Some of the biggest names in comedy came together to perform on the Fylde coast — after being inspired by a seriously ill schoolboy fitted with a mechanical heart.
Household favourite Justin Moorhouse joined his Phoenix Nights Live co-star Steve Royle for the gig, held at Ollie Alderson’s school, Anchorsholme Academy on Thursday evening.
The 11-year-old is in a high-dependency unit in hospital awaiting a heart transplant – but has still has managed to raise almost £2,500 for charity by selling pictures he coloured in from his sickbed.
After being moved by the Year Six pupil’s plight, and his refusal to be beaten by his illness, the stars took to the stage to raise money for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, where Ollie was treated after first falling ill last year, and the Children’s Heart Unit Fund (CHUF).
They were joined by stand-up comic Ben Lawes, who performs across the UK, and host and compere Ryan Gleeson, from the Comedy Station, based at Viva in Church Street, Blackpool town centre.
All of them performed for free, travelling to the resort after hearing Ollie’s moving tale.
Around 250 people squeezed into the school hall, with headteacher Graeme Dow saying: “Ollie is very special to us. There was no way we could not rise up to support him. If he is lying there while in bed, managing to think about others before himself, we have to support him.”
Funnyman Justin Moorhouse, who shot to fame after playing Young Kenny in TV comedy classic Phoenix Nights, said: “I’ve also got a real affinity with the area, my grandparents used to live here, and I consider it to be my second home. So when I was asked, can you come and do this charity gig for a kid at Alder Hey the same age as my daughter, in a town where I grew up, it was a no-brainer really. Having a child in hospital is the worst thing in the world.
“At the end of the night it’s not about how much money we raise, it’s about the community coming together and supporting a great cause.”
Steve Royle, a resort panto regular, added: “Ryan had told me Ollie’s story so I was clued up. I couldn’t not support someone like him.
“I have three kids of my own and I will do what I can when it comes to helping children.”
Ollie, who lives with his mum and dad, Anne and Jason, and eight-year-old brother Josh in Chaffinch Close, Pheasants Wood, Thornton, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a chronic disease affecting the heard muscle, after being taken to A&E in November.
He was transferred to Alder Hey, in Liverpool, where, on New Year’s Eve, experts warned he may need a transplant.
The youngster was later moved to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, where he is now awaiting a transplant.
Ollie was forced to undergo surgery five weeks ago, and has been fitted with a Berlin heart, a device used in children whose hearts are no longer strong enough to pump sufficient blood around their bodies.
And it’s in the north east he will remain until a suitable donor can be found, although there’s no telling when that will be.
“We won’t get much notice,” mum Anne, 42, said. “It could be tomorrow, it could be six months, it could be a year, we just don’t know. Unfortunately, someone has to pass away first.”
Despite his ordeal, Ollie has still managed to raise hundreds of pounds for Alder Hey by selling drawings advertised for sale on his hospital door.
A further £1,700 has been donated online, Anne said.
“He started doing it three or four months ago in Alder Hey,” she added. “He got an adult’s colouring book, and the staff said they were good and he should sell them. So he put them on the door and the doctors, nurses, and families started buying them.
“He can get a bit bored and fed up, but he has never really moaned. He is just getting on with it. People are saying he has been an inspiration because he has been through so much.”
She continued: “The family unit has been torn apart. I have been with Ollie every night and Josh has just had his dad for six months.
“We are really lucky to have family and friends to help us. We have a very good support network and without them it would be so much harder.”
Ollie, who would have been sitting his SATs exams in preparation for high school this week, has been feeling well enough recently to have lessons at his bedside.
And his headteacher, Mr Dow, said: “We are very proud of him and what he is doing.”
Described by Mr Dow as an ‘unbelieveably talented sportsman’, Ollie represented the school’s football team in a cup final shortly before he fell ill.
He also played for Thornton Cleveleys FC, and competed in an athletics regional final.
“He is very committed to the school and his learning,” Mr Dow added.
“To get struck down like this is horrendous for him but he’s just smiling through it.
“He’s a popular member of the school and we have our fingers crossed a heart can be found.”
The show’s host Ryan, whose children go to Anchorsholme, added: “I was speaking to Mr Dow about putting on some sort of night there.
“He mentioned Ollie and we decided, rather than buying a bench or something for the school, we would donate to Alder Hey.”
The school successfully applied for an alcohol licence for the gig, which saw Ollie’s family, friends, school pals, and members of the public enjoy a night of laughter, kicked off with a musical number from teaching assistant Andy Morley.
Ollie’s dad, Jason, a 43-year-old financial advisor, said: “It’s nice to see the school supporting us. They have always been very supportive of Ollie.
“He’s raised £2,400 so far. It all started with him just doing a couple of pieces of artwork and putting them on his wall at Alder Hey and people said they would buy them.
“We got to £100, and then £500, and it just kept growing from there.
“Ollie’s been brilliant. When he went in for his operation for his Berlin heart he said, ‘Right dad, I’ll see you in a couple of days’.
“That’s how you want him to be.”
Comic and dad-of-three Ben Lawes, who has previously performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and is a BBC Radio Lancashire regular, said: “Ryan and myself are both family men, so anything that I can do to help the children and help Alder Hey is a fantastic cause.”
Steve, who also has a BBC Radio Lancashire slot, added: “We had a great audience. It’s always good to see the shock on their faces when I do my adult material! We must have raised a lot of money so it’s brilliant.
“It’s a bit strange getting the round of applause at the end when it’s that little kid who deserves it.”
n To donate to Ollie’s Just Giving page, visit www.justgiving.com/olliealderson