How did the SFJ come about and how you got the idea?
In 2005, a friend of mine who heads the complimentary therapy care team at the University College London Hospital told me about a 16-year-old boy named Kevin. He had leukaemia and needed a boost to pull him through. It turned out he was a huge Deep Purple fan, and I was asked if there was any chance I could get something signed from my husband Ian (Paice, of Deep Purple). I said of course. In fact, I can go one better than that! I asked Ian, and also my brother in law Jon Lord (of Deep Purple, married to Jacky’s twin sister Vicky) if we could all go and pay a visit to Kevin as a surprise.
We spoke with Kevin’s parents and arranged to meet him in hospital. When we opened the door to his room there were Deep Purple posters on the walls and amongst the medical equipment. Kevin was laid next to his guitar in bed and the first impression we all got from this beautiful, poorly boy, was how pale he was. And I’ll never forget when he saw Jon and Ian, his cheeks flushed and his eyes lit up with joy.
Vicky and I also visited Kevin’s brother, who was in the room next door, he must have been in his early 20’s. He was waiting to donate his bone marrow to Kevin that day. We spent the afternoon at the hospital, and after saying goodbye to Kevin, we were walking out of the room and he picked up his guitar and played us all ‘Smoke On The Water’ from his hospital bed.
Vicky and I stayed in contact with Kevin, and invited him and his family to come and visit us, we wanted to give him things to look forward to once he had recovered. To this day, 4 years later I still have his number on my phone. I just don’t have the heart to delete it. He passed away about 2 weeks after we saw him. It was an incredible honour to meet these two brave boys, and a day I will never forget.
So, that’s why I started The Sunflower Jam (SFJ). After seeing all the good work the healers were doing on that oncology ward, working along side the NHS doctors who have wholly accepted them. I thought to myself, lets find a way to raise money to get more healers in there. I came back home and sat with my son James, which is when we got the original idea for the Jam. And the name.
Who helped you develop the idea and how did you go about it?
First of all, I was thinking how could I do this? How could we make something really different? How can we make it fun? So the jam idea came together, and then it was just bringing in friends and people that Ian and Jon knew to build a band. Neil Warnock, Chief Executive of The Agency Group Ltd was really helpful in the early stages, through to today. Bringing all his knowledge and experience of putting on charity events, which we had never done before. Our initial idea was to have a standing gig, but Neil said we needed to have an auction to make the money. We were disheartened at first, not wanting it to turn into a run-of-the-mill seated dinner gig, but we thought we must be able to keep it exciting and do tables as well.
How did you build up support for it?
Well, we set up an office in our dining room at home, with all the family sitting around the table. Everyone came up with different artists we could ask, and how the evening could run. We then had to get those artists confirmed, work out how to promote it, how to sell tables and how we could even start, as we had no money. The first people who brought tables for the SFJ were Vicky Lord (my sister), Penny Mortimer (now a trustee of the Charity) and Frieda (from Abba). Their contributions enabled us to start the ball rolling. They were the primary supporters, and then I just had to get out there and start asking people!
What was the reception from the industry?
Classic Rock, Planet Rock, Hard Rock Café and Future Net attended, amongst many others. Their general impression of the Jam was how unique it was. It was the first time members of DP, Led Zeppelin and Whitesnake had been on stage together. Add to that Paul Weller, and this was something they had never seen before. I think what people found really fun was that it didn’t feel like a formal charity dinner, it was a proper gig. People were able to get out of their seats and dance right up next to the stage, really let their hair down.
What were your first experiences of the actual event?
It was hard work because it was all a new experience for me. Trying to keep my integrity but also trying to introduce myself to all these huge musicians. I was so emotionally involved with why we were doing it. I knew if I could speak to the artists personally, instead of through a manager, I’d have a much better chance of getting them involved. It was really tough.
The actual night went better than we could have hoped, it was amazing. I felt great joy seeing so many people having such a great time, although it was raising money for something that was so sad.
We raised a lot of money through the auction. Don Bernstein (Hard Rock) brought some of the memorabilia I acquired. I had spent a lot of time ‘chasing Chilli Peppers’ around festivals getting instruments signed, as well as from many other musicians.
We continued on with the event for four years at The Porchester Halls because of the intimacy of the venue and after the first year’s monies were raised, they were able to bring in more healers to the UCLH. As the years have gone on, we have been able to help fund healers in other hospitals as well.
What made you decide to go from the Porchester Halls to the Albert Hall?
I had always, right from the first few years, thought it would be amazing to offer this evening to more people. The Porchester was wonderful, but we need to raise a lot more money, therefore we need to make it available to more people and when The Royal Albert Hall (RAH) showed an interest, we just went for it! Also, we really wanted to promote that the SFJ was now its own charity. It’s now up to us where the money goes, we could put it to more than one thing if we wanted to, and it feels great knowing it’s going exactly where it’s needed.
How do you see the event developing in the future?
It doesn’t end at the Albert Hall, I see us doing more events. I expect the RAH will be successful enough for it to remain a possibility to continue having a big, annual event. Ideally we’d like to incorporate lots of smaller events that can happen more frequently as well.
How many Healers were there at UCLH?
There were only 2 healers there but after the first years monies that we raised, which was just under 100k, they not only brought in more healers to UCLH, but also into other hospitals too.
From year one I thought, ‘How on earth can I do this?’ I practiced as a healer myself, working in clinics helping people. I had no experience of putting on any event on this scale.
What’s got me through all those stressful times was firstly the support of people around me, and secondly knowing that it was something I just had to do, no matter what.
It’s important to stay positive with all the fears that come when organising events like this, from artists cancelling at the last minute to making sure you keep within budget. The pressure helps me stay focused and I’ve trusted what I feel in my heart to be true, which is most importantly raising awareness for this cause!
The support and love from my husband and family who have urged me to continue in the face of the impossible has been my strength.