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Sarah-Jane Hogg talks about 10 years of lifting people up with Courage on the Catwalk

The Friends of Anchor chief executive wanted to give cancer patients something positive and has succeeded with the groundbreaking events.
Neil Drysdale
Sarah-Jane Hogg is delighted Friends of Anchor has been named a P&J charity partner.
Sarah-Jane Hogg is delighted Friends of Anchor has been named a P&J charity partner.

Cancer is a word that is too familiar for too many families in the north-east.

For Sarah-Jane Hogg, the loss of her mum, when she was only eight years old, has driven her desire for Friends of Anchor to support families impacted by a diagnosis.

In her role as chief executive of the charity, which supports the Anchor Unit at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Sarah has witnessed the depths of despair a diagnosis can bring – but also the steely resolve to fight for the sake of one’s family, and to get back up every time they have been knocked down physically, mentally and emotionally.

It was with this in mind that the idea of Courage on the Catwalk was born.

Martin Rudge, Megan Fraser-Bell, Louise-Anne Budge and Sarah Jane Hogg of Friends of ANCHOR.

The show, which is now one of the charity’s biggest annual fundraisers, along with its twin event Brave, is a precious opportunity to celebrate joy, love and positivity even in the most cruel and difficult of circumstances.

Courage on the Catwalk will mark its 10th anniversary next year, and is much more than a fashion parade. Initially launched with modest objectives, it has brought together women of all ages and backgrounds to become everyday heroes – shining the light on cancer while inspiring others and celebrating life.

I’ve been at the events and talked to several participants who spoke powerfully about how Courage had taken them out of their comfort zones and allowed them to share their stories and raise awareness of cancer and haematology, while making friends for life.

Sarah-Jane Hogg has poured her heart into Courage on the Courage and Brave.

At the outset, it was only women who appeared on stage at the Beach Ballroom. But, in 2017, men joined the spectacle with the unveiling of Brave and any reservations that the chaps might be reluctant to come forward were quickly dispelled.

On the contrary, the events have allowed those in the spotlight to tell their stories, share their symptoms, reinforce the crucial importance of early detection and remind those in the north-east of the value of such organisations as FoA.

And, despite Covid pulling the curtain down on Courage and Brave in 2020, these events have already raised more than £1.7m for charity and proved that, while cancer treatment might drag you to your knees, there are plenty of people with the requisite drive and determination to help you get back up on your feet again.

The search is on: Do you know anyone Brave or Courageous enough to take to the catwalk?

Explaining where the idea for Courage on the Catwalk came from, Sarah-Jane said: “Back then [in 2013], we could see that a diagnosis didn’t stop people from wanting to live life to the full. But the question was: how could we put it in a different context?

“We wanted to find ways and means to allow them to celebrate and fill a room with so much love and joy – and, hopefully, lift their families as well.

“We didn’t know how folk would respond, but I think they instinctively got it and the heart behind it. Unfortunately, none of us are far removed from cancer, whether it’s directly in our own households or affects those who know.

‘It seemed a bit more risky’

“Brave was a bit different and we don’t use the words ‘fashion show’, because it’s so much more than that. At the beginning, we were a bit more nervous. We didn’t know if we’d get the same number of applications or same level of interest among the guys.

“So it felt a bit more risky. Initially we decided to just go with 12 men, in comparison to the line up of 24 women, but, lo and behold, we found we had 24, so suddenly, we had Courage on the Catwalk and Brave on for three days.

“And the reaction from the public across the north-east has been magnificent.”

Sarah-Jane Hogg of Friends of Anchor at Marischal College. Picture by Kami Thomson

Indeed, having watched the sparkle in the eyes and unbridled joie de vivre of those who have strutted their stuff and sashayed in Strictly style in front of packed audiences, the world would be a better place if you could bottle the heady atmosphere in the room.

As Sarah-Jane said: “The word ‘family’ isn’t used lightly, but the relationships between the models, ourselves and the suppliers, the volunteers and the sponsors, not just financially but on a personal level as well, really is special and, for many of the models, it is a life-changing event to be a part of.

“I guess we didn’t know what would happen at the start, but there’s a community now and, for some people, this event is their ‘Thank You’ piece; they have finished their treatment and come out of the other side and, now, they have done this experience, gained new confidence and can go on stage for their families – who have seen them at their lowest ebb – with no inhibitions, having fun and looking amazing.”

It’s a measure of the unstinting energy and commitment of the participants that so many former participants attend each and every year to spur on the newest cohort of models. Many choose to do so with swanky clothes, dressed up to the nines on a biennial basis, or in their red Friends of Anchor tees as a volunteer.

Until now, the Beach Ballroom has been an ideal venue, but next year’s Courage on the Catwalk and Brave are being held at the P&J Live on May 18 and 19 – although Sarah-Jane insisted that the decision hadn’t been made lightly.

It just means more love in the room

She said: “The Ballroom has been a wonderful, wonderful venue, but it was getting to the point where we were outgrowing it in terms of the demand for tables.

“Every year, they were taking more tables, bringing their loved ones, and although we did push against it [moving elsewhere], we’ve just had to take a leap of faith.

“We don’t want to lose that feeling of intimacy, or for anyone to walk out and feel overwhelmed because the P&J Live is a massive venue, but the reality is that this is all about the people: the audience in their seats, the models on the catwalk, the Red Army of volunteers who are there and all the suppliers working behind the scenes.

A number of participants from Courage on the Catwalk and Brave got together at the new venue, the P&J Live. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

The charity sector is something to be cherished in Aberdeen. Whether talking about the efforts to help vulnerable children, those with degenerative diseases or any of the myriad cancers which affect so many of us, stalwart characters are doing sterling work.

And, having watched Courage and Catwalk and Brave at close quarters, Sarah-Jane Hogg is entitled to feel very proud of bringing it to fruition.

She’s looked at life from both sides now, as Joni Mitchell once wrote. And brought so much light into the darkness.

Further information is available from:

Five questions for Sarah-Jane Hogg

  1. What book are you reading? Zag [The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands by Marty Neumeier].
  2. Who’s your hero/heroine? Jesus. The most humble King who lived.
  3. Do you speak any foreign languages? Does school-level French count?!
  4. Who’s your favourite band or music? Coldplay.
  5. What’s your most treasured possession? Family.