STARS from television and sport came together to brave the rain at a charity golf match aimed at raising thousands for a vital hospital unit.
Former world number one golfer Lee Westwood led a stellar list of players including Ant and Dec, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen, Ben Shephard and Bobby Davro at the Have a Heart Trophy golf challenge at Close House Hotel in Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland.
The match – the second of its kind – is one of several spectacular annual fundraisers set in motion by Close House owner Graham Wylie, whose two-year-old daughter Kiera was saved twice by medics at the Freeman Hospital’s pioneering heart unit.
Sage co-founder Graham and his wife Andrea, of Jesmond, Newcastle, have devoted themselves to raising the public profile as well as money for the Children’s Heart Unit Fund (CHUF), based at the Newcastle hospital and last year alone raised more than £250,000 through several fundraisers.
Now, a week after the heart unit was named a centre of excellence as part of the Safe and Sustainable review of Britain’s heart facilities, Graham said boosting CHUF’s funds was more important than ever.
He said: “The timing has been brilliant. I planned the golf day back in December with Lee, and we didn’t realise the Safe and Sustainable decision would be made the week before.
“Now the Freeman has been named as a centre for excellence, the number of heart operations will increase from 300 a year to 400 to 500 a year, so that requires more funding.
“The NHS already do a great job, but we need to fund specific things like specialist equipment and looking after the parents who spend so much time there, so that’s what we are going to do with the money from now on.”
In all, 128 players made up 32 teams – 10 more than last year – and only two of the original line-up, Toon boss Alan Pardew and entertainer Kenny Lynch, couldn’t play on the day.
Lee Westwood, who represents Close House on the European Tour, had been due to arrive on the front lawn by helicopter, but his flight was forced to travel to Newcastle Airport instead because of the bad weather.
Champion jockey Tony McCoy was first to tee off.
He was followed shortly afterwards by fellow horse racing stars Daryl Jacob, who rode Neptune Collonges to victory in the Grand National, Ruby Walsh, Richard Fahey and Mick Fitzgerald.
Football stars included Shola Ameobi, Ryan Taylor and Lee Cattermole, as well as former United stars Peter Beardsley and John Beresford.
Newcastle Falcons player Ally Hogg was also there to defend his trophy, together with the Falcons’ owner, Semore Kurdi.
And they all shrugged off the rain as they prepared to get very wet out on the plush, £8m course.
Alan Shearer said: “This is a tough course and will be even tougher because of the rain but it will be enjoyable.
“Not only is this a really well organised charity event but for Graham, who is a good friend of mine, this is a cause very close to his heart.
“He’s done some great work for the charity over the last two years.”
Team winners were Alan Hansen, Barry Simpson, Andy Clifton and Barry Owen. The captain was Alan Hansen.
The celebrity winner was John Carver, NUFC first team coach.