IN November 2012 I stood on the stage of the Easterbrook Hall in Dumfries wearing a fancy frock, killer high-heels and the biggest grin you’ve ever seen. It was a moment I will honestly never forget, because I was about to announce that one of the awards was being made to a very great friend and I was totally thrilled about it.

I’ve been hosting the Dumfries and Galloway Life Awards annually for the past decade, latterly along with my friend Bruce Mackenzie. It’s always a real highlight of the year for me and a genuine joy to call out the names of the winners and see the delight on their faces. The downside is of course the disappointment for those who haven’t won, but happily most recognise that even being nominated and getting right through to the final stages is a great achievement well worthy of celebration.

I also attend the judges’ panel day some weeks beforehand when they reach their decisions, and then write the scripts for the big night, so I know well in advance the names of the lucky winners. This is great but doesn’t half put a mammoth strain on my abilities to keep schtum. To be fair to myself I’m not usually a blabbermouth, specially with other people’s secrets, but it can be really tough to keep the lid on good news and stop it bubbling right over.

That was definitely the case that year when I knew that a charity called Sports Driving Unlimited had been unanimously chosen by the judges. Keeping that one to myself was a Herculean task, because a lady called Amanda Saville was one of the leading lights of the group.

She was an exceptional person – inspirational, highly motivated, with an absolute determination to never take no for an answer. She was also funny and great fun and possessed a thirst for adventure and larks that never waned. One of the best things I ever did with her was to go sledging with ponies at her riding centre. It was a crazy, laughing day that just summed Amanda up for me. I was really proud that she classed me as a friend, but no-one who met her could ever forget her. The following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote after the awards ceremony.

Quite frankly - Sports Driving Unlimited transforms lives. Based at Amanda Saville’s Chariots of Fire headquarters in Boreland near Lockerbie, they take people with seriously debilitating conditions, both physical and mental and - at the risk of sounding desperately melodramatic - they set them free.

Kids who can barely communicate beam in absolute delight because a tiny pony has reached out to touch them with a soft, velvety nose. Adults who struggle to cope with everyday life, blossom and grow in confidence and self-esteem because they’ve manoeuvred a pony and trap round a tricky obstacle course.

I’ve seen for myself the absolute glee and delight in Amanda Saville’s laughing eyes when she takes someone for a spin in a carriage - then gives them the reins, putting them in control in a way they may never have experienced before. This group quite literally changes people’s lives and I have so much admiration for them. Oh yes - and quite a few of the ponies they use had been abandoned or ill-treated, so they too are given a whole new purpose in life - and what a fantastic purpose.

Amanda Saville died in 2016, and her loss was massive to everyone who knew her. She went too early and too young and still with so much that she wanted to achieve. She would be very proud to know that the charity she helped to establish somehow managed not only to pick itself up after her death, but has carried on with the work that was so very important to her, helping children and adults with physical and mental needs to find fulfilment and freedom through being with ponies and learning to carriage drive. It’s a fantastic legacy.