Edinburgh Alice Byrne: Brother of missing Portobello woman to take on massive tandem ride in her memory

Brother of Alice Byrne speaks about sister’s death ahead of charity challenge
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The brother of Edinburgh woman Alice Byrne, whose disappearance on New Year’s Day 2022 sparked a desperate search throughout the city and beyond, has said he hopes she would be proud of him as he embarks on a gruelling three-month charity challenge.

Alice was reported missing on January 1 last year, after having been last seen leaving a friend’s house in Portobello’s Marlborough Street, at 10am that day. Weeks later, on February 10, police said they believed the 28-year-old had entered the water alone and added that there was “no evidence to suggest she left the water”. Alice’s family believe she died by suicide after struggling with her mental health and alcohol addiction.

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On Monday, almost 17 months to the day since he last saw his beloved sister and just months ahead of what would be her 30th birthday, Alice’s big brother Xani will embark on an 88-day tandem ride in her memory. The 34-year-old will set off from Portobello Promenade, just a stone’s throw from both where he grew up and where Alice was last seen, at 9am and will spend almost three months travelling along the coastline of mainland UK.

Xani Byrne is taking on a charity tandem ride in memory of his sister AliceXani Byrne is taking on a charity tandem ride in memory of his sister Alice
Xani Byrne is taking on a charity tandem ride in memory of his sister Alice

“We lost my sister to suicide 18 months ago and I wanted to do something,” he said. “She and I had talked about her jumping on the back of the tandem to build up her confidence but we never got round to it and now it’s too late. So in a way this is an incentive to do it in her memory. I can’t do a ride with her, so this is a ride for her.

"Alice was very caring, very funny, sarcastic, cheeky. She really liked film, art, reading – she was interested in so many things. She was loyal and really talented but I guess she was also a little bit shy. I think she’d be proud of what I’m doing. She’d say something funny and tell me to check my ego but she’d be proud.”

Xani will be joined each day by a different person whose life has also been affected by suicide, with his mother Karen riding him alongside him for the first leg of the journey. All money raised from the challenge will be donated to two charities, Papyrus Prevention of Young Suicide and Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS), the latter of which has been a saving grace for Xani since Alice’s death, which he said he “could never have prepared for”.

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"I didn’t think it was possible, I didn’t think it was on the cards. You don’t think it’s going to happen. In Alice’s case, I think she was doing her best and you can’t read someone else’s mind,” said educational psychologist Xani, who lives in North Shields.

"Losing someone to suicide can be quite isolating. Obviously you talk to your friends who may have lost parents and things but it’s not the same. Losing someone to suicide really is a different kettle of fish and charities like SOBS let you talk about things that maybe you've not heard your friends talk about. You think things are unique to you and you're facing things alone but you find out that you've got something in common with these other people.” He added: “I believe people deserve help like that.”

The challenge will see Xani cover 3,500 miles, with his dedication to the cause even set to see him board a ferry from Stranraer to Campbeltown, where his aunt and uncle live. He will be cheered on – from a distance – by his parents Karen and Peter, half-sister Maire and Alice’s twin brother Bruno.

"I think it will be really difficult and I expect I’ll cry multiple times throughout the journey,” he said. “I have had amazing conversations with some of the people I’m meeting already and we’ve cried and I’ve learned a lot from them. But I think it’s important I go through those emotions and feel the sadness, pain and anger. For me, that’s part of the grieving process and that’s how I’m going to heal. And hopefully by having these conversations with other people, they’ll be helping me but I’ll also be helping them to do something that’s meaningful for them. I expect there will be highs and lows but I’m hoping I’ll be in a better place at the end of it.”

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Xani has already raised almost £6,000 through his JustGiving page with more than 150 people having donated and shown their support. He will be posting progress updates on his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages throughout his journey.

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