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It's a dream come true. I have been a fan of the Walker Brothers since I was 12 and it's incredible Gary is doing this for me.

Byline: By Gordon Barr

Four decades ago Elaine Bertram used to go to see her favourite group the Walker Brothers. The tables have turned and now one of the band is coming to Tyneside to meet Elaine for a very special cause, as Entertainment Editor Gordon Barr finds out

In the mid-60s, American pop sensations the Walker Brothers were guaranteed sell-out shows at Newcastle City Hall.

Screaming fans would queue for hours for tickets and stake out their hotel rooms in a bid to get closer to the trio.

Elaine Blenkley was one of those fans. She thought nothing of braving the cold and rain to guarantee her a ticket for a concert or sneaking into the Imperial Hotel in Jesmond and rattling on the band's door.

Back then Elaine failed to get as close to her idols as she would have liked. Tomorrow, though, she will be back at the Imperial Hotel and in the company of one of those Walker Brothers. Not just for the one night either: they will be spending two evenings at the hotel and all for a very special reason.

Over the past few years, the superfan, married name Bertram, has been tirelessly fundraising for her grandson Daniel Muers, who suffers from the degenerative disease Hunter's Syndrome.

Now her love for both the Walker Brothers and her grandson will merge as one third of the group, Gary 'Leeds' Walker comes to Tyneside for two nights of fundraising - back in the hotel where he used to crash out after a Toon gig all those years ago.

"It's a dream come true," says Elaine, 54, of Wilton Avenue, Walker, who is a full-time carer for her husband John, 57.

"I have been a fan of the Walker Brothers since I was 12 and it's incredible Gary is doing this for me."

Hunter's Syndrome causes cells in the body to be constantly damaged to the point where the body becomes completely crippled.

Ten-year-old Daniel's battle was first highlighted in the Chronicle in 2000 when Newcastle United stars Shay Given and Alan Shearer, former player Malcolm Macdonald, then manager Bobby Robson and former first team coach John Carver gave him their support.

Given attended a fundraising event for the youngster, while Shearer and Robson sent him a signed shirt which Daniel received at the end of an 11-mile sponsored walk in September, 2000, in which Newcastle United first team coach John Carver took part. Two years ago, the High Heaton youngster received a special trike from the Chronicle's Sunshine Fund charity which made him able to play out with friends.

But as he gets older, Daniel's illness makes him ever more immobile, putting pressure on both him and his family.

Hunter's Syndrome is so rare, just 40 babies are born with it in the UK every decade, and Daniel's family have been told he may not live beyond his teens. In a bid to make his life as easy as possible, this weekend's event has been organised to help to raise money to buy a mobility car.

"He's getting bigger. We all do struggle to get in the car and his mum needs a car she can get a wheelchair into," explains Elaine.

"It can be very traumatic, but everyone seems to stick together.

"We discovered he had Hunter's Syndrome when he was three years old. We hadn't heard of it before and we just couldn't believe it.

"We've been trying to raise funds for him over the past few years just to try to make things easier for him and the family and to try and give him a better quality of life.

"We have such a struggle at times. Looking after Daniel is a 24/7 job for the whole family.

"The toughest part is knowing there is nothing that can be done for the condition. Things will just gradually get worse. It is an enormous strain at times.

"You can do nothing but watch as you see his condition deteriorate. He can have severe behavioural problems and there are regularly nights when you get next to no sleep.

"But we all pull together. It's the least we can do."

In 2004, Elaine noticed a Solid Silver Sixties tour was coming to the region featuring John 'Walker' of Walker Brothers' fame.

She went along to see the show and met up with fellow fans. Through a website they started having get-togethers in the south of England.

Through those meets, in which Gary made a guest appearance, he heard of Elaine's plight and vowed to do whatever he could to help.

"Gary was immediately interested and wanted to come up the next day, literally, to help," says Elaine.

"I said we were thinking of having a fundraising night and asked if he would perhaps like to attend that. And that's where it all stemmed from.

"I remember, when I was in my teens, queuing at the City Hall for hours for tickets to see the group.

"When we found out what hotel they were staying in, we went straight there. Believe it or not, it was the Imperial.

"There were about 15 of us and three of us managed to sneak into the hotel. We found their room and knocked on the door. To us they were as big as the Beatles.

"We could hear John in the room singing Blueberry Hill. A chambermaid came out and told us we would have to go or else she would probably lose her job.

"It was a mad time and I have been an ardent fan ever since, collecting all their records and now their CDs.

"We have fans coming from all over the country and Europe to attend the fundraiser on Friday and there is also an event on Saturday for fan club members, which Gary is also staying for.

"We can't thank him enough for agreeing to come."

Daniel attends Hadrian Special School in Newcastle's West End and also goes to St Oswald's Hospice.

"He has good and bad days. It's just so upsetting to watch at times," says Elaine.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 21, 2006
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