Daredevil Drew Falconer has raised more than £1500 for charity after taking the wheel of a 10-ton bus – his first driving experience since he started losing his sight more than 25 years ago.
Following his epic trek in the Himalayas last year, the 53-year-old blind man’s latest challenge was altogether more down to earth, despite taking place at a rainswept Errol Airfield.
It involved him driving a 49-seater, £280,000 coach down the main runway at the former wartime aerodrome – and then completing some of the exercises fully sighted trainee bus drivers would perform.
“I started having real problems with my sight in 1984, when I was just 26,” explained Drew yesterday.
“One of the things I have missed doing over the years is being able to drive again.
“So, in a moment of madness at New Year, I came up with the crazy idea of getting behind the wheel – and helping local charities at the same time.
“I contacted Stagecoach chief, Sir Brian Souter, and he put me in touch with their operations manager, Gus Beveridge.
“They couldn’t have been more accommodating. They provided a coach and driving instructor Ally Ross, who put me through my paces.
“All we needed then was a suitable venue and a mutual friend suggested I ring local businessman Morris Leslie.
“He was more than willing to allow us to use Errol Airfield.”
So the scene was set for a charity challenge with a difference last Saturday.
With the 40-foot long coach packed with friends, family and supporters, Drew realised his long-time driving ambition by taking everyone for a spin.
With 50-year-old Ally sitting behind him and acting as his ‘eyes’, Drew successfully negotiated a slalom course of cones – and then showed off his new-found skills by reversing through the obstacles, with not one being disturbed.
As a finale, he picked up speed and then executed a perfect emergency stop, to the cheers of those on board.
“Drew did exceptionally well,” said Ally, who has been with Stagecoach for the past 18 years.
“I have nothing but admiration for him. Some of the manoeuvres we performed today were exactly the same as I would set for trainee bus drivers.
“He took to the slalom test like a duck to water. I was probably more nervous than he was.”
Mr Beveridge (53) said afterwards: “Drew should be justifiably proud of what he has accomplished today.
“Not all of the trainees who negotiate the slalom course manage to escape hitting at least one of the cones.
“We were delighted to provide the bus and instructor. It helped raise money for some very worthwhile causes.”
A total of three charities benefited from the day, which was boosted by sponsorship, cash pledges and a raffle.
The first was the Save the Children FAST (Families and Schools Together) project – the nominated charity for the year at Drew’s employers, the Lloyds Banking Group.
The other two were the Perth and Kinross Society for the Blind and Medilase, a local cancer research and treatment charity based at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.
A delighted Drew said afterwards: “It was an amazing experience. I’ve never driven since the 1980s and to get the chance to get behind the wheel of a bus was fantastic.
“I’m really indebted to Stagecoach, Morris Leslie and everyone who helped out on the day, as well as all the local firms and individuals who generously donated prizes for the raffle.”
Anyone still wanting to make a donation can do so through Drew’s just giving page at www.justgiving.com/drewfalconer-drivingambition
With the epic bus challenge just days behind him, Drew, who works for Scottish Widows in Edinburgh, is already planning his next fund-raising venture.