Feature: How good luck led Wally to Sidmouth

Wally Cotgrave shares what he loves about Sidmouth.

Wally Cotgrave shares what he loves about Sidmouth. - Credit: Archant

Not many people would consider getting lost as a stroke of good luck, but for Wally Cotgrave it would have meant he never found Sidmouth.

By serendipitous circumstances he found himself stuck in a traffic jam in High Street almost 30 years ago and made the decision to move to the town.

His luck continued when he and wife Maureen found their dream home in Winslade Road, which is where they have lived for nearly three decades.

Sidmouth is also the place where the 78-year-old pensioner found his singing voice and he has not looked back, going from the chorus line to solo performer.

Wally said: “Slowly and very, very, slowly I learnt to sing. I just went on and on learning a bit here and a bit there.

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“I tend to sing for a couple of hours a day just to keep my voice there or thereabouts.”

When he first moved to town, Wally joined Sidmouth Amateur Dramatic Society (SADS), Sidmouth Arts Club Operatic Society and Sidmouth Musical Comedy Society and would try to grab a spot next to the best tenor to help him stay in key.

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As his confidence and singing grew, he began treading the boards of the Manor Pavilion and Exeter’s Northcott and Barnfield theatres, playing roles including Daddy Warbuck in Annie and the producer in 42nd Street.

Now he can be seen in Market Place armed with a microphone, straw boater hat and Union Jack waistcoat performing a repertoire that spans the decades to raise money for causes close to his heart.

To date, Wally has netted £52,000 for Help for Heroes after being encouraged by his friend and fellow fundraiser Ceilia Monk to get out and sing.

His fundraising efforts were recognised by the town in 2012 when he was crowned Citizen of the Year – an honour which came ‘out of the blue’ for the former West End boy.

Wally said: “I sang while I worked in the power stations and oil refineries - I sang all day long, but people were forever shutting me up.

“Without Ceilia, I would have found it much more difficult to get up and sing. We are still taking the money now that we were taking in the very beginning.

“It has been a saviour for me to come along at this time in my life and have something like this, it is so pleasurable.”

The 78-year-old is also a keen sportsman - playing football and cricket when he was younger and he still enjoys a daily swim.

He continued playing cricket when he moved to the town, as a member of Sidmouth Cricket Club’s second team.

It is a far cry from his childhood in Notting Hill, but the grandfather-of-one said it is the best move he ever made.

Wally said: “We had no intention of coming to Sidmouth. I had never heard of Sidmouth.

“We were on our way to Looe and we got lost and we ended up in a traffic jam in the High Street. We decided to look around and it was the best move we ever made. I always feel lucky that we got lost coming off the A303 onto the back roads.”

Even now, Wally still feels lucky to live in Sidmouth - from the perfection of the Fortfield cricket ground to a relaxing walk along The Esplanade and bumping into people.

Wally said: “The pleasure my wife and I get doing that little walk up and down the seafront is worth pound notes to me.” n

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