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Strictly Inverness contestant Craig’s dance journey for Highland Hospice guided by memories of courageous sister Anna

By Alasdair Fraser

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Craig and the late Anna Watson together.
Craig and the late Anna Watson together.

It is wholly apt that Craig Watson’s preparations for Strictly Inverness 2024 necessitate a 200-mile journey every weekend.

Work commitments and geography mean the Inverness-raised resident of Aberdeen has to cram three practice sessions into a single day as he works on his moves with equally dedicated dance partner Clare MacDonald.

Craig is competing in memory of sister Anna, who died of ovarian cancer in July 2021 while in the care of Highland Hospice.

Only a matter of months before her passing, the courageous Inverness woman demonstrated incredible depths of resolve by pedalling 200 miles, raising more than £5000 for the Hospice along with friend Laura Shewan and her daughter Morag.

It was typical of the character and sunny positivity with which she had battled the disease for the best part of 10 years

Craig’s work as a patent attorney for his own firm Cranach - a ‘portmanteau’ of Anna’s name and that of founder Craig - drew him away from his native city, where his immediate family still lives.

With Anna’s charity efforts in mind, the miles covered in relative comfort by train are never a chore for the talented bagpiper, who spent youthful summers as official piper to tourists at Urquhart and Inverness castles.

He and his siblings, Anna the youngest and Emma the eldest - now Eden Court Theatre’s building and estates manager - grew up in Lochardil with mum Anne and dad Murdo, a well-known member of Inverness Fiddlers.

Anna was a keen member of Inverness Harriers, and, excelling at pole vaulting in her youth, became the first under 17 female in Scotland to clear three metres.

The athletics club now has an annual award trophy in her name for the Inverness Harriers’ youngster who excelled that year in various jumping events.

Drawing upon the family’s musical talent and a host of traditional musicians, Craig’s first big fundraiser for Strictly will be a ceilidh at the Loch Ness Country House Hotel on Saturday evening.

He remains in awe of how Anna lived with her illness, a memory that drives him on in his own charity efforts.

“Anna was fundraising for the Hospice even a matter of months before she died,” Craig recalled.

“She did the Hospice’s Cycle 200 challenge a couple of years ago, cycling 200 miles out and about and on an indoor bike.

“Anna became ill in her 20s and was in her 30s when she passed away. At the Hospice, she had such a lot of really good care from all the staff, including a physio.

“At first, she had a lot of improving health. It wasn’t a case of steady decline and she had a lot of good times as well in those 10 years

“When she passed, it was obviously a very hard situation for the whole family, but we are all so grateful to the Hospice staff - I really don’t know how they do it.

“They deal with the emotional challenges in such a kind and professional way and she was in such a lovely environment, a garden room overlooking the Ness, at the end of her life.

“She faced up to her illness with great courage and positivity, and she would have a joke about the wigs she wore, letting her friends and family try them on.

“She was incredibly brave, which I know is a cliche, but she dealt with it better than I know I would have.”

Craig and Clare are making decent progress in their choreography in Rumba and Street Dance, but the most challenging moment so far came when he pulled a calf muscle during a group dance session.

“It happened about a month ago, and it was a shock to the system - and a shock to everyone including my poor dance partner,” he recalled.

“I couldn’t walk. I was up at Raigmore and on crutches for a few days.

“That spooked us because we didn’t know how long it would take to recover, but we’re back at it after a lot of physio.”

The Loch Ness Country House ceilidh promises to be a special night, with Craig adding: “It is going to be a little different to a regular ceilidh, with a lot more musicians there. There will be lots of fiddlers, the accordion band, myself on bagpipes and a young friend of the family, Freya Watt, who will do a piece on the clarsach.

“With a dozen or so fiddlers in a relatively small venue, it creates a great atmosphere so I think we can guarantee a really good night.”

Those who wish to donate in Anna’s memory can do so at https://www.justgiving.com/page/craig-watson-strictly

Tickets for the Ceilidh Dance with Susie Simpson and Friends at Loch Ness Country House Hotel, Saturday April 6, 7.30pm are available for a donation of £15.

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