Charlie Bain is roaring with laughter as he shows video clips of the gala fundraisers he and wife Carol have held over the years.
Fixtures in Aberdeen’s social scene, the fundraisers have over the past decade and a half raised more than £300,000 for dementia research, often featuring the city’s great and good performing on stage — all in the name of charity.
Charlie’s favourite clips come from 2018, the year that he persuaded a group of local bigwigs to train with a professional singing coach for four months for a Stars-In-Their-Eyes-style show.
Look, there’s the then-managing director of Aberdeen airport Carol Benzie dressed up as a candlestick singing Be My Guest from Beauty and the Beast.
There’s Charlie himself singing — in French — the March of the Toreadors from the opera Carmen.
And then there is Bob Keiller, former CEO of the Wood Group and now the man charged with the regeneration of Union Street.
Bob, dressed as Meatloaf, is giving a phenomenally accurate rendition of Bat out of Hell.
“It took us out of our comfort zone,” says Charlie from his home in Bridge of Don. “But when I asked everyone after if they were glad they did it, they all said yes.”
‘We want someone else to pick up the mantle’
The curtain may be coming down on Charlie and Carol’s big nights.
The dynamic duo, who first met aged 11 at school in Torry, are looking to pass on the reins of their hugely successful charity events to the next generation.
“We’re getting to the stage where we still want to be involved,” says Carol, before Charlie adds: “But we want someone else to pick up the mantle and go with it.”
They have big shoes to fill. Over the past 15 years, Charlie and Carol have built a fundraising empire that is one of the most successful in the north-east.
The £300,000 (and counting) they have raised has been used to buy critical dementia research equipment for Aberdeen University such as a mass spectrometer and equipment for TauRx, the Aberdeen research lab that is developing a pill that has already been shown to slow down dementia in patients.
Other donations include a care home bus for social care charity VSA as well as sizable funds towards dementia research with the support of the Lord Provost Charitable Trust charities and the University of Aberdeen Development Trust.
In the past year, Charlie and Carol have even started funding two PhD students at Aberdeen University in a project they hope will eventually lead to new breakthroughs in dementia studies.
The ultimate goal is a workable cure.
“That is the key, the research,” says Carol.
Bridge of Don couple’s passion for dementia research borne of experience
It is this genuine passion for finding a solution to dementia that has driven Charlie and Carol’s fundraising, and one that comes from their own personal experience.
Charlie’s father Charles and Carol’s father Roy died within weeks of each other in 2011 after being diagnosed with dementia.
Charles’s condition had progressed further than Roy’s and Charlie placed him in a care home after trying desperately to keep him at home — even inventing a tracking device to keep tabs on him.
It was for this care home that Charlie raised money for the VSA bus, a project that would lead the Bain’s to start their charity events.
The first was in 2010 and featured magician Paul Daniels and former footballer Tommy Docherty. It was a roaring success, and raised £20,000 — not bad for a first go.
The second fundraiser two years later kickstarted the use of well-kent local faces to help with the entertainment.
Aberdeen architect Richard Tinto may not have realised what he’d started when he agreed to be a ‘human puppet’ for ventriloquist act Paul Zerdin.
But his performance at the Ardoe House Hotel, according to Charlie, had the room in uproar.
“Paul Zerdin said to me after that Richard was the best human puppet he’d ever had,” Charlie says with a smile. “He just went for it. All the women in the room — and there were about 300 people there — had mascara running down their faces.”
Five months to learn Strictly Come Dancing moves
The fundraisers went from strength to strength, each time bringing in more money.
A Strictly Come Dancing event featuring two of the BBC show’s dancers, Kristina Rihanoff and Robin Windsor, as judges raised more than £50,000. Six couples took to the floor that night, including Charlie and Carol, who trained for five months to perfect their dance.
“I can still remember the steps,” says Carol.
The most recent was the singing show, which also raised north of £50,000, including a donation from long-time supporter Apache Corp, the oil-and-gas company.
‘We hope we’ve given people a lot of fond memories’
Charlie and Carol’s attempts at another fundraiser in 2020 were obstructed by the pandemic.
But they continue to raise money through their extensive donor network.
Charlie spent a career in oil-and-gas in Aberdeen, mostly with Amerada Hess (now known as Hess), and has built up lots of strong contacts.
He hopes that anyone taking over would continue to use those networks, though the couple are open to new ideas.
“Maybe they would have something different to offer,” says Carol. “Maybe someone who is younger who has seen their grannie or their mum suffer from dementia.”
And though Charlie and Carol will be sad to say goodbye to the fundraising that has occupied so much of their lives, they will always cherish the memories of those fundraising events, when for one night Aberdeen’s great and good let down their hair in the name of a very good cause.
“We hope we’ve given people a lot of fond memories,” Charlie says. “Yeah, they were some enjoyable nights.”
For more info on dementia research or to find out how to get involved, contact Kelly M Anderson at Aberdeen University on 01224 273057 or email email@example.com