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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Matt Roper

Brave girl, 14, who reduced Graeme Souness to tears has adorable nickname for 'soft' star

Graeme Souness describes her as his “inspiration” and “the most unique human being I’ve ever met”.

And Isla Grist, the 14-year-old for whom he swam the Channel this week, calls the once fearsome footballer Graeme “marshmallow – hard on the outside but soft on the inside”.

Millions have been moved by the remarkable friendship between Isla, who suffers from a rare skin condition which causes her body to blister and tear, and the football legend, who often breaks down in tears when talking about her.

On Sunday 70-year-old Graeme successfully completed the gruelling 31-mile swim from Dover to Calais in 12 hours and 17 minutes, alongside five friends, including Isla’s dad Andy.

The challenge raised an incredible £1.2million for Debra, a charity supporting those suffering from epidermolysis bullosa, which is known as “butterfly skin”.

Graeme and Isla hit it off after meeting via her dad Andy (Daily Record)

And this week, Isla herself was the centre of attention when she received a Teenager of Courage Award at the Pride of Scotland Awards.

Graeme was there to give her the gong, saying: “This young woman is the most impressive human being I’ve ever met in the 70 years I’ve been on this planet. We in this room are in the company of greatness.”

Isla says she felt “really happy and a bit shocked” to find out she had won the award. “My dad told me I’d won a month ago but that I had to keep it a secret and not tell anyone. That was the hardest part of all,” she laughs.

But, typically, she would rather talk about the achievements of Graeme and the team. “I’m very, very proud of them, it was a massive thing for them to take on. Graeme turned 70 a month ago!” Isla gushes.

“When they got back we celebrated together and went for dinner. Graeme was very tired though, there was no chitchat, just, ‘I’m off to bed’.”

Andy and Graeme on Channel swim (HANDOUT)

Isla and ex-Liverpool and Scotland ace Graeme met five years ago – and they immediately hit it off.

The teenager, from Inverness, says: “We get on really well. Whenever he’s up here he’ll pop in and see us. He always calls me on my birthday and at Christmas. We like to chitchat. Although not about football, I’m not a massive football fan.”

When both were interviewed on BBC Breakfast last month, Graeme once again dissolved into tears, before pointing at Isla and joking: “She does this to me every time.”

Isla says: “That happens quite a lot, and often when the cameras are rolling and I’m trying to focus on what I’m supposed to be saying!”

Determined to continue raising money for kids like Isla, Graeme is already thinking of the next challenge. He said: “The North Pole, something around the Atlantic, something like that. I’m in this for the long haul.”

And despite all her pain and struggle, Isla is too. “I just want people to know how bad this condition is and how many children are suffering. I’m a survivor but a lot of children don’t get to become a teenager like me.

“If more people donate we can try to find a cure so that other children don’t have to suffer like I do.”

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