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An Evening with Hugh Bonneville

Actor Hugh Bonneville joined Parkinson’s campaigner Guy Deacon CBE for an evening of reminiscence, high emotion and friendship at North Cadbury Court in Somerset. Hugh and Guy were at school together in Sherborne and Guy was touched to see the number of old friends, along with fellow Parkinson’s sufferers, who turned up to support his charity fundraiser.

At the age of sixty and having lived with Parkinson’s disease for more than ten years, in 2023 the former soldier decided to drive 18,000 miles from his home in Dorset to the southern tip of Africa. His newly published book “Running on Empty” documents this inspirational adventure and will be the subject of a Channel Four documentary by Rob Hayward later this year.

He told a packed audience of 250 people in the court’s ballroom on 25th April about the highs and lows of the trip. He talked movingly about how attitudes in some African countries towards Parkinson’s make it very difficult for them to get support and care. Part of his mission on the trip was to raise awareness of that, as well as to test his own capabilities.

Guy told an enthralled audience about being robbed, struggling to get visas to travel between borders, encountering one country where right hand drives were illegal and his old VW van frequently breaking down in areas they only had spare parts for Toyotas –  which meant friends had to smuggle engine parts from the UK in their suitcases. 

He said: “With Parkinson’s there are days when you can walk and function relatively normally and then days when all I can do is just lay on the floor unable to move. It is a very isolating disease, it robs you of your humanity, your personality, your ability to smile and laugh. You lose friends and connections, if you can’t even pick up the phone, people start to drift away. During the trip there were days when I was overcome with exhaustion and just had to sleep where I could.

“When I reached Cape Town I expected to feel a sense of euphoria but instead I felt deflated. It was the end of a wonderful journey but what was going to be next? Just a life with Parkinson’s. It was over and I was just grateful to still be in one piece. However the people I met on my journey inspired me to carry on, remembering what they had told me along the way. I might now even do another trip – possibly across America this time!”

Hugh Bonneville said: “It was an honour to host this event in such a grand location, where history speaks through the walls. Parkinson’s is such a cruel and present illness and I hope we have shone a light on the importance of researching a cure and providing a future for those who suffer with the condition.”

Janet Montgomery, the owner of North Cadbury Court, organised the evening with Susan Spink, both of whom are old Durham University friends of Guy and have followed his  Parkinson’s journey. 

Janet said: “Guy’s story is an incredible testament to his strength and resilience. It’s hard to imagine just how gruelling his trip across Africa must have been. I was struck by how everyone I talked to during the evening had some experience of the disease, either a friend or relative or in some cases themselves. One man who has the condition told me he had mountain climbed in the Himalayas! It just goes to show what can be achieved with sheer determination and grit.” 

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