Celebrity judges join charity contest in hunt for Britain’s next top dog

Dog-owners are invited to submit photos of their pets to find winners across six themes.
Dog-owners are invited to submit photos of their pets to find winners across six themes.

A retired nurse whose two pet dogs helped her to smile after her breast cancer diagnosis has launched a canine photo competition for Cancer Research UK, with a cast of celebrities to help as judges.

Fee Sharples, 65, of Hardingham near Norwich, said the idea for Britain’s Next Top Dog came to her in the “middle of the night”.

She was inspired by her pets, three-year old black Labrador Inca and 12-year-old Norfolk terrier Pickle.

Dog-owners are invited to submit photos of their pets to find winners across six themes: Puppy Dog, Urban Dog, Off-Road Dog, Pampered Dog, Working Dog and Playful Dog.

Fee Sharples
Fee Sharples with her husband John and their dogs Inca and Pickle (Britain’s Next Top Dog/PA)

Entries cost £10, with all proceeds going to Cancer Research UK.

A cast of celebrity judges, including Graham Norton, Stephen Fry and Jeremy Vine, will select winners in each category, with a public vote to decide the overall Top Dog.

The suggested donation for each public vote is £3.

Claire Balding, Jake Humphrey, Gabby Logan, former Apprentice contestant Saira Khan and actor Nigel Havers complete the panel of eight celebrity judges.

Former NHS worker Mrs Sharples, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, said: “The idea for Britain’s Next Top Dog came to me in the middle of the night.

“I have always had dogs and I know just how much they mean to us all.

“They are far more than just pets, they are very much part of the family and are always there for us through both the good and bad times and always with their unconditional love, loyalty and daft antics – they just make you smile.

“I have certainly needed Inca and Pickle on my own cancer journey and it’s going to be fabulous seeing and hearing how the nation’s pet dogs have made an impact on theirs and other people’s lives.”

The experienced fundraiser, who is supported by her 73-year-old husband John Sharples, a retired Army officer, went on: “I thought my ‘lightbulb’ moment might generate some interest but I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that we would get so many famous people supporting us.”

Mrs Sharples, whose cancer was discovered during a routine mammogram, has had three different types of hormone therapy and is currently on chemotherapy.

She has also been part of a Cancer Research UK-funded trial, adding: “It’s because of research and relentless determination that I have survived.

“With huge support from my family, friends and an amazing oncology team, I have learnt to live with cancer.”

Speaking about his role as a judge, Graham Norton said: “Dogs have helped so many of us get through the last year, so the opportunity to stare at pictures of them while raising money for such a worthwhile cause was too good an opportunity to miss.”

Trudy Stammer, Cancer Research UK’s head of fundraising, said: “We’re incredibly fortunate to have such loyal and creative supporters, who come up with innovative fundraising ideas to support our life-saving research – we couldn’t do what we do without them.”

The competition begins on Saturday May 15 with the winner to be announced on June 30.

The Top Dog winner will receive a top-of-the-range smartphone with accessories, a long weekend in a dog-friendly hotel and a bespoke Emma Bridgewater trophy, while the winner of each category will receive a doggy bag of prizes including dog accessories, vouchers and a dog portrait.

For details, see www.britainsnexttopdog.com.