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Emily Findlay’s story tells of a special young woman who works hard to celebrate Aberdeen

The charity stalwart from Orkney has faced privations in her life, but accentuates the positives of the Granite City's charity sector.
Neil Drysdale
Emily Findlay BEM has become a stalwart figure in Aberdeen's charity sector. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.
Emily Findlay BEM has become a stalwart figure in Aberdeen's charity sector. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

Her music tastes are more Taylor Swift than Tin Pan Alley, so it’s unlikely that Emily Findlay has any Bing Crosby CDs lurking in her collection.

Yet, whenever I talk to this engaging Orcadian quine, who has faced personal adversity, but seems determined to help as many other people as possible, I’m reminded of one of the old White Christmas crooner’s wartime collaborations with The Andrews Sisters.

The lyrics (by Johnny Mercer) run: “You got to accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative, And latch on to the affirmative, Don’t mess with Mr Inbetween.”

If it struck a chord in 1944, it’s sadly apposite in modern Britain with its cost-of-living crisis, high inflation, struggling NHS, and myriad other problems. But, while Emily doesn’t live in a bubble – though she was isolated during the pandemic – she is one of those rare individuals who derives joy from boosting the lives of others.

Right at the start of our conversation, on a sublime early summer afternoon in Aberdeen, the 27-year old was talking about her excitement at beginning a new role as marketing and communications manager with the organisation Befriend a Child – and, while Emily isn’t some kind of latter-day Pollyanna, it’s impossible to think of anybody who is better suited to that task.

Emily Findlay
Emily Findlay’s life is a testament to the power of positive thinking. Pic: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

‘I have tried not to let it stop me’

There’s no doubting the rocky path she has negotiated in the last decade during her battle with Neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer that mostly affects babies and young children. But there was no wish to retread old ground in detail. Why look behind you when there’s so much to cheer your spirits on the journey forward?

She told me: “Gosh, where to start? I was born and raised in Orkney, which was an incredible place to grow up, but I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 14 and stayed in Aberdeen with my mum [Michelle] for multiple years, while my dad [Clinton] and little brother [Max] stayed in Orkney.

“I returned to Aberdeen to study events management, and I moved into a wee flat with my best friend. During the past few years, I have relapsed multiple times and have tried not to let it stop me, but I have been lucky that I haven’t had to have any invasive treatment, bar radiotherapy.

“Moving here was a great decision. I have made lifelong friends, met my boyfriend of five years, I am loving my new job and I have had so many fantastic opportunities.”

A strong belief in kindness

These are the things Emily really wants to bring to the fore; her belief in the kindness and generosity which underpins so much of what happens in the Granite City.

Parade champion Emily Findlay led the 2019 Celebrate Aberdeen festivities.

She has organised her own events, she participated in the annual Courage on the Catwalk fundraiser for Friends of ANCHOR at the Beach Ballroom in 2017, and has emerged as one of the most passionate devotees of the Celebrate Aberdeen festival.

And I can recall when, despite being confined to her own flat by Covid, she managed to channel her inner Mary Berry to maintain her philanthropic zeal.

As she added, with a sparkle in her eye: “We are so lucky to have so many incredible charities in Aberdeen city and shire, that help people on a regular basis.

Courage and Brave live up to name

“Despite the current economic climate, Aberdeen has an array of great businesses, organisations and individuals who are incredibly generous. We need these charitable organisations now more than ever, to support individuals and families in need.

“Courage on the Catwalk is one of my favourite events and I try to go along every year when I can get tickets. I think the storytelling throughout the run-up to the event and during it is fantastic and it really inspires people to give as much as they can to the charity. All the women, and the men who take part in the ‘Brave’ event, are so inspirational and it’s just such a heart-warming weekend.”

Meet the driven young woman behind Supercar in the Shire

Lockdown brought its own challenges, but Emily was among the first to encourage others to get their vaccines. And it’s typical of this beetle-browed character that, even as the world stopped, she was already thinking about new initiatives.

Yes, it was frustrating for us all, but her response to being cooped up underlines her unstinting commitment to the charity sector about which she is truly evangelical.

She said: “My boyfriend and I spent four months in our flat together as I was in the shielding category, we didn’t even take our bins out ourselves, but I really look back on that time with fond memories of the quality time we spent together.

“The weather was great, and we were very lucky to have our balcony. I baked lots and raised some money for charity, he gamed online, we binge-watched Game of Thrones and we did lots of online quizzes with friends. It was great.

Emily Findlay with former Aberdeen manager Sir Alex Ferguson

‘It’s where my heart lies’

“I adore the third sector in Aberdeen, and I am so passionate about all the incredible work our local charities and organisations do. As a key volunteer for Celebrate Aberdeen [which will return in a carnival atmosphere on Saturday, August 26], I regularly see the amazing work which is happening in the city.

“Having also worked for charities such as The Archie Foundation and, more recently, Befriend a Child, it’s just where my heart lies. What drives me is the incredible work which I’ve seen from so many charities who have supported me, but also those that I have crossed paths with over the past 10-plus years.

“I can’t recommend working for the third sector enough, it’s amazing and we are so lucky to have so many charities and organisations in this part of Scotland who make so many people’s lives that little bit easier.”

Fraser Adams, organiser Emily Findlay and Oliver Constant enjoying fast car rides in aid of the ARCHIE Foundation.

The last question was perhaps the most potentially tricky, but it was worth asking. Does Emily live for today or for next month or next year? Yet the woman who received a British Empire Medal in 2018, is nothing if not devoted to her calling. Irrespective of any personal travails, she has fresh mountains to conquer, new ventures to spearhead.

She told me: “I would love to continue my career in the third sector and continue all the voluntary work I do, such as Celebrate Aberdeen and my own event, Supercar Day in the Shire, for families who have a child or parent with a terminal or chronic illness.

“I would love to grow Supercar Day in the Shire further and look at other things I could do to support local families.

‘It’s lovely being an auntie’

“I think I live month to month, but I also have dreams for the future. It’s a bit of a mix.

“I love spending time with friends and family, and I am absolutely loving being an ‘auntie’ to my friend’s children and spoiling them. It’s so special to be that person for them, that they can go to for anything.

“I would also love to get a couple of dogs…” as she finished with a laugh.

Not everybody could share her attitude to setbacks and months spent in hospital. It takes a special kind of fortitude. But there again, Emily Findlay is pretty special.


1)What book are you reading? “Verity’ by Coleen Hoover. Highly recommended.

2)Who’s your hero/heroine? “I think I look up to the people I am closest to; my parents who are incredibly hardworking and my close circle of friends and my boyfriend, who are all amazing at what they do. I am so proud of them all.”

3)Do you speak any foreign languages? “I don’t, unfortunately.”

4)What’s your favourite music or band? “I’m obsessed with Taylor Swift and that will never change!”

5)What’s your most treasured possession? “Probably my BEM from the Queen, especially now since she has passed.