Steve Cardownie: Head for charity gig to help kids like Alfie

Ed Bartlam's benefit show will raise funds for the Brain Tumour Trust. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Ed Bartlam's benefit show will raise funds for the Brain Tumour Trust. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A very special benefit show is taking place this Monday evening in the McEwan Hall in aid of the Brain Tumour Charity. Held under the banner of Underbelly it is now in its second year and was first conceived by one of the directors, Ed Bartlam.

Ed has been tirelessly campaigning to raise awareness of brain tumours since his wee boy, Alfie, was diagnosed as having one at the age of four and has pledged to help the charity get its message across.

I caught up with Ed yesterday when he reminded me that it was more than 15 years since he and his business partner, Charlie Wood, met me to discuss letting the unused part of the Central Library to Underbelly as a Fringe venue. We did – and not only are they still there but they have gone on to become the biggest promoters in Edinburgh, not just at the Fringe but now also running the city’s Christmas and Hogmanay showpiece.

Ed told me about Alfie and what he has gone through over the last two years. He has been put to sleep by general anesthetic more than 80 times and has had 65 sessions of ­radiotherapy and undergone two operations lasting more than eight hours each. Ed has been amazed at the youngster’s optimistic attitude and resolve which he says has been a ­revelation and speaks volumes about the human spirit and the fight and tenacity that is within us and exemplified by Alfie.

Ed told me that he had some good news on Monday when scans revealed that the tumours had been reduced in size and although there was still some way to go, the family are determined to do all that they can to set Alfie on the road to a full recovery.

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He told me that the charity’s Headsmart campaign aims to reduce brain tumour and brain cancer diagnosis time to four weeks or less and in raise awareness of the symptoms, but much-needed research into brain tumours has suffered from a chronic lack of funding.

Brain tumours are the biggest cause of cancer deaths of children and adults under 40 – with more than 11,000 people being diagnosed each year including 500 children and young people – causing the death of more than 5000 people each year. Of the £500 million that is spent on cancer research each year, less than two per cent of that is on brain tumour research.

Campaigners say this imbalance must be addressed. So the show on Monday – hosted by Susan Calman and featuring the likes of Nish Kumar and David O’Doherty – is designed to help boost the charity’s coffers but perhaps more importantly it is hoped that it will also raise awareness of this issue. To date Underbelly has raised almost £30,000 for the charity including the £18,000 raised at last year’s benefit and they are ­confident that they will beat this total at this year’s event.

Sometimes it takes the untimely death of a prominent figure to make people sit up and take notice and this was evident when the Westminster Government announced it will double a recent increase in funding for brain tumour research following the death of Dame Tessa Jowell, the former Cabinet minister, who campaigned for more resources to be devoted to help people like her combat the disease. While welcome, much more investment is required if we are to be able to take on this form of cancer and boost the rates of survival.

As for Monday? It is confidently predicted to be a sell out and a great success.

As for Alfie? The fight goes on until he is cancer free and back watching his beloved Arsenal with his dad.

Underbelly’s Big Brain Tumour Benefit starts at 7pm on August 13, Tickets £20.80.