Busking Sidmouth granddad Wally helps heroes - to the tune of £40,000
- Credit: Archant
A busking pensioner has raised more than £40,000 for a charity close to his heart – and wishes he had started earlier in life.
Wally Cotgrave, 78, has been part of the furniture in Sidmouth’s Market Place for six years, singing everything from music hall to Boyzone for Help for Heroes.
Despite his school teachers telling him he had talent, he did not find his voice until he was in his 50s - and only started busking after friend Celia Monck’s encouragement.
“She phoned me one day, right out of the blue,” said Wally, of Winslade Road.
The two had met in the Manor Pavilion at a Sidmouth Amateur Dramatics Society performance. “She asked if I fancied going busking. I’d never had the nerve to do it before.
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“I wish I’d started doing it earlier.”
At school he would rather play football than learn the recorder. But now he envies pupils at one Exeter school who are encouraged to compose from an early age. He urges anyone who enjoys singing to develop their skill.
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“I really am heartbroken about it,” said Wally. “It’s such a wonderful gift to have. I used to only sing in the bath, but it turned out I can sing top-Cs.”
And his voice was appreciated when he started busking in Old Fore Street. With Celia on keys, their first session saw passers-by donate £300 and it opened their eyes to the fundraising possibilities. Their first remains one of their most successful days.
Busking makes up around two-thirds of the donations. The rest is from collection tins in Sidmouth and around East Devon.
“I would like to think we could get to £50,000 – it should be towards the end of next year,” said Wally, whose national service took him to the Libyan Desert as a tank driver with the Royal Tank Regiment. His 21st birthday coincided with a trip to a ‘huge’ British graveyard. He was struck by how young the soldiers all were when they died – few were older than he was.
It was not until 2009 that Wally first got involved with Help for Heroes, after he was selected as one of 2,400 people to join an art installation in Trafalgar Square by Anthony Gormley.
He used his hour on the plinth to speak out about ‘far from adequate’ supplies for service personnel. He also urged people to support Help for Heroes and has continued to do so himself – despite various illnesses.
“I’m convinced I wouldn’t have survived without it – it encourages me to stay fit,” said Wally, who swims for an hour every morning.
He has no plans to quit any time soon.
Any businesses able to take a collection tin can approach Wally when he is busking.