

Alzheimer’s Society is committed to spending at least £150 million over the next decade on dementia research to improve care and quality of life for people today while powering on the hunt for a cure for tomorrow. The Society has invested £5.6 million in three Centres of Excellence across the UK, and as a founder of the UK Dementia Research Institute (DRI), our £50m investment will power discoveries to prevent, treat and care for people with all types of dementia, as well as helping us to understand how to keep the brain healthy.