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Behind The Scenes

You are in: Devon > BBC Radio Devon > Behind The Scenes > Sparksy's dash for cash

Gordon and the team escape from Dartmoor Prison

A dash for freedom for Sparksy

Sparksy's dash for cash

Not only is 2008 BBC Radio Devon's 25th anniversary - but also the 25th Dartmoor Charity Jailbreak. Gordon Sparks leaves the comfort of his Plymouth Breakfast Show to embark on a mammoth journey.

On Saturday 19 April 2008, I started one of the most manic journey I have ever undertaken.

With three fellow 'inmates', I took part in the Dartmoor Jailbreak.

The idea of the jailbreak is quite simple: teams leave HM Prison, Princetown at 10.30am and travel as far as possible without spending a penny (in the literal sense).

Companies and individuals sponsor the teams and thousands of pounds are raised for good causes.

Gordon Sparks and friends prepare to break free

The three amigos

My team is called 'Have A Ball and Chain with Sparksy & Co'’, born from the name of the charity I set up after my brush with cancer.

My surgeon, Salvatore Natale, is on the team as is Brian Cross, an old hand at jailbreaks.

The fourth member of the team is Joseph Louei, owner of The Astor Hotel on Plymouth Hoe, who signed up after hearing we were looking for a volunteer willing to part with serious money to boost the coffers.

Joseph generously parted with a four-figure sum.

Local benefits

All our proceeds benefit local charities.

Vranch House in Exeter cares for children with cerebral palsy and is the parent charity of the Dartmoor Jailbreak.

The Chestnut Appeal at Derriford is the choice of Salvo; Brian is escaping for St Lukes Hospice in Plymouth and I will be on the run for Have A Ball with Sparksy which helps patients and their families at The Mustard Tree MacMillan Support Centre at Derriford.


It was touch and go whether one of our forms of transport would fly.

Because of low cloud, our helicopter landed at Harper's Park although the pilot, coming from Bristol, had to detour around the coast to find his way.

The looks we have received - in prison uniform - have been curious, and many comments received, but all in good spirits.

Our flight to London was perfect, then we met a connection, a driver who had been arranged to bring us to Heathrow from Gatwick.


To our surprise, Royal Brunei Air have upgraded us to business class, and I send this e-mail from the business lounge.

The team at Heathrow

The team at Heathrow

The weather is cloudy, but we are prepared for our 21-hour flight, stopping at Dubai en route for re-fuelling.

I am not allowed to say that team member Jospeh decided to go out on the town and returned at 5am this morning - just one hour before breakfast.


We safely arrived in Brunei's capital at 10am local time (3am UK time) after a very smooth flight.

I was the only member of the team who didn't manage to sleep on the plane but we are all in great sprits.

The heat hit us immediately. It's 35C (95F) but at least the water is very cold!

This afternoon I am meeting Frank Ford, originally from East Devon but now an English teacher here in Bandar Seri Begawan.


It seems the BBC Devon website has new readers after our diary pieces have appeared online.

The Sheraton hotel arranged a press conference yesterday when two national newspapers - The Brunei Times and The Borneo Bulletin - as well as a Chinese newspaper arrived to find out more about the Jailbreak.

So, we have made the papers today, the morning after a severe storm hit the island.

During the spectacular lightning show, the team ventured out to taste the local cuisine.

While Brian and I opted for beef, noodles and rice, Joseph and Salvo were more adventurous. But I'm afraid the fish eyes just didn't seem all that appetising.

With local laws forbidding alcohol consumption except in private quarters, Joseph treated all within hearing distance of the hotel pool to a taste of a well-know local spirit produced in Plymouth. How to win friends and influence people!

Today it's shirt and tie time as we are due to meet the British High Commisioner!


Last night the team had the first chance to do something 'unofficial' - a break from our schedule - so we visited a local football match.

Mr John Saville, The British High Commissioner

Mr John Saville, The British High Commissioner

The Brunei Premier League match between ABDB and Indera was watched by a crowd of about - wait for it - 100 !

There seemed to be more interest surrounding a bunch of escaped convicts wearing Plymouth Argyle shirts than in the match, where entry was two Brunei Dollars (about 39p).

This morning we visited a local resort to swim in the South China Sea before making an appearance live on Pilihan FM, a state controlled radio station.

Tomorrow it's off to a local hospital to present some signed Plymouth Argyle and Plymouth Albion shirts to local children.


Early this morning we paid a visit to a local hospital to hand out goodies from Plymouth, including signed items from Albion and Argyle.

Once again, the national TV and press were following our every move as we met the children.

The respect from such young people was amazing, shaking hands then raising your hand to their forehead as they meet you.

Sparksy visits a local hospital

Sparksy visits a local hospital

Salvo then was able to meet an expert in urology to exchange ideas and working practises.

After our visit came the first period of free time since we arrived, so I drove over the border to Malaysia.

The poverty was clear to see, but attention towards us was immense as we were told foriegn tourists never visit the town we stopped in.

But, like Brunei, everyone was so friendly towards us as we strolled around in heat in excess of 100 degrees - which has got to almost unbearable levels.


A trip into the outer edges of the jungle gave us the opportunity of seeing the Probiscus monkeys.

Brunei is the only place in the world that these endangered species can be found, and the sight was wonderful.

Travelling in my boat from the capital, we were taken into the wilds and as soon as one was spotted the engine was switched off so we wouldn't scare them.

Soon many were swinging around the trees as our cameras worked overtime.

Our final engagement this morning took us to a local charity shop that's recently opened - the first in the city.

This afternoon will see the only chance we've had for a little shopping before our flight home.

Stopping in Dubai en route, we hope to be back in time for kick-off at Home Park on Saturday, with our plane due to land in Plymouth at 1.50pm.

Thanks to everyone for your support - we will be making an announcement on our final total raised very soon!

last updated: 25/04/2008 at 12:38
created: 17/04/2008

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